Math games on iPads, robot making and a social network where kids explore their interests were just some of the two dozen education technology booths featured at “DIY Learning: the New School” at the Maker Faire in San Mateo, held May 17 through 20. Envisioning what the classroom of the future might be, including bringing hands-on activities and “making” into the classroom was the theme at this 6,000-square-foot special pavilion at the Maker Faire at the San Mateo County Event Center, sponsored by EdSurge. EdSurge is a Burlingame-based company serving as an information hub for the emerging education technology field.
Educators were invited to a special preview of DIY Learning on Thursday afternoon, May 17, as well as an Educator Meet Up where they could share how they were using education technology in their classrooms. Earlier in the day about 1,500 students came with their teachers on a field trip to the Maker Faire to explore the whole range of maker activities.
“We had three goals for the DIY Learning Pavilion,” said Betsy Corcoran, co-founder of EdSurge. “We wanted educators to have the opportunity to do hands-on activities themselves, and to play with some of the products; we wanted to get the conversation going about getting ‘making’ activities into the classroom; and lastly we wanted teachers to have the opportunity to mingle with each other.”
"We are reinventing the 'faire,'" commented Dale Dougherty, founding editor and publisher of Make magazine and sponsor of the Maker Faire.”From making crafts to rockets, robots and technology, we want to inspire everyone to be a maker."
This was the seventh year that the Maker Faire has come to San Mateo County, and the first time to put a spotlight on education in the digital age.
Here’s a sampling of the booths that were on display in the DIY Pavilion:
At one long table, teachers were gathered around, heads down, deep into a 'making' activity they could bring back to their classrooms. They were following step-by-step instructions to make parallel circuits on an illuminated bracelet using a battery, a felt strip, 3 LEDs (lights) and a matched set of metal snaps. Helping them work through each step was Sara Bolduc, a teacher at the Intel Computer Clubhouse in San Rafael, an after-school program for middle and high school students. Through this hands-on activity the teachers could experience themselves how they could help their students understand that lights arranged in a parallel configuration each receive the same amount of voltage.
At the Motion Math booth, co-founder Gabriel Adauto handed me an iPad so that I could play Wings, a new multiplication game for young children. The company's first title, Motion Math, earned praise from educators and parents for its creative use of the accelerometer, an instrument used for measuring acceleration. The suite of math games, including such titles as "Zoom" and "Hungry Fish," are available as apps on the iPhone and iPad. Adauto and his co-founder Jacob Klein created their first game as their Master's project at the Stanford School of Education's Learning, Design and Technology Program.
"We create games for kids to play with numbers," said Adauto. "These games transform screen time into learning time."
Carsten Puls, vice-president, product engineering at NComputing, showed me the L300, a virtual desktop client device that fit into the palm of my hand. A school technology lab could use several of these small, cost-saving, energy-efficient devices, and connect them to one PC computer. The device makes it possible to use one PC for up to 100 student stations, thus making technology a much less expensive enterprise for schools.
At this booth, students and teachers were sitting at computer stations, powered by the L300, playing with Scratch, a computer language learning program created at the MIT Media Lab that teaches students about computer programming. Scratch is easy to learn and with it students can create their own computer games and simple applications, including animation, music and art. In doing so they develop, design, problem-solving, creative thinking, systems thinking and collaboration skills.
At the Wizbots booth, students were deeply engaged in creating robots. The San Carlos-based company offers after-school programs, summer camps, weekend workshops, community events and even birthday parties. Their philosophy, according to their website, is “that innovation is important, and kids should know sooner rather than later that what they learn in school - especially math and science - can and should be creatively applied.”
Free digital textbooks were on display at the CK-12 booth. CK-12, a Palo-Alto based nonprofit, has as its mission to reduce the cost of textbooks for the K-12 market both in the U.S. and worldwide. Using an open-content, Web-based collaborative model termed the “Flexbook” that can be downloaded through any Web browser, schools and teachers can have access to high-quality content that they can customize for their use. Founded in 2006, the company has been building its library of 90 titles, mostly middle and high school science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) topics.
At the Rocket21 booth, Lisa Litsey, senior director of outreach and alliance and co-founder, described their social network website for students. Through this secure Web space, which recently completed a private Beta launch and is now in public Beta, students can connect with experts in a variety of fields—from dance instructors to animal trainers to filmmakers to scientists—to explore their interests and find their passion. The students can also connect with other students with common interests.
Privacy is maintained through a combination of real-time filtering and human moderation, and students use avatars rather than their real names or identity.
“Rocket21 is a way for students to create their first professional learning network,” said Litsey. “We provide opportunities for self-exploration and creative self-expression.”
San Francisco-based Educreations demonstrated their online and iPad app that functions as a recordable, interactive white board. The app makes it possible to capture voice and handwriting so that teachers and students can easily produce video lessons and share them online. Their slogan—“Teach what you know, learn what you don’t” —reflects their philosophy to facilitate the delivery of quality learning content.
As I wandered through the DIY Pavilion, and got to meet the enthusiastic and talented creators of these products, it became clear that this explosion in education technology is about to completely transform learning and the classrooms of today and tomorrow. And like the speed of technology, it’s happening fast and in amazing ways.