Personal Genetics, Innovation and You

An overview of the structure of DNA

An overview of the structure of DNA
CC BY-SA 3.0

Personal genetics events are in the news. For less than $100 it is now possible to get a portion of your genome sequenced. 23 and me, a genetic testing firm is owned by Ancestry.com the company that provides genealogy information to the general public. Ancestry has become a staple in many public libraries. Finding one’s ancestors and where one hails from is all the rage.

Adding a genetic component to searches of graves, ship manifests and census documents has enriched the field as well as raised some concern about personal privacy.  One of the issues with Ancestry’s genetic testing product is in the fine print that most people miss. This allows Ancestry to use the information from the genetic tests for medical experiments even if you opt out of the formal testing option. The opting out removes personal information but the aggregate information is not protected.  All of the nuances are spelled out here in this article. The law has not necessarily kept up with the progress and innovations. Right now the main law protecting people’s information is GINA or Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (Pub.L. 110–233, 122 Stat. 881, enacted May 21, 2008). This prohibits the use of genetic information in health insurance and employment. This is critical because if genetic information were allowed to be used for screening employees insurance companies would be able to rule pre-existing conditions just on the basis of one’s having or not having a particular gene. That could potentially affect almost everyone. Given the current healthcare debate as to what insurance should cover this is something to be closely watched.

There are many controversies in this broad, fast developing field. The book and movie, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks demonstrated some of the unresolved issues about who owns biological and genetic material in medical procedures. Henrietta Lacks was a woman with cancer whose cells were harvested and then found to remain robust or “immortal”, providing material for thousands of experiments but providing no financial recompense for her family and initially no acknowledgement of the appropriation of her genetic material. The case wound up with agreements with the National Institutes of Health. As a result of the case her family now has approval over any experiments using the cells. They have also blocked the release of the full genome to the public (only available to researchers) thus protecting the privacy of the family in genetic matters. It remains to be seen as to how this sort of thing will play out for other people in the future. But unmodified human genes cannot be patented.

Some researchers are working with direct manipulation of human cells. So far many of the proposed modifications are directed at fixing genes with mutations that can predispose a person to a particular disease or condition. The FDA recently approved the first of this type of gene therapy in the case of a certain type of leukemia.

On the left is the original image of Eadweard Muybridge's galloping horse. On the right is the same image, albeit with a few pixel differences, reconstructed from the DNA of a bacteria

In what may be the most unusual developing use of DNA, scientists have been able to encode movies into DNA making the DNA into a recording medium (“Researchers store computer operating system and short movie on DNA”)

They were able to encode a short clip from Eadweard Muybridge into a five second video embedded in the DNA of a bacteria. Given that decodable DNA has been recovered from 430,000 year old bones found in a cave in Spain, the idea of using it as a recording vehicle is not so far-fetched. That time span is certainly longer than any thumb-drive is likely to survive. We may end up becoming the repositories of our own data.  See the first movie uploaded to DNA of living cells – CBS News

If you are interested in exploring personal genetics further there is a local project that has information and curriculum materials across the entire growing spectrum of genetics. The Personal Genetics Education Project (PGED.org) at Harvard has developed an entire curriculum that is freely available and may be downloaded. Their project includes information for schools, congress, Hollywood, faith communities and a broad range of other communication avenues. They also offer professional development opportunities.

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Makerspace: Some Key Concepts

Makerspace is the hot topic this year. The American Library Association is running online classes on it. The New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report lists it as one of the hot up and coming topics. It is the theme for a number of conferences. Makerspace is a buzzword for remaking unused space into community involved space and extending the offerings of schools, libraries and other organizations. The skills required to conceive and operate a makerspace can be all over the map depending on the focus of the organization. But they are not calling for strictly defined skills. There are few places that even teach makerspace as a discrete field. In the spirit of the dot.coms of the last decade it is a field in development and most skills are self-taught or learned on the job.

4 students are sitting at a table. 1 student leading the pop-up makerspace and the other 3 are participatingWho is your audience?

Before choosing the space and the stuff you need to know who your audience is? Is it children, adults, a combination of both? Are they students?, student teachers?, hobbyists? crafters? Are they already makers? Local business people? Or a combination of a number of these groups? Libraries already serve a broad population depending on the type of library you may already have things in place. Obviously you can’t serve everyone at once so targeting the times the space/event is available is desirable. And, you don’t have to know it all. Each of these groups has or can develop expertise across a broad range of activities. Ideally your goal is to empower them to take the lead. It’s no longer a world of “sage on the stage” and even the youngest children have something to bring to the table—even to teach—and potentially create something new. As a practice I don’t let anyone get away who expresses some familiarity with something we haven’t offered yet. I recruit them as engineers of experience and expand the pool of expertise and enthusiasm that we can tap into.

Science, Technology and STEM

Libraries remade themselves 30 years ago when computers hit the scene. Computers were embraced and incorporated into the information and back end of the field. Like the rest of the world though, the inner delving and practical applications of the software were largely ignored except by systems librarians and IT people. The rest of us were satisfied that learning how to construct a proper Boolean argument was sufficiently high tech and alarming enough.  In schools, shop and home economics departments were repurposed into computer and technology departments. Shop tools were phased out. The push for STEM (or STEAM-science, technology, engineering, art and math) has changed the playing field in education and in some cases added additional job qualifications or opportunities to the library field. Yet, I have been watching the job postings as they come up and realize that the idea of makerspace/hackerspace is still quite new and as undefined as the early days of computers. The desired qualifications range from engineers to artists and craftspeople. The way to learn it is “on-the-job” and it is more often driven by the passion of the person than any academic qualifications. Given the creative and innovative nature of the new discipline that makes sense. It also makes it hard to figure out how to get the experience that will qualify you to do it. At some point there will undoubtedly be an authority who declares that thus-and-so degree, accreditation or certificate will qualify a person as a maker. Until then it will remain passion driven and self-taught.

Art and craft with some design thrown in

Usually the artistic field coincides with the library field in the children’s area where crayons, markers and cut paper abound. These are key tools for teachers. But it’s not just child’s play anymore as both teens and adults are also learning to expect some sort of engagement with handwork and access to technology beyond word processing.

A class of natural makers has risen out of the creative sector. Artists and craftspeople who have been “making” as a way of life are finding their way into library and school makerspaces. Sometimes these folks happen to be librarians and teachers too. Creativity and problem-solving are the hallmark of creative workers and ironically are key factors in the success of makerspaces. They are also key to developing an innovative and nimble organization.

Makerspaces require staff. In the absence of hiring a person trained in science or art developing the current staff in the ways of makerspace is the often challenging goal. When activities perceived as “creative” arise they can be the source of a great deal of stress to individuals who don’t generally engage in creative activities or think of themselves as creative. With adults there is also a fear of looking foolish if one attempts something new and untried, particularly in front of teens or younger patrons.

You don’t have to be an expert

Makerspace activities can exhibit the best in effective teaching by transforming the old ways. Too often in libraries materials and devices are “over controlled.” That is, in the spirit of making sure things don’t get broken or stolen they are locked up and non-apparent. The very nature of makerspace calls for trying and failing and sometimes breaking things in the course of innovation and experimentation. The strength of the process lies in giving up and become a facilitator or co-learner. The most empowering statement can be, “I don’t know how it works/how to do it either, let’s figure it out.” For the patron, particularly a teen or child this opens up acknowledgement that they bring their own unique knowledge and experience to the table. To the librarian it opens up the freedom to experiment, learn and not have to feel like they have to be the expert. In the case of technology, the current world is one where the children are in their medium. It’s all they have ever known and there is a base comfort level that an older staff member might not feel. While there should be some oversight when starting out engaging the user as a knowledgeable learner and encouraging them to take ownership of their learning and the makerspace will go much further to preserving the equipment than keeping it locked up. If something does get broken then that opens up a whole new area to explore—that of fixing things or repurposing them—in itself, a whole activity of makerspace that is gaining ground.

Play

To approach makerspace with a sense of play is key. The nature of play removes inhibitions because there is no judgement involved. Activities can continue as long as one chooses to engage. There can be a product or not and experimentation is required. There is no success or failure. There may be multiple attempts to accomplish something but without judgement. Failure is a necessity and a driving force.

Controlling the stuff

Makerspace generates lots of small parts. Some may be part of the equipment and some may be the result of the making. Some parts will get lost. Most replacement pieces these days can be located on the internet so losing the back door to a playmobil ambulance isn’t the end of the item. Often when staff are uncomfortable with unfamiliar items they lock them up to preserve them. To be successful items need to circulate–to be used– and even occasionally broken. There is nothing more discouraging than technology that sits in a closet, protected from the public until it is too old to be useful. The nature of makerspace incorporates the idea that things can be fixed and, in fact, fixing things is a true makerspace activity in itself. One activity might be a “fixing night” or a “repurposing” or “taking apart” activity. Makerspace moves people from being consumers to being creators. Some of that can include fixing things that once would have been discarded.

In a curriculum resource center that serves teachers in training and faculty it is important to allow the items and kits to circulate to allow the users to gain skill, bravery and familiarity so that they can present the possibilities to others with confidence. The only way to acquire this confidence is to have an extended time to “fiddle around”. People learn in many different ways but with some of the makerspace items “messing around” is the best way to develop skills or at least questions to bring back and examine.

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Let’s Silhouette!

The Silhouette machine, which looks like a printer

A die-cutting machine. Check it out at the Earl Center.

You’ve probably heard that the Earl Center offers some incredible, state of the art tools and resources that give you the ability to learn new things. With just a little bit of exploring, you’ll find that the Earl Center is full of opportunity to create, learn, and innovate. I am currently interning at the Earl, so it’s likely that you’ve seen me floating around, making this and that, or facilitating pop up makerspaces every now and again. One of the skills I’ve learned during my time at the Earl Center is how to operate the Silhouette Cameo. The following overview of the precision instrument was pulled from my blog, MakerSpace Magic. On the blog you can find in depth summaries of my favorite projects that I’ve been able to create by utilizing the tools and materials in the Earl Center. The best part is that all, of the skills I’ve learned are available to you too! Stop by the Earl Center whenever you have some free time and learn something new. And now… let’s Silhouette!

-Meg Rubadou Class of 2019

Silhouette Cameo. It is a precision instrument similar to the Cricut, and paired with software can come to the rescue with all of your sketching, designing, and cutting needs. If you’ve done any work with Photoshop, InDesign, or any of those Adobe programs, you’ll pick up the Silhouette software pretty quickly. You can design your own stuff or choose from their library to create. As far as printing and cutting, you can also use a wide range of mediums. Silhouette offers some such as vinyl (pssst…Child Life Specialists, teachers, and other kid-fun related professions! Think wall pops. You could design your very own!), paper, cardstock, iron-on heat transfer paper, sticker paper, and (as an inked citizen of America- my favorite,) temporary tattoo paper.

USER FRIENDLY RATING: I give it a 4. The machine itself, or the one I was using (there are different generations), Cameo 3, took me a bit to get the hang of, but the outcomes of my work are below. The only thing I couldn’t quite grasp is using the PixScan feature of the software that allows you to scan and cut using either a scanner or a smart phone camera for image reference. However, I’m quickly learning that if you have questions about the machine or software, you’re not the first who’s had that same question. Google it!

BINGE WORTHY?: When you don’t get paid until next week but you stumble upon it on amazon on a random Monday, maybe not. But if you are ready to commit a few hours to learning the ropes and you have $250 to burn, go for it. In the long run, a great purchase. There are also packages on amazon that sell bundles of materials like the vinyl for cutting and all that good stuff for good prices so shop around. Plus, the good news is that you can save a ton of money by purchasing cutting and printing material that isn’t produced by cameo. For example, a cheap construction paper will be just as effective as an expensive colored paper. Learn as you go with this.

MAKERSPACE MAGIC?: Yes. 100%. If you are a librarian who wants to bring the community together to learn how to make easy, quick, lettering designs or other projects, this machine is a good one for you to invest in. Moms will love it, teens will love it, people of all walks of life will feel so accomplished when they learn how to grasp this super neat tech.

Continue reading her post on the Silhouette. It has some great examples of projects done with the Silhouette.

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They Keep Us Running!

This week is National Student Employment Week and yesterday was National Library Workers Day.  The Earl Center, which is part curriculum resource library, employs over 20 student workers and 5 supervising public services assistants (called PSAs).  They are crucial in the running of the Earl Center and in keeping the Earl Center open and available during evenings and weekends.  They support Wheelock College community by connecting them to the resources they need – from finding cuisenaire rods for teaching math to teaching us how to 3D print, and by setting up the Earl Center for the various classes and events that are held there.   Let’s get to know a few of them!

Jazmin Wallace

Student Worker

A machine with many rollers. The template of the letter, J, is featured prominently

J for Jazmin! Use the Accucut to easily create all sorts of cutouts.

What’s something about the Earl, most don’t know about?  3D Printing Pen
Fav Item? Accucut
What would I like to learn more about?  Library Box
Could you tell me about yourself in three words and a sentence about yourself?  Smiley. Pugs. Hearts.  I am basically a burnt marshmallow, crispy on the outside but really very squishy on the inside.

 

Laura Boegler

Student Worker

large black machine where you can insert pre-punched pages and a spiral binder and the machine puts them together.

Binding combs are available in various sizes.

What’s something about the Earl, most don’t know about?  The Earl has amazing art supplies for just about any project!
Fav Item?  Glitter
What would I like to learn more about? I would like to learn more about book binding.
Could you tell me about yourself in three words and a sentence about yourself?   My 3 words: Glitter. Kate Spade. Enthusiastic.
My sentence: “If you stumble, make it part of the dance.”

 

Nicole Cunha

PSA

a white machine that looks like an injet printer.

Cut out any design – no matter how intricate. An appointment with the Earl Center is recommended for first-time users

What’s something about the Earl, most don’t know about?   We offer work space for an area non-profit known as Artistic Noise.
Fav. Item?  The Hospital manipulatives! (Hospital playset & toys near the art area)
What would I like to learn more about?  How 3D printing and our curriculum materials are used in the child life program; how to use the CAMEO Silhouette
Tell me about yourself in three words and a sentence about yourself? Curious. Reader who has trouble reading top shelves. Tea drinker who can’t resist freshly baked bread.
I read a lot to satiate my curiosity…I want to do everything at once. That means piles of books randomly form (and topple) around my house.

A toy set of an emergency room at a hospital. The set is a box. There is a plastic figure of a doctor, wearing scrubs and a face mask, pulling a gurney. Off to the side is a toy ambulance.

This playmobil set is a great resource for all, especially educators and child life specialists, it is designed to allow children to grasps an understanding of medical environment and emergency tools.

 

Aziza Klingensmith

PSA

young woman in foreground. Lamination machine in background

Give your documents some polish. $0.50 per foot.

What’s something about the Earl, most don’t know about?  We have the Cameo Silhouette. It’s a machine you can use to make intricate shapes and cuts. You can overlays and more for your projects!
Fav. item? The lamination machine
What would I like to learn more about?  The 3D printer
Tell me about yourself in three words and a sentence about yourself?  Pusheen. Grey. That guy from Eraserhead.  I’m teaching myself Filmmaking and I am seduced by cappuccinos and deep arm chairs (my favorite RomCom is “You’ve Got Mail”).

 

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Play at the Earl Center

Regularly, students come to play at the Earl Center.

That is, education classes taught by professors like Diane Levin and Kyoung Kim about using play in the classroom are set up in the Earl Center so that students have a place to get hands on with their education.

Here is an example of an educational play class from last Fall, 2016.

A table with long sticks of wood, measuring tapes, rulers, markers

Here’s the racing station nice and neat

Student pulling one end of a measuring tape and another student stands to watch

How far can these race cars go? Who can build the best ramp?

A plastic bin of water, 3 mini pumpkins, a blue scale, and a can of marbles

Pumpkin floating station (I didn’t even know pumpkins floated until I set this up! I have to confess to dunking a few ^_^)

 

4 students (1 slightly off-camera) sit at table each carving a mini pumpkin with knives

Students carve pumpkins in an experiment on floating

several students sit together arranging a playset of felt, construction paper, and long, lego people, rectangular wooden blocks to resemble a bustling restaurant.

Setting up a restaurant

 

A playset of felt, construction paper, rectangular wooden blocks, and lego people arranged to resemble a bustling restaurant.

I want to eat at this restaurant! Gourmet dining!

 

A station of the classics: pick up sticks, string for Cat’s Cradle, Tiddly Winks and more!

A station of the classics: pick up sticks, string for Cat’s Cradle, Tiddly Winks and more!

3 students sitting together. 2 students observe one student playing with pickup sticks

Let the games begin!

Now these students are ready to teach their own class, passing on playful experiments in physics, math, kinetic ability, creativity – and most importantly, fun!

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How to Start a Makerspace

two students sitting in the art area of the Earl Center working with glue guns and pipe cleanersIt is not unusual for a library to contemplate creating a makerspace. In fact, most of them have been doing it for years in the service of children’s programming. All of the crafts and story-time and Lego contests would fit comfortably into any makerspace. Even adult programming can fit the bill when local artists or craftspeople come and talk about their work. Of course the genius of makerspace is that it is ideally experiential and allows the people participating to learn something new. This is all without the formal designation of being a “class”. The people who guide makerspace activities are not necessarily experts in whatever they are facilitating. One of the strengths of the movement is that all participants can co-facilitate. “I don’t know how it works—let’s figure it out” is the guiding phrase and one that empowers everyone and invites them to play.

How do I find out about…

Even without a dedicated facilitator, a makerspace can function using the masses of information available over the internet and an adventurous spirit. It’s often just enough to get you started. Access to an educational resource such as Lynda.com can be a plus. But websites like YouTube and Instructables.com also have a plethora of materials to guide the exploration of a new activity. There is a website called makeitatyourlibrary.org that lets you search for a project suitable for a library makerspace by time, skill level, cost and other factors.  Makercamp.com has daily and weekly projects and the blog of the Duxbury Public Library makerspace has some great in-depth tips for possible activities as well as practical examples of how to catalog kits you might develop. Another source for education and inspiration are the MOOC type resources such as EdX and Coursera which provide classes on innumerable topics for free. The information covered there is constructed more as a traditional online class but it can be a good way to gain more in-depth knowledge of a topic without a tremendous commitment or need to get out of your pajamas. The guiding principal is not being afraid to fail. Failure is part of the process and is to be welcomed as part of the learning process.

Where can I go?

In Eastern Massachusetts we have a growing number of makerspaces and hackerspaces (another way of referring to them). Libraries that have already developed them are great places to start to get ideas of what might be possible in your library and get to know the library makerspace community..

And, of course, the Earl Center is always good for an opinion or some suggestions.

A recent visit to the Hatch Makerspace of the Watertown Public Library yielded an enthusiastic environment with a mostly volunteer staff dedicated to sharing their passions with the public. The staffing model demonstrated that the people there at that particular time were experts in their areas of passion– one in fiber arts—who helped a woman new to sewing successfully make an apron; the other a jeweler and expert in the laser/CNC cutting machine, making wooden jewelry. While both had a working knowledge of the other activities possible they did not feel compelled to “know it all” and were fine referring our questions to the dates and times that people imbued with those passions would be available.

Funding one’s makerspace

Funding for makerspaces has been growing as interest and application to educational activities such as STEM and STEAM have grown. In the former presidential administration there was a very active push to make opportunities for these areas to grow because of the connection to industry and the future of jobs. The White House held annual STEM conferences on the White House Lawn for the last two years. It remains that the skills that can be learned through makerspace activities and STEM activities will continue to be very important to the future economic growth of the country. In Massachusetts the Board of Library Commissioners has been active in promoting LSTA (Library Services and Construction Act) grants both targeting STEAM (STEM with Art added) and providing an opportunity to spin a unique grant. These grants provide a way in for libraries to learn about writing grants and funds and support to get new programs off the ground as well as getting a makerspace up and running.

Resources

Software from the Autodesk company

Makerspace supply list

Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners – LSTA Grants

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Hour of Code

The Earl Center will be hosting an Hour of Code lunch and learn on Friday, 12/9,  from 12:30 to 1:30.  Bring your lunch and the Earl Center will supply drinks and chips.

Hour of Code started as a non-profit organization and website headed by Hadi Partovi. Its purpose is to encourage people and schools in the United States to learn computer science. In 2013 90% of the schools did not teach computer science. It is estimated that 20 million people world-wide participated in the first Hour of Code.

Figure 1 Rear Admiral Grace M. Hopper -Wikipedia

Figure 1 Rear Admiral Grace M. Hopper –Wikimedia Commons

It is now offered voluntarily by schools and organizations during Computer Education Week, the first or second week in December,  to coincide with celebration of the birthday of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906). She was a computing pioneer who designed a compiler for the first computer programs among other things. She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama on November 22, 2016. She was also the identifier of the first computer bug-a moth stuck in the relay of a Navy Mark II computer.

Participation in Hour of Code requires minimal resources. It can even be done without a computer, by any age group from pre-readers to adults. Code.org provides free resources for educators (who don’t have to know how to code when they start) https://hourofcode.com/us/how-to.

Information on computer science education in Massachusetts https://code.org/advocacy/state-facts/MA.pdf

iamge of graph paper with scribbles

photo of first computer bug – a moth stuck in a computer – Wikimedia Commons

 

 

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Raspberry Pi 3 – A Lot of Computing for the Money but Not for Everyone

The Earl Center has recently purchased the Raspberry Pi 3, which you can check out.

image of the pi 3, a credit card size motherboard with usb ports and other ports for peripheralsAt about the size of a credit card, the Raspberry Pi packs a punch. For example, the latest version, Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, comes with a host features including built-in wireless capability and powerful CPU cores that make it 64-bit compatible (Raspberry Pi 2 included an Ethernet connector and four USB 2.0 ports on the right-hand edge, and the Micro USB power socket, HDMI output and audio/video jack sockets on its bottom edge). You can order Pi 3 as a standalone bare board or as part of a starter kit package that contains a memory card pre-loaded with an operating system (like New Out Of the Box Software, available through Raspberry Pi. Foundation), a protective case, or other extras. Also included are an assortment of games, programming environments (most notably Python and Scratch) At $35, that’s a lot.

Like all other versions of the Pi, the point is to bring affordable computing to all. And like the previous versions, getting up and running takes a bit more effort than pressing the power button on a device running Windows or Apple IOS. But if you’re someone who likes like to tinker, get ready for a thrill (you may also feel like banging your head on the table from time to time, so be prepared).

When you order a Pi, you’ll receive a small cardboard box containing a single green board with circuits, chips and ports and a single page of instructions. Unless you’ve purchased some sort of starter kit, you won’t find a keyboard, monitor or cable. And that simplicity is by design. The computer is made by a non-profit in the UK, whose mission is to teach children 10 and up to learn how computers actually work. Founder Eben Upton says that the Foundation’s original intent was to bring back “engineer” back to engineering. Recalling the old machines of the 1980s (the Amigas, BBC Micros and Commodores) which inspired one to program, Upton noticed that the new, more closed systems don’t actually encourage it. By creating a platform that a kid could afford, Upton hopes to rekindle the days of interest in programing. “We’re doing this because engineering is an enormously fun thing to do and it’s sad that children don’t have access to this fun thing.” [Upton, Eben in Viches. Jose ‘Interview with Raspberry Pi Founder Eben Upton.” Techspot. 22 May, 2012. http://www.techspot.com/article/531-eben-upton-interview/]

So you’ll want a few extras to get going including a microSD card (8GB or larger recommended) to store the operating system, a phone charger with a Micro USB connector to supply power, a USB keyboard and mouse, and a monitor that’s HDMI or composite video signal compatible. Also if you go the bare bones route, you’ll need some kind of device (e.g., another computer) to actually download and install an operating system on to the micro card, as well as an adapter. So you might want to consider a SD card that’s been pre-loaded with Raspbian (the Pi’s operating system) for a little more money (roughly $10 more). But if you’re the type who likes to tinker, go for the vanilla version and download an operating system of your choice. If you choose to go with Raspbian, you’ll get a Windows-style interface with some basic desktop options that provide menus and settings options. Using the pre-loaded Web browser, I was able to surf the Web and check email. What I spent the most time sampling were the pre-loaded games and fooling around with Scratch. I made Sprite, the little cat dance, but didn’t get much farther than that.

So what does this mean for a classroom teacher, and why would you even consider a Raspberry Pi? For starters, if you’re in a situation where money is tight, a Pi could be your way to get computing to your students. Because you can use older equipment, the initial outlay or request for funds does not have to be in thousands.

The Pi allows a flexibility that PCs and Apple products do not. With it, you can create weird and wonderful things. You can use it to stream music and video, to create electronic monitoring systems like the one designed by students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago that monitors air quality, or a device that controls an electronic garage door opener.

If you’re looking for something that will teach programming and design thinking organically, the Pi can’t be beat. But if you’re like me–not a natural programmer– be prepared with a heavy dose of patience. And therein lies one the Pi’s greatest gifts: gratification isn’t instantaneous; you actually have to work for it.

Standard on Pi 3:

  • 1GB RAM
  • 4 USB ports
  • 40 GPIO pins
  • Full HDMI port
  • Ethernet port
  • Combined 3.5mm audio jack and composite video
  • Camera interface (CSI)
  • Display interface (DSI)
  • Micro SD card slot (now push-pull rather than push-push)
  • VideoCore IV 3D graphics core
  • 2GHz 64-bit quad-core ARMv8 CPU
  • 11n Wireless LAN
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
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Fish Printing

During the Curiosity and Learning Conference earlier this October, the Earl Center hosted some unusual guests – fish, fish, fish! Neon fish, spotted fish, sparkle fish – everyone joined the show! Take a look for yourself:

GIF flipping through pictures of brightly painted fish on cream-colored paper

GIF flipping through pictures of brightly painted fish on cream-colored paper.

But how did these fish come to be?

A great project inspired by Gyotaku and designed by Professor Lisa Lobel – making a fish rubbing!

Materials used:

  • acrylic paint (watered down)
  • cut up sponges
  • newsprint paper
  • eyedroppers
  • fish

Professor Lobel guided the participants in daubing the fish with acrylic paint using the sponges. Sometimes the eyedroppers added some unexpected spots!

Then the participants carefully placed the newsprint paper on the fish and tapped it gently to get the paint on the paper. That painting was a bit thicker with paint. Then the participants applied a second sheet of newsprint to get a more ghostly impression.

The results were impressive! Scales, eyes, and cheekbones all showed up like a 2D fossil on the paper.

So remember: you can have your fish – and paint it too!

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The Historical Side of Makerspace

This is the first blog article in a series focused on makerspace.

Makerspace has become the current hot topic in education. Along with STEAM it often dominates technology conventions and gatherings. Where did this trend come from?

What is Makerspace?

Wires, crayons, pencils, and two boxes of the makey-makey kit on a wooden table

From the Guerilla Makerspace Project by two Harvard Graduate School of Education students who set up temporary, pop-up makerspaces in unexpected locations

Makerspace can take all forms ranging from large industrial spaces with heavy-duty machinery to a plastic box brought out for an afternoon library crafts program. What connects these extremes is the universal experience of designing and creating– with the emphasis on creating. Makerspaces are places, usually physical spaces, to create –whether hands-on objects or digital products. The making can range from something as simple as using a magnetic white board with  poetry tiles to learning how to program a Mindstorms robot to creating ooblick (a non-newtonian solid), slime (a polymer) or playdough (fun). Makerspace may or may not be predicated on STEAM principals but will generally be based on innovation, creativity and ultimately play.

Make Magazine

In 1995 Make magazine, a periodical for people who like to remix, recycle and invent made its debut. Full of articles about how to hack just about anything with a focus on developing personal “tinkering” skills it struck a chord with the more technical  and playful readers.  Makerspace was something that grew from the D-I-Y philosophy that the magazine was based on.  People wanted to be able to have access to sophisticated equipment like 3D printers (the poster child of the maker movement), CNC cutters, woodworking, welding and all the more artistic or vocational skills.  That desire drove the movement to develop shared working spaces. From this beginning the movement branched out into space and activities at community centers, schools (including kindergartens), private business and especially libraries. For libraries it was a time of disruption—books segueing to digital—space opening up in library buildings as the books left and an identity crisis in the age of Google searching. Libraries embraced this enhanced public service, opening up teen centers and community labs focused on helping people get their hands on equipment and mentoring trainings.

A Seat For Everyone

The library involvement is important to balance potential inequities indicated by surveys conducted by Make magazine that show that the main formal makerspaces events tend to be frequented and supported by white, affluent males. The embracing of makerspace by libraries and schools creates the opportunity to influence that model and opens up the experience and the positive results to a much broader community-older people, children, teens. There has been a particular drive to include girls and women as national surveys indicated that there were very few women involved in this area and a rapidly declining number of women entering the computer science field—closely connected area.

The New Comes from the Old

Like many things this, new activity has a long history behind it. Humans have a tremendous need to create. This is beautifully explained in a video (A World Through the Hands) by Renate Hiller at the Fiber Craft Studio of the Threefold Educational Center in Chestnut Ridge, New York. She uses a stone spindle to create thread, an ancient craft and is able to connect this to spiral galaxies as well as the need for the soul to make with one’s hands.

Sloyd Schools

Around the turn of the last century a system of manual instruction surfaced that was designed to move people rapidly from the farm to the growing numbers and new types of jobs brought about by the industrial revolution. There was the “Russian system” based on making a series of models divorced from everyday life. There were also the Sloyd schools[1] which emphasized making useful household objects using woodworking and sewing that progressed through an increasingly more complicated series of items which grew the student’s knowledge. It was similar to Froebel’s gifts which also had a basis in training children for “occupations.”[2] Sloyd means handwork in Swedish. In Boston the remaining Sloyd School is the North Bennett Street School in the North End. There is another at the Buckingham Browne and Nichols School in Cambridge, MA.  Both still teach handwork and fine carpentry.

The focus on occupations has been key in the makerspace movement. The concept has been embraced by the White House as the Nation of Makers — a way to ensure that the future employees of American industry are able to compete and thrive competitively in the world market.[3] There are also many STEAM/STEM grants being offered through various government agencies like The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and other groups.

Curriculum Resource Centers

Curriculum Resource Centers like the Earl Center were (and are) a form of makerspace focused originally on teacher training. Teachers had to produce their own materials and curriculum resource centers provided the materials and the means to physically handle and prepare teaching materials. Teaching is an ever evolving field.  Experimenting with new materials hands-on is a way of providing experiential learning  Solving problems is key to makerspace and problem based learning.  New tools such as 3D printers, once a tool of industrial production – are opening up possibilities that allow people to become creators and co-creators  beyond consumers and agents of their own problem-solving.  3D printers are being used in classes as early as kindergarten. These opportunities call for rethinking how things might be done in different ways and demands the development of a culture of constant and continuous learning.

[1] http://dougstowe.com/educator_resources/w88sloyd.pdf

[2] The Value and Limitations of Froebel’s Gifts as Educative Materials Parts I, II
Patty Smith Hill ,The Elementary School Teacher
Vol. 9, No. 3 (Nov., 1908), pp. 129-137
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/992761

[3] https://www.whitehouse.gov/nation-of-makers

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