Hurricane season

The weather is on all our minds right now, given the disaster unfolding down in Texas with the storm called Harvey that is dumping feet of rain on major cities down there. This isn’t the first time that Texas has faced a weather disaster. One of the country’s most devastating hurricanes occurred on September 8th, 1900 in Galveston, Texas.

Galveston is an island off the coast of Texas. It was joined at that time in a fragile way by three railroad trestles and a wagon road that crossed the salt marshes. Galveston’s elevation was just 8.7 feet above the tide line. It was an affluent community dubbed “The New York of the Gulf” by the New York Herald, boasting more millionaires per square mile than Newport, Rhode Island. President William McKinley had directed the Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service) to establish a hurricane warning system in the West Indies but had none of the high tech ways of seeing what was coming. No radar, no planes–they had to rely on the reports of ships off of the coast for news of anything that might be unusual.

There was little warning about the storm that boiled up out of the Gulf on September 8th. Warm water and hot weather set the stage for the storm to intensify as it approached the coast. A reticence about using terms like tornado and hurricane was the policy of the Weather Bureau at the time.

People went to bed with little worry, expectations of rain the next day, perhaps. When the hurricane warning was issued it was too late. The storm that hit was a surprise. A monster storm, driving flood waters up and over the island which didn’t stand very high above the tide line–virtually unprotected from the 15 foot storm surge. Immense winds of 130-140 mph toppled buildings and created a wall of wood (many houses and buildings were wood framed at that time) that scraped down the island like a giant plow– knocking houses off their foundations and becoming a massive juggernaut of wood and debris that scraped the land clear. Into this maelstrom of wind and water people were dumped, jumped and crushed. Over 8000 people died.

The Texas coast had more warning about Hurricane Harvey than Galveston got about the unnamed hurricane in 1900, but even with that, the planning and logistics of moving a million people in a very short time is daunting or impossible. The “500 and 1000 year storm” is happening with greater frequency. The criteria may need revising. What has been anomalous weather that happens rarely may eventually become the norm. We have better warning systems but the sheer volume of wind and water and huge populations building in flood plains will continue provide challenges in the future and accelerate the need for zoning and planning changes.

The Earl Center is a member of NOAA’s Weather Ready Nation Program. We will be sharing information and advice about weather that NOAA provides to us. Hurricane season runs from July to November–so we are in the middle of it. NOAA provides guidelines and tips on hurricane safety. Stay tuned–and keep the people in Texas in your thoughts and hearts. They are inadvertent pioneers of our new climate.

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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 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 ( 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.


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


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


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 can be a plus. But websites like YouTube and also have a plethora of materials to guide the exploration of a new activity. There is a website called that lets you search for a project suitable for a library makerspace by time, skill level, cost and other factors. 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.


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. provides free resources for educators (who don’t have to know how to code when they start)

Information on computer science education in Massachusetts

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.]

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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