Thinkering: Mobile Maker Lab Hits the Road To Find High Demand

This workshop on wheels is delivering hands-on creativity coast-to-coast.

While budget cuts leave schools struggling to fill classrooms with bare essentials—including paper and ink—it’s a challenge for many teachers to bring creative activities into the classroom. To fill this void, in zooms SparkTruck, a DIY modern crafters' fantasy on wheels. This educational build-mobile arrives filled with an arsenal of paints, cardboard, adhesive googly eyes, craft feathers, glue guns, sewing machines, 3D printers, and even a laser cutter. The SparkTruck is touring schools across the country, on a mission to put the spotlight on hands-on learning.

The creators of SparkTruck hope to inspire grassroots change in an educational system increasingly emphasizing standardized tests. Above all, the truck is an educational playground for its target audience: 7 to 13-year-olds getting phased out of hands-on learning opportunities in schools.

The brainchild of six designers, educators, and engineers at Stanford University's, SparkTruck grew out of a class project. As the team members spoke to educators, visited schools, and watched creativity get sucked out of education's standardized system, they hatched a plan. They raised initial funds via Kickstarter and grants, purchased an 11-foot step van and tools, and in partnership with PBS’ Design Squad Nation and Instructables, embarked on SparkTruck’s “Sparkin’ Across America” road trip in June. To ensure the project's sustainability, the team asks that the communities help fundraise as well.

The SparkTruck is currently in the midst of its 14,408 mile, four-month journey, rolling into schools, camps, and museums across the nation to lead workshops. Projects have included designing logos for laser-cut stamps to assembling vibrating robots clad in foil, pipe cleaners, paper, and pom-poms. According to SparkTruck co-founder Jason Chua, the response to the approach has been unanimously positive.

“We’re hitting 31 different states, and we figured there must be really big differences in how students engage,” Chua says. “What we found overwhelmingly is that when you get kids out of classrooms when they’re used to sitting in a room all day long and put them in a hands-on situation, they really engage, and they really enjoy it. It’s been true in every place.”

The SparkTruck team is bringings workshops to local educators as well. “There are a lot of teachers out there interested in progressive, hands-on learning in the classroom," says Chua. "But it’s difficult to get support from administration and parents. We’re hoping to be something teachers can point to and say, ‘Look at these kids and look at the technology. This is what I’ve been trying to tell you.'"

The team has hosted nearly 40 workshops, and plans to reach 2,024 students by the end of their trip. SparkTruck’s journey is far from over though—it has a waiting list of 192 educators eagerly courting it's next stop.

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

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