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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 d.school, 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.

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The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

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Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.





Culture
Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

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