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Arduino + Raspberry Pi Workstation

Maker Spaces and Education

The notion of making stuff is not new in our public school system, and was called “shop” in the old days. If automation was supposed to make “shop” obsolete that hasn’t happened. Instead, we’ve merged coding skills with CNC machines, added 3D printers, and otherwise made “shop” even more skills intensive, not less.

I’ve been working for one of those companies that schleps Chromebooks around during the school year, providing a “gap” service. “The gap” is between when the school day ends, and when both working parents, reliant on school for day care, are free to leave work.

I’m praising families for maximizing the utility of this time in different ways. I’ve enjoyed the opportunities the gap affords, to share MIT Scratch, Codesters and the like.

However, come summer, students demand more. That’s more when we break out the Arduinos.

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virtual arduino

As a relative newcomer, I was taking Arduino courses on the side and demonstrating their use, setting up workstations, but my focus was what we did on the Chromebooks, plus I brought some C6XTY to share.

I’m sure many teachers might like to swirl some of our content into theirs and indeed there’s a two-way street between public and private curriculum providers that could be a synergy, a good one.

I’ve learned the hard way that if you want to be in the public school space, you need to create public schools that don’t receive second tier status as “charters”.

Should the state provide online for-credit academic opportunities? How should it do so? We’re back to the drawing board in a lot of ways.

In my days with Center for Urban Education, public-private partnerships were talked about openly. There was nothing sleazy about a private sector company working in cahoots with a public sector one. Not in principle that is.

Sure, one may always bring up (or make up) some smelly cases, but lets just assume, when it comes to “shop” classes, that many unions and guilds in town, in addition to any teacher unions, might want to contribute in various ways.

For example, could a maker space legitimately augment the public school experience, even if it were managed externally, in the private sector? Students see their work reflected on their transcripts and are free to brag about their shop work, their use of shop equipment, even though not on school premises?

What about older kids?

What about adults, going to code schools?

When does public education stop?


Some people think government-supported vocational training programs smell like socialism and must be forbidden at all costs, unless they’re military.

People wanting to learn welding, lapidary skills, 3D printing, coding, sewing, glass blowing, clay firing, wood carving, cooking, should only be allowed to do so on their private dime. Is that what we voted for then?

Public education currently includes little to no hands-on experience with shop equipment, nor apprenticeships, nor for-credit experiences off campus. That’s the status quo for a lot of students.

What happens in practice, is private summer schools, some of them nonprofits, pick up the slack. These elective schools do not integrate with the public ones. Families have to pay their own way, unless scholarships are available. The private sector is a source of scholarships as well.

Last year, for example, I was able to introduce middle schoolers to Jupyter Notebook and Github technology, in a well equipped computer lab, thanks to a privately funded nonprofit known as Saturday Academy, a long time player on the Portland scene.

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Martian Math @ Reed College (2018)

That’s curriculum content I would encourage any public high school to pick up, but I realize private institutions with closer ties to business might get there first. How do we let students learn something about the world from the wider community? What might institutions be allowed to offer, in terms of programs and internships?

Paul Romer, a recipient of the most recent Nobel Prize in Economics, is likewise a Jupyter Notebook fan. You might be surprised how few high schools share anything about this, even in the Silicon Forest of all places.

A local US Bank building experimented with a Maker Space, called Cube Space, for some years. These were cube farm style offices and meeting spaces, but without the shop flavor. We were not trying to make anything beyond software.

I was working on i18n (“internationalization”), various Unicode art projects. I’d gotten started at CUE, with Tibetan fonts, which I later took to Bhutan, thereupon learning they already had Dzongkha fonts taken care of. History became more real for me, thanks to my travels. Schooling and touring go together.

Dzongkha keyboard

At one point I thought AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) might be expanding its youth program in Portland, even though all the writing on the wall was to the contrary (wishful thinking on my part).

That’s when I started brainstorming with Glenn Stockton about what an ideal shop might look like. We’ve been doing that again recently.

AFSC already taught video editing, thanks to programs established in an earlier chapter, in which I had some hand. I was imagining continuing to share those skills.

What building might bring together the elements of a strong art and design school?

How could we best serve the public?

Again, the idea of public-private partnerships was in the foreground.

Back in CUE days, when I was paid to think big sometimes, I wrote up a Project Renaissance paper suggesting leveraging public / private partnerships even more.

Don’t try to compete with schools in the public sector, just augment them.

Help more kids learn to cook in serious kitchens, and seriously feed more people.

Cooking is multi-tasking, a topic in computer science.

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