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Rascals, Makers, Dollhouses, and Videos Not Yet Recorded

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Sunday was my birthday, and I turned 35. I had dinner with an old friend, Brandon Stafford, whom I have known from summer camp since I was 8 or 9. We talked about learning, which continues to be of inexhaustible interest.

Brandon has become deeply ensconced in the maker movement, a group of engineers, hackers, educators, and artists finding forums to create, share and learn. Audrey Watters has a lovely homage to the maker movement as part of her 2012 EdTech trends round up.

Brandon is the inventor of the Rascal—Tagline: "Small Computers for Art and Science." The Rascal can connect to all kinds of electronic things in the physical world and to the Internet. He originally thought, "I would like to view my home's temperature data from a remote location and change the thermostat." So he built a tiny computer that could connect to the Internet, run a Web server, and control devices in the world. (It's a bit like an Arduino with an ethernet port, an SD card, and a bunch of cool backend programming).

He's also a member of the Artisan's Asylum, a maker space in Somerville. A maker space is a place with a machine shop, and a woodworking shop, and some cubicles for people to do hobby projects and run businesses. This month, they are running a course on Sculptural Metalworking for Youth. Maker spaces are awesome. The Asylum has a waitlist for new members. At the current rate of turnover, the last person on the wait list will get a cubicle in 20 years. Maker spaces are popular.

Brandon and I talked about schooling, and he said this: "When I see the learning and experiences that people have at the Artisan's Asylum, it makes me wonder if people will continue to pay $40,000 a year to sit in lecture halls and watch videos that haven't been recorded yet."

To all the lecturers in survey courses, this is what your instructional experiences have become: videos that haven't been recorded yet.

Brandon and I went down to my basement, where I have started building a dollhouse for my daughter, Adella.

1-AVO DEC 034.JPG

My dream is to make it a Rascal demonstration project, and Brandon and I were brainstorming ideas. We were thinking that I could hook up RGB LEDs in all of the rooms, and then set up a web page where you can program the rooms to be different colors. So Adella could use an iPad or phone to program the lighting of each rooms, set the mood, and then play with dolls in them. I also had the idea of taking an old Android phone and mounting it to the wall like a plasma TV. We could then set it up on a Web page where there were six icons for small videos, and you could tap the screen to play one of the videos. We don't actually have a television in our house, so this seemed like a reasonable compromise. I also really want to mount some kind of servo system on the floor that lets dolls move around like they were dancing, but we haven't figured out how to operationalize that yet.

But that's all in the future. Right now, I'm quite proud of the foundation. I mixed sand in with gray paint to make the wooden base look like concrete.

1-AVO DEC 030.JPG

The dollhouse kit I'm using comes with about 400 individual shingles for the roof. This winter, I will spend idle hours, slowly gluing them on the roof one at a time, thinking inexhaustible thoughts about learning.

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my papers, presentations and so forth, visit EdTechResearcher.

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