Messy Learning Labs. Just what our screen-obsessed kids need

If you’ve ever complained about classrooms being stuck in the industrial age, here’s a glimpse of a different kind of class. It’s Hi-Tech space with a factory-floor setting. Perfect for digital natives, huh?

heatsynclabs_tnI took my robotics students here last Tuesday, to a place called HeatSync Labs in Mesa, Arizona. Not the kind of ‘lab’ they had in mind – but in a shocking way! It is what’s known as aMaker Space’ where kids come to ‘learn by doing’. They didn’t want to leave!

You see, a Maker Space like this is more like a mad scientist’s garage, than a classroom, with a variety of machines, tools and material just begging to be used. If you recall how HP began in a humble garage, you’ll see why a tinkerer’s tool-shed like this is what classrooms ought to be like if we are to motivate the next generation of inventors, astronomers and mad scientists like Bill Hewlett, Dave Packard. Or the next Thomas Edison (who barely went to school, please note).

Having worked with 6-12 year olds for four years now, I know how hungry they are for science. Especially science that comes to them in unexpected packages. OK, so in one corner of the lab there was a 3-D printer, an artifact from our all-too-digital present. But someone had used it to produce intriguing pieces such as this plastic cube (right), with gears!

In 75 minutes my students probably got more about science that any slick PowerPoint presentation. This was about experimenting, making mistakes, and asking ‘what-if’ questions. This was about rummaging through bins, and peering through scopes, working with laser-cut stamps they mounted on blocks of wood. And not a tablet in site!










At one point, Eric Ose who works there took me aside and told me, awkwardly, “I am not used to young people here asking permission to do things.” Meaning, this was a space that people came and just tried things out, used material lying around, and worked on their own pace. Of course there are guidelines – especially safety guidelines, as when watching laser cutting, or operating the 3-D printer.

But the real house rules are this: Try something out. Make things. Break things. Revise. Start from scratch. Discover. Build something impossible!

Note: If your students have never been to one I urge you to make it your next field trip. Many cities have these community run spaces. (Map)


Quotes for the week ending 26 Dec, 2009

Easily mistaken for a universal remote, the Pepper Pad was really just a Linux-based mobile computer … that was purported to make it easy to operate from non-traditional work spaces (like poolside or in your favorite armchair).”

Fast Company, on the smart watches, remotes, control devices and laptops that didn’t make it in the ‘Aughties’

“I’m going on record and saying it –Hewlett Packard computers are racist.”

Store employee, Desi, in purported demo, about the facial tracking technology of an HP computer webcam that doesn’t follow him, a Black, while it does so when a White colleague enters the frame.”

“We believe that the camera might have difficulty “seeing” contrast in conditions where there is insufficient foreground lighting.”

HP’s Frosty, on Voodoo Blog, about the flap over its Media Smart cameras being ‘racist’.

“We invite you to connect with us on the discussion boards and forums here on The Next Bench or on Twitter at @HP_PC.”

Hewlett Packard’s response, attempting to manage the PR fallout, using social media

“Meanwhile, the tech-bloggers trembled all year at (as yet unfulfilled) rumors of an Apple tablet.”

Fast Company, on the Amazon Kindle –one of the top gadgets of the decade.

Video can be great. Cameras can be dangerous…

When I talk to people about why video can be a powerful tool, it’s easy to oversimplify and talk about producing in-house vlogs. But if you look at the variations, you’ll see they could range from citizen journalism submissions, to ‘anonymous’ viral stories, to damaging claims, to pranks. Hers are three uses of video that can make or break a brand’s reputation.

These two will go down in the books as the best and worst of how video mined social media in 2009.

Samsung created this contrived piece for Smart Led technology:

Hewlett Packard, on the other hand is at the receiving end, responding to this direct, damaging claim about its facial tracking technology in its web cams

And speaking of being at the receiving end, here’s how another brand faced the music, so to speak. My all time favorite this year.

What are your most memorable videos for 2009? Share a link with my readers, and us why video matters.