Workshop at I/O Youth

Last week Google held its annual I/O conference for app developers and as part of the celebration, they invited school groups from around the bay area to try out hands-on activities and get excited about science, technology and programming.


We joined our friends from Science Journal, Little Bit, Scratch Team @ MIT Media Lab, and Toontastic to set up a wide variety of experiences around the room for the kids to test out. For our station, we brought a bunch of mechanical parts from dissected singing and dancing toys as tools that learners could use to experiment with simple circuits. We were a little nervous before the event, because this activity doesn't have a direct connection to coding or programming and we weren't sure how it would mesh with the other more technological explorations.   

But after NEST CTO Yoky Matsuoka share an opening keynote about how the joy of building robots influenced her from a young age, I felt a little more confident about our activity. dissecting and playing with these secondhand toys can be a great first step towards understanding how the circuits and mechanisms of more advanced robotics work.

Our table was in the 'sandbox' section, an area that provided some element of choice for the young participants who could move freely between several different activities. We were right next to the scratch team who were making game controllers with playdough, aluminum foil and makey makey. this was another fortunate connection since the switches that we were using to activate the toys can also be connected to computers to control scratch-programmed games!

The 'toy taxidermy' table was packed the whole time and it was awesome to see the students jump in and really engage with testing out all of the different parts to see how they worked. 

One of the simplest, but most amazing elements was building aluminium foil switches. it's important that the learners test out these complicated concepts with familiar materials to help them build confidence in their abilities. making a switch from something you can find in the kitchen drawer really lowers the threshold to participation.   

Although we had just a small surface for experiments it was fun to see kids testing out some of the toy parts outside the limited environment. Two of the participants extended the alligator clips and took the three wheeled robot for a walk across the room. 

It was really inspiring to see how enthusiastic the kids were to jump into activities and start messing around with the materials. And while there were plenty of chances for them to test out the latest software and hardware innovations, I'm happy that we also provided a chance to start with the basic elements of creating circuits in a playful and collaborative space. To us, the process of tinkering opens up so many possibilities for kids to see themselves as smart, creative and interested in learning more about science, art and technology.