STEAMconf in Barcelona

For the last part of my trip to Europe in April, I traveled to Barcelona to participate in the 4th annual STEAMconf, a gathering of eduators and researchers from around the region. It was a really great time with lots of playful tinkering, deep conversations and inspiring ideas. 


The conference was organized by Paca and Mariona Ciller, a mother and daughter team that also run an amazing makerspace in Barcelona called SokoTech. I got to spend a bit of time in this space (that also used to be a chocolate factory) working with the team and observing their workshops. 

Before the conference started, Christa Flores from Asheville Museum of Science and I led an intensive tinkering workshop for 24 teachers and educators. At the beginning of the first day, I decided to try leading the entire PD in Spanish, which was the first time for me. 


It was an amazing experience to work with the group from the local area who are all interested in integrating more tinkering in their classrooms and makerspaces. We built art machines, explored programming paper circuits and constructed a collaborative chain reaction machine. 


Over the two-day workshop we also had many conversations about learning through tinkering and how to adapt the activities to a variety of environments. It was a great introduction to the STEAMconf program for the week and a perfect way to build a sense of community that would continue throughout the event. 


The first morning of the conference was made up of concurrent workshops that participants could choose from. In the morning session I helped out Christa with a different version of a chain reaction workshop where participants each got a stand and a ramp and had to move a metal ball in multiple ways. 


It was a really interesting version of the activity and lead to some great teamwork and creative solutions to the problem. We used some unique materials that allowed each group to create a personally mearningful project. 


For the second workshop, we continued with making paper circuits and programming them using the Chibitronics chibichip. The space wasn't the best for a hands on workshop but we made the best of it and created some working areas for people to experiement. 


There were some really awesome creations made by the participants in just a short time. I really liked this alarm system for students and teachers to report classroom distractions. It was great to see how the idea transformed from a sktech to a initial design to a fully functional prototype. 

Another really nice creation was this rain and flower scene with two switches activated to match the tune of a traditional catalan song. I loved how this creation emphasized the art of STEAM and suggested future programming possibilities to connect the lights in time with the museum


The conference continued with some really inspiring keynote speeches. I was really impressed by the work of Nettrice Gatskins who spoke about what she calles vernacular STEAM, or everyday examples from Gaudi to Grandmaster Flash who tinker with science, art and technology. She leads AP computer science classes and has developed many great projects at the SCOPES-DF program at Fab Foundation including black panther fashion and environmental sensing tools in the desert. 


Next up, Stefania Druga of the MIT media lab personal robots group shared her work on creating more democratic ways to allow people to create with AI devices. She shared the progress on the Cognimates website which is a great collection of extensions to the scratch programming language from smart LEDs to JIBO robots to Alexa. I'm really interested in experimenting more with allowing kids and adults to tinker with this new field. 


And to close out the last day, I spoke about how to develop a tinkering dispostion by making small changes to the classroom or makerspace environment. The second day of the conference the inspiring speeches continued with Karien Vermeulen of Waag who shared their work incorporating different ways of learning into their Fablab practice. Lesse Leponiemi shared some work in Finland collecting and sharing educational innovations. And Christa Flores shared her personal journey as a maker educator spanning from the classroom to the informal learning environment. 


One of the really nice parts of the conference was that each of the international presenters were paired with a local educator, researcher, maker or artist who shared about their work. These speakers were super inspiring and gave a great perspective to the conference participants that there are people doing great STEAM work close to home. 


To wrap up this amazing event, Zoe Philpott of Ada.Ada.Ada performed her one woman show where she celebrates the extraordinary life of Ada Lovelace while performing in an interactive nineteenth century dress with 4,400 LEDs operated by satin gloves.


The conference was a great way to wrap up my three weeks in Europe, getting to work with old friends and meet many new colleagues experimenting with science, art and technology in new ways. I'm looking forward to continue exploring many of these ideas in WICO workshops and programs and getting the next chance to collaborate with these talented people.