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STEMginery, the story

Jiskawiracocha somewhere in La Paz, c. 1964

STEMginery started somewhere around here ———–>

My parents were very kinesthetic. Mom an international accomplished ceramist, Dad making his own carved violins as if it were easy.
Is it genetic that I am kinesthetic also? or is it that both of them encouraged me to meet the world hands-on, and I just got used to it? In the picture I am at a Bolivian native crafts market, sometime in my first year, back from representing Bolivia together with Mom in the first World Crafts Council that took place in New York, as part of the World Fair of ’64.

Textures, materials, tools, parts, components, structures, balance, assemblies, elements, shapes, properties, density… All of those are – or not – “natural skills”, the potential giftings of a kinesthetic person – and useful, essential for STEM!

(OK, maybe a software engineer or a theoretical mathematician can get away with having a dozen thumbs, but, a doctor? an architect? a manufacturing industry engineer or technologist?)

Having natural giftings or talents doesn’t mean they will become…
They do not just “happen” . there is a potential – that potential needs support to grow.

Kinesthetic Learning

Kinesthetic learning (also known as Tactile learning) is a learning style in which learning takes place by the student carrying out a physical activity, rather than listening to a lecture or watching a demonstration. People with a preference for kinesthetic learning are also commonly known as “do-ers”.

Wikipedia, Kinesthetic Learning

The Wikipedia article goes on to say that about 5% of learners are kinesthetic. Aha! that’s exactly where the cookie crumbles.

What happens is that out of mental laziness and tradition and cost concerns the 12 years of hard labor that kids are condemned to serve within enclosed walls for the crime of being kids (more years added for good behavior) is based on the one-size-fits-all model of schooling. Whatever they say about individuality, leadership, adaptable, when it comes to how a classroom operates it’s a bunch of each one unique kids that actually have to pay attention or else to a hopefully at least well intentioned individual (because teachers are each one unique, also!) who usually treats them as if they were the same.

If that individual, unique teacher’s style fits the learning style of the kid, oh joy. Otherwise, pain, boredom, trouble and failure of all kinds.

Most kinesthetic teachers don’t last long, or eventually are radiated towards “arts” classes, or maybe labs, if lucky. That is to be expected: they make 95% of kids feel out of place – while being an uncommon blessing for those few kids whose learning style is actually a match with the teacher, they are a pain to the rest (majority), and to the administrators.

Thus, that minority of students (and teachers) will not “fit in”. Hopefully the grown up will move on to where he can find accomplishment, but by the very nature of “school”, the kid has no choice. If s/he has support at home, things might be sort of OK, but don’t be surprised that the “not fitting in” eventually has a heavy cost. Dropping out is often the lesser of many bad comsequences.

STEMginery is pre-pre-Kickstarter!

kickstarter-logo-lightI am planning for a Kickstarter for  STEMginery on June 4, 10 am.
pending: get Kickstarter’s approval to the draft, submitted yesterday. It appears it takes several days to even get a response, and sometimes even longer if they dislike something.

DIEimageThe Goal is very modest: $650, with the intent of using that for a die-punching rig. Currently I manufacture STEMginery connectors using the ATX Hackerspace laser cutter. The average cost per connector is somewhere around 6¢, where laser time is about 85% of the cost. Die punching (not a bad name for a movie) would reduce the cost to somewhere between 1¢ and 2¢, and expand possibilities for using other materials, for example ABS plastic.


#Geodesic #Domes

Geodesic domes are some of the strongest structures ever, and a very good start for understanding some of the basics and some of the fancy of engineering, and of science, math, technology…

plus, they are quite fun and really useful.
I have been working on a 19-foot geodesic dome, as a proof of concept of a habitable structure built with STEMginery parts. All the parts, believe it or not, fit inside the a Priority Mail Flat Rate box. $15 to ship a 19-foot structure anywhere in the States!

2v.3v geodome – STEMginery connectors, color straws – 6 foot diameter. 555 straws, 9 kinds
with Tim, our Director of Facilities @ATX Hackerspace. A great professional and friend who volunteers his time to keep our systems running. Both pictures by Clio Dunn, another outstanding member of ATXHS, our volunteer Head of PR

Here I am enjoying making a smallish one, just 6 feet wide.

Do you want a Guinness World Record? (Austin TX only, sorry)

guinnessBetween one thing and another I came upon an official “largest…” Guinness World Record[1] which happens to be currently at 14 feet. I know we can reach 20 feet easy.

So now I am looking for a local school, Scout group, homeschooler coop, church youth group or other youth group that would care to set the 2014 Guinness World Record in that particular record title.

Why get a record?

Uh, why not? I mean, isn’t that the coolest thing, to be, on official record, the “mostest” at something in this 7 billion people and change world?

OK, let’s be practical.

  1. I am sure any organization, club, business, can benefit from some good PR, visibility, press, media
  2. Besides being known as the best in the world at something, even if that something is somewhat silly (and this one is not that silly), said club or school could probably benefit from a fundraising opportunity
  3. hopefully, that group also has a community-oriented mission, and a significant intake of funds could mean being better able to do it.

So, what is that record you want us to attempt?

Ha! not so fast. For one thing, if I put it in a public blog like this one, what I have in mind is so easy that anyone would take it. And I’d rather be you, dear reader, than anyone else. So, we’ll keep this  between ourselves for a while at least, OK?

A couple details that might make it easier for you to become more interested, or maybe opt out: it is something faith-based, Christian to be precise. It has a strong STEM connection – which is related to my business. It can be achieved by a team of about a dozen kids in maybe a few days, between practice and final execution, but needs a preparation time of about two months. It will cost about $200 in materials, though the way I see it, it will be a way for your group to do a successful fundraiser of several thousand with not much effort.

What happens next?

There are several conditions I have set. See if you fit. If you do, then email me. Hopefully the conditions are just hard enough that only one group, the right one, that is, yours, contacts me.

  • Must be local – I am in Austin. Say no more than 20 miles from 78757. I will be volunteering many hours of my time, let’s not make it too hard on me.
  • Your grown-ups must be 100% supporting you wanting to get a record. Since I will only communicate with them, that becomes a practical necessity besides a good thing in general.
  • Besides at least two grown-ups solidly supporting this and very good at using email, from your side the thing must be youth-led. This is kids achieving the record, with some help, but substantially by themselves.
  • Must have access to a gym or other such enclosed, large space. While the final attempt will be in an open field with TV cameras and public, practice and success must have been achieved before, and, as I said, this is about 20 feet in size. You will need access to that gym for about a total of 5 days, maybe one single week.
  • Must have or feel able to have a solid service mission, ideally among the international refugees that now call Austin home, but not necessarily. As an example, be able to start or support members of that population to join the BSA.
  • Must feel comfortable and ready to dedicate the necessary time in contacting prospective supporters that would participate of the record attempt by donating money to your group and to the non profit mission you do. This part is the one that will take about two months and will need several hours per week for your whole team!
  • Needs to become familiar with how this works from the side of the Guinness people, like by following this link
  • Must get going now. It takes over 10 weeks to Guinness to recognize a record, unless you pay a lot of money. This means we must be done and wrapped up by September at the latest – that means working hard over the Summer, which is great as there is no homework to serve as an excuse for not doing this right, yes? By July we are in full movement building interest and supporters, and we do it and get it in by September.
    Let’s say it takes me one month to find the right group to partner with, and that’s it for 2014…
  • I am generous of my time and knowledge. I prefer working with people that are that way also. Before writing to me you must send this on to at least 5 other people who could participate, but would not have found out unless you gave them the chance.

Why are you doing this?

It is good advertisement for my company, Also, when I was a kid I wanted to have a Guinness World Record. Maybe some kid wants that, and I can help that become possible. More than anything, what we achieve might be of some use to the refugees in Austin. Very little is being done for them by most youth groups, and I feel that can change for the better.


[1] Guinness, the logo, etc., are trademarks, copyrighted properties, etc. Pictured here without implying any endorsement.

Is UDL more than the latest Edu buzzword?


Well, maybe. My first reaction was that, if it has the word “Universal” in it, it is again another attempt at one-size-fits-all schooling. If you hadn’t heard it, I consider One-Size-Fits-All Schooling a delayed form of a crime against humanity.

It didn’t help that my first encounter with UDL was the Learning Wheel of Maryland, which is somewhat confused (and has a peculiar nc in their CC, even though they admit it was totally paid by taxes?!?!) No blame Maryland. They possibly got it from this “official” source, material that makes even less sense to me (for starters, just notice the word “how” is used in both the “what” and the “why” columns, but not in the “how” column…)

Anyway, the wheel had a helpful link to a National Center On Universal Design for Learning, which eventually gets me to something called CAST, which happens to be a private nonprofit.

Aha!, a who’s who of Ancient-IT backers, and, interestingly also Creative Commons is listed though so far nothing by CAST is CC? (some stuff by other authors is CC within the CAST servers)

Anything worth rescuing? well, one quote, Did You Know…? The ‘universal’ in Universal Design for Learning does not imply a single optimal solution for everyone. Instead, it underscores the need for multiple approaches to meet the needs of diverse learners. OK, so far so good, sort of. And this “graphic organizer“. Which, just in case you were wondering, is clearly labeled “all rights reserved”, while confused whether it’s v1.0  (in web page) or v2.0 (pdf). Either way, being proprietary, it is compromised and thus useless for a community of learners, just one more example of some “expert” work that should be accepted as-is by its believers.

Bottom line

UDL empowers independent, capable citizens?
Doesn’t look that way to me – UDL appears so far as something designed to continue dependency in Media and Technology fashioned by the Establishment.

Despite its encouraging concerns for diverse learning needs, UDL does not seem to care about the overwhelming need for individual paths to learning, but just one main set path (“Universal”), that is then adapted to how different learners can address it and absorb it. There is a deep concern for Special Needs – which would be great, if it were to build individual paths. Otherwise, oh well – I guess that better something than nothing, but, can’t we do it right, some day? Please?

As is, it’s maybe an even more dangerous One-Size-Fits-All than anything we have seen so far, which, misusing somebody else’s words, appears as made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.


Kindness to strangers, and even more so to friends

@ATXinventor at AMMF

The picture here is a mini of one that was taken by a dear friend and much respected Hackbat colleague, Clio Dunn.
It is maybe the only picture that I have portraying me at the Austin Mini Maker Faire.

Were it not for her kindness (which she actually did very quietly, I had to wait until next day at Re:Make to thank her), I would have not a single pic of myself there.
By my side is another dear friend and Roboteer colleague, The Robot Group treasurer Wolf Dilworth, who left the TRG table for a few minutes to check on @ATXinventor.

Good times

Now, it is rather obvious from the pic that @ATXinventor is having a jolly good time. OTOH, @ATXinventor had had 1 hour of sleep the previous night, had been again frustrated beyond words in building the 19-foot geodesic dome (which didn’t get completed this time either LOL) And was starting to wrap up his usual junkyard. No joy there.

But, that one hour of rest was while trying to complete at the last minute and through the night his Patent #2 application. Eventually it gets all packed and sent that morning (very simple process if you do one of these a week, otherwise VERY complicated!). Then email arrives saying

USPTO received your submission at 10:25 ET on 03MAY2014.

@ATXinventor’s several improvements to #Geodesic #Domes are now Patent Pending, yay! Which is a good thing, because they were due to be presented at a public event at AMMF that very day… (up to then I had to have people sign NDAs if they were participating in building it)

I was late to the Maker Faire, the design needs still to be improved  (opportunity for more patents! triple ROFL!). I had a total, complete blast, also very much because whomever was assigned to this particular prime spot did not show up and Kami let me have it (Kami has no idea how grateful I am. She won herself a fan forever).

Then, hmm, how will I say it, this was a learning opportunity (code words for saying that I made many mistakes) – but that is another story.

Back to the kindness.

It didn’t stop there, two other Hackbats, Chad and Vlad showed up on their own to help me pack, which was done in a jiffy – my “official” helper being sick the previous night and couldn’t come.

The next day was Re:Make for us. Among the mistakes I made at Austin Maker Faire was not even taking one look at the rest of the exhibits. I learned from that mistake. As I always encourage my students, “be original! when you make mistakes, don’t just repeat yours or mine! be creative even in your fails!”. This time I gave myself some time to walk around the place, right before closing.

The idea was to network, see if someone was in the same kind of wavelength. In other words, look after #1, my own interests.

It sort of worked out, but

What I should have done, and the whole point about this post, is to have gone around to EVERY booth, especially those manned by only one person (meaning, that person likely had no respite and couldn’t go anywhere the whole day), and at the very least take a picture and exchange contact info and then make sure I get them on my twitter and whatever else. It wouldn’t have cost me much – but then, who knows, maybe I would have made somebody’s day be a bit more special, or a LOT more special, as it is for me now that I have the picture that Clio took. I might even have found someone who needs 20 domes right away, and who had no idea that a Master Builder was in the premises – and local too!

I would have made friends, some might have reciprocated and set me in THEIR twitters (as you should!) and that would have improved my networking and the kickstarter and stuffs.

Yet, the most important thing, I would have raised the level of empathy in the Palmer that day for at least 23%, give or take 6%.

Other exhibitors looked tired – they might have had even less rest than I did, probably were not riding the kind of emotional high wave that I was, after all day listening to parents, visitors and friends tell me what a genius I was, how wonderful is the stuff I make (I always mention the laser cutting was done at the ATX Hackerspace), and, best.ever.words anybody starting a small business can hear, please please please can I buy some? (sorry, not yet, was too busy preparing, but let’s connect, did you get my info? here’s a card)

Yes, some exhibitors looked (almost) as happy as I was, but others didn’t.
I could have made it nicer for them, help them see that they have one more person that cares. I missed that chance.

OK, lesson learned. I will do my best to (hmm, words of the Scout Promise, how appropriate) to care also for others – do for them what I wish were done for me (that also sounds like a quote from somewhere, anybody knows where it comes from? :-) )

Bottom line:

BTW, I need your kindness, everybody does. Add me to your Twitter, RePost or at least Favorite something I have there – neither cost you anything and the later doesn’t even “noise” your feed, but something valuable as I try to build “brand” and “image” and street cred.

Do likewise for other people. Whenever you can, help raise empathy everywhere – probably the best use of anybody’s time as we go along as a community. Don’t expect people will reciprocate, but some will – for example, I add to my feed pretty much everyone that adds me to theirs.

Adding people to Twitter is no big deal. Of course, if you can, do more, yet, every little bit counts, and builds us up as the stewards of this Earth, together.