I am lucky enough to work with amazing students every day in my district. That said, every now and then, some of them really stand out as change-makers in the world. This post is about a pair of brothers and their inspiration approach to educating the world in the realm of robotics using a low-cost way that “up-cycles” existing everyday materials to build their creations. Please enjoy and share the information below so we can help these guys make their dream come true!
I first met Rohit and his brother Sidharth a couple of years ago after they won the Student Start-up Competition at SXSWedu. They are both Westlake High School students and, for the past several years, taken their love of robotics and combined it with an altruistic desire to help educate youth all over the world in a low-cost way. My first impression was that these boys seem wise well beyond their years and I had to keep reminding myself I was speaking to teenagers, not adults.
For more information about their company, I asked co-founder Rohit Srinivasan to give me an overview on his company’s philosophy and mission:
Trashbots is a low-cost robotics kit with an artistic twist. Our vision has developed from multiple years of teaching STEM in the US, Mexico, Congo and India where its founders have taught 1000+ students ranging from 1st grade to 12th grade. We observed kids need better problem-solving and creativity skills. STEM kits have been seen as a solution, but have limited impact because they require major infrastructure, and are expensive.
Right away, I love the way he his tackling a problem that isn’t unique to just schools in the U.S., but around the world. Here’s how he’s doing that in an affordable way:
Did I mention these are students? They have been doing this for many years on a volunteer basis mainly using their vacation time to travel to India and help teach kids in orphanages learn how to create and program robots. And by the looks of things, they are just getting started…
Since its founding, Trashbots has spent the last 18 months developing the platform and seen strong validation from students, teachers and education administrators. We have taught 1000+ kids across Peru (at the invitation of Education Ministry), Indian orphanages, Mexican colonias, and in schools in the US in urban and rural settings. We have conducted teacher workshops at TCEA, ISTE, and SXSWedu. Solely from word-of-mouth marketing we have pre-orders for 750 kits from 60 schools in 5 continents. In recognition of this traction, we were honored to be selected as a top 10 2017 Edtech startup by the Global Edtech Startup Association, named one of top 15 innovators reshaping Texas by Texas Monthly, and featured in the Statesman, Austin Inno and Silicon Hills News.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of student ideas and pitches in our student entrepreneur course at Westlake. This is different. These young men came up with this on their own several years ago and have been growing with a grass-roots style of marketing and engaging leaders from all over the world. Their company is driven by three tenets:
As they are tackling this global challenge in non-traditional ways, it’s appropriate that they are securing funding via crowd-sourcing. They are kicking off a campaign on Indiegogo to officially capture the interest in their platform.
Here’s where you come in. The way crowd-sourcing works, the more people they can get “interested” via email, the more likely they will get featured on Indiegogo and get funding. Do me a favor and sign-up (for free) to support these kids and their very impactful dream of providing all students with access to learning robotics and coding.
Please visit their Indiegogo pre-launch page at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/trashbots-low-cost-stem-with-an-artistic-twist/coming_soon or their website at www.trashbots.org. And if you could, share this article with other educators and colleagues that you know would support the great work they are doing (and tweet them at @trashbotsorg!)
From the minds of youth….comes our future. Show them some love my fellow educators!
Editor’s note: The following is a recreation of actual events that happened on January 16, 2018 in Austin, TX. No one was harmed as a result of the events, save for some emotional scarring.
This past weekend, I decided to install a new wireless router. While this seems like a fairly mundane task of the 21st century family, what follows is an actual account of the events that transpired as a result of this.
First, some back story.
The last time I changed our home wireless router was 2012. I remember it well. It was a much more peaceful time then. Wireless connectivity was really only needed for my laptop and phone on occasion to save on data. We frolicked in the fields, played video games and watched cable television.
As what happened next will prove, present times are not so innocent and simple.
10:06AM – I started the morning by unplugging my gerbil-wheel-powered first-gen Netgear router that I bought at Radio Shack.
10:07AM – I began to look through the manual for my new, fancier, ultra-strong bandwidth system that’s all but guaranteed to make your skin tingle when you walk by it (It’s called something like the RoBoWiFi 3000 or the like).
10:19AM – A cold chill began to fill our home as I fumbled through the various cables and plugs under my desk.
10:22AM – The chattering teeth of my family alerted me to a major problem. You see, we use a Nest thermostat to control our house temperature. Without wifi, it had gone off-line and in “away” mode thus shutting off our heater during the coldest day in Austin since 1884. Suddenly, I knew the pressure was one to get this new router set up.
10:27AM – I went to turn on the lamp near my desk to get some better light and nothing happened. Last year, I had installed a Twist speaker bulb that was controlled by my phone through our wireless. It turns out I didn’t set it into an off-line mode, essentially, making the bulb useless.
10:31AM – I hear a tremendous shriek from our living room. We had cut cable a couple of months ago, which has been great, but also meant that any type of TV watching experience was now reliant on a combination of Chromecast, FireStick, AppleTV and aluminum foil antenna. My kids plans for snow-day of watching every episode of “Dragon’s Edge” was now interrupted.
10:33AM – Shortly after scrambling for something to distract them under their heavy blankets, I mindlessly hand them their iPad. One problem, their favorite Animal Jam app required network access. This was getting serious.
10:35AM – “Alexa, add firewood to the shopping list.”
10:35:08 AM – Alexa’s response, “Sorry, I can’t connect to the network right now and are therefor a useless black monolith sitting on your kitchen counter.”
10:37AM (or so I thought) – I checked my watch to see how long we had been without Wifi. As chilly breath became visible out of my mouth, I realized my Smart watch no longer had connectivity.
The world was ending in the Hooker household in little less than an hour.
I saw my life flashing before my eyes but realized it was only the flashing amber light of the new router attempting to connect. Years later, when they become adults, I imagine my kids will be telling their families how hard life was for them. They’ll tell them about the time their father nearly killed them when he pulled the wifi during a snow storm. The struggle was real.
Back to reality.
10:55AM – I got the wifi back online and quickly connected all our mobile devices, laptops, Nest, security systems, Alexa, light bulbs and even our Crockpot. (Yes, our Crockpot has wifi, don’t judge!) The whole scene played out like that scene in Jurassic Park where Samuel Jackson was frantically trying to get systems back online. (see side bar)
This whole experience made me reflect at how quickly we have slow-boiled ourselves into a world where we rely on constant connection. My family owns a lake cabin and have recently been debating whether or not to put wireless access there. Currently it’s equipped with all the essentials of life: An Atari, board games, a campfire, and woods. Life seems different there.
Not better or worse…just different.
Today I came across a short story by Ray Bradbury called The Veldt. He wrote this story in 1950 and essentially outlines a future world where our homes are uber-automated with virtual walls, virtual smells and experiences that feed off of our thoughts. Our bathtubs bathe us, our toothbrushes work automatically, and we don’t have to life a finger to fold laundry. (cue the Laundry-folding robot from last week’s CES event). I won’t give away the ending, but let’s just say, life takes an unexpected turn for this family. (here’s the cheesy 80’s video version for those of you non-readers)
In a curious turn of events, I remembered one of my favorite Deadmau5 songs is called “The Veldt” and discovered the video is essentially a shout out to this Ray Bradbury short story. After you read the story, watch the video below.
I would love you to leave your comments below and hear your thoughts on what this all means for us as parents, as humans, and as a society. I don’t see this future getting any slower for us, but I think an awareness of the pros and cons of automaticity should happen as we connect more appliances to our homes.
Hold on to your butts!
This marks the 5th year I’ve laid out a series of bold predictions around education and technology. Some years I’ve hit it out of the park (like in 2015 when I predicted Pearson would lose it’s massive testing contract in Texas) and others I’ve totally flubbed (like in 2013 when I said a non-Apple tablet would lead in educational sales).
Let’s take a look back at this year’s predictions and see how close they came to becoming a reality.
Prediction: A Dual-Language school will open with coding as the second language
Outcome: Nailed it! (sort of)
More and more coding is getting integrating into the curriculum and not just become a thing to do on Fridays or for one hour in December. That said, we are still a long ways away from it truly being thought of as a second language. The state of Texas did pass a law this year that counts coding as a foreign language credit, but only if a student has attempted and been unsuccessful in a traditional foreign language course. (See item 74.12.(b)(5)(B)(iv) buried deep in the TEA rules). However, some schools have now started to embrace coding as a second language and some schools (like Willmore Elementary in California) have started their own “Coding Immersion” programs in elementary.
Prediction: The POTUS will use SnapChat to give the State of the Union
Outcome: Wrong social media platform
I may have been stretching it but if you think back, I wrote this post prior to Trump taking office. Little did I know how he would utilize social media (Twitter specifically) to press forward not only his agenda but also some crazy tweets early in the morning to insult random people in the press. Thinking back at this first year in his presidency, I don’t know how far-fetched it would be for him to tweet out the next #sotu rather than deliver it. And who thought this was a good idea?
Prediction: The Learning “Movement” will take center stage at this year’s iPadpalooza
We did take a stab at some “walk n’ talk” sessions and of course with the APPMazing Race, had people running all over the place. However, with this year being the LAST year of iPadpalooza, I will say that in the future the movement will shift more towards “learning” as we prepare to launch the next iteration of the Learning Festival formerly known as iPadpalooza. (stay tuned to http://theLearningFestival.com for more news coming in 2018)
Prediction: Someone will invent a PokemonGO type app for education
Outcome: Not quite
Much like the PokemonGO movement, this idea had legs early, but hen fizzled out. However, as you may see with a later prediction, this could be a possibility in our future.
Prediction: Data actually gets sexy
Outcome: Maybe not sexy, but mildly attractive?
There have been a slew of companies trying to make headway in this arena around Ed Tech tools lately. The one I mentioned in this piece last year (CatchOn) has grown leaps and bounds and is now receiving almost a Terabyte of data from over 10 Billion data points. All that data is taking us from this exploratory phase of Ed Tech towards a more robust and meaningful approach to how we use learning technology and applications in our school. I’m excited for the future, even if it’s not sexy…yet.
Prediction: Mixed Reality makes it’s way into the mainstream classroom
Outcome: Still a ways off
My excitement for mixing virtual and augmented worlds in our classrooms may still be way off base, but I think the concept still makes some sense. We have static classrooms with dynamic devices, why not have kids explore Mars while walking across the hall or visit Egyptian tombs while drawing hieroglyphics in Art class? The possibilities are endless.
Prediction: VR-Enhanced Movies!
Outcome: It’s here…just not mainstream yet
A couple of months after I made this prediction I was made aware of the documentary “Clouds Over Sidra“. This film was created for the United Nations with the intention of making government officials “feel” what it was like to be a 12-year old girl growing up in a Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. The responses from U.N. Officials were overwhelming, not only from the story but from the immersion into Sidra’s world via Virtual Reality. While this has all sorts of real-world applications, like the documentary, I’m curious to how this could affect education for the better. And more importantly, how long until George Lucas re-releases Star Wars in VR? I can’t wait to be sitting inside the Millennium Falcon next to Han and Chewy.
Prediction: The Classroom becomes “Smart” with Frank
Outcome: “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.”
In this prediction I joked about a future classroom where much of the “low-hanging fruit” were taken care of by a digital teaching assistant called Frank. Much like Alexa and Google Home, Frank can respond to questions but also control various aspects of the classroom (imagine automated attendance!?). With the Internet of Things (I.O.T.) still in the early stages of consumer use, we likely wouldn’t see this in our classrooms for a few more years. In the meantime, we’ll have to settle for using our fingers to type out important internet searches like “When was the battle of 1812?”
Prediction: I finally publish my first children’s book…and this time I mean it!
Outcome: In progress
For the last couple of years, I’ve ended with this threat…er….prediction. It took me a couple of years of motivation, but I finally found both the story and the medium with which I want to create my first children’s book. (Check out my “7 Strange Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do in Keynote” post for a hint) While I haven’t published the book yet, it’s about half-way finished and should be ready for release in the Spring of 2018. Stay tuned for more details on that and if anyone knows of a good children’s book publisher…send them my way.
So that wraps up another year of bold predictions. I have to say that this past year was my best year so far, but I don’t want to start patting myself on the back quite yet. Now it’s time for me to go into my private bunker and strategize what will make 2018 list. Flying school buses? Self-tying tennis shoes? Tune in to find out.
Until then, see you on the other side.
As I approached the my new school, I had some serious apprehension. Why did mom make me transfer to Zed Middle School? None of my friends were here and the stories about this school were unreal. Scary stories. Stories I really don’t want to believe.
There were rumors of vampires living in the attic and strange creatures living in the basement. Stories about detention being one of those spike-enclosed coffins where you couldn’t move without fear of losing a limb. As I walked into the front doors a loud creeeeeeak echoed down the dusty and cobweb-filled hallways. Were the stories true? Or were they worse?
The front office secretary was a witch. I’m not sure if this was because today was October 31st or if she was an actual witch, but after speaking with her, I supposed it was the latter.
“Where’s your transfer slip?!?” she screeched.
“YOUR TRANSFER SLIP!” she bellowed.
“Oh, you mean this?” and I handed her the slip of paper that had come with me from Viva Middle School, along with my tattered backpack and my Ghostbusters trapper keeper.
“Go down the hall. Room 666. You are late for Mr. Stein’s class. And he HATES it when kids are late.”
I approached my first class and looked for room 666. Frank N. Stein had been a teacher at this school for what must have seemed like hundreds of years. His style of teaching was a mash up of body parts and trendy instructional approaches of years past. Think Madeline “Vampire” Hunter-style with some SAMR (Scary Anthrax Mummified Ruins) model thrown in for good measure.
“Come in. So nice of you to join us.” Mr. Stein grunted.
My teeth were starting to chatter as I made my way towards my seat where my first of a series of horrors would begin. Unlike the nice flexible furniture at Viva Middle, the desks in these schools were akin to all-in-one torture devices. A metal arm bar dug into my ribs as I sat on the hard, flat chair. My back began to ache but I dare not move.
“I wonder what it looks like to collaborate with other students?” I asked myself inside my head. The truth is, there was no collaboration in this class. In fact, I’m not sure exactly sure there was even learning taking place in this class. I looked around at my classmates to see if there was any hope of friendship or salvation in this hostile environment.
That’s when I noticed it.
Something was off.
All the kids had their heads down, noses buried in their textbooks. I looked at the kid to my left. He had blood coming out of his ears.
“Um, excuse me,” I whispered, “you have blood coming out of your ears.”
“GRrrrraaaaachhh!” he moaned back.
His eyes seemed to have a cloudy haze over them and brownish-drool began to drop from his mouth. I looked around the room frantically for help. All the students seemed to be in a dazed stupor as they looked at their Fearson textbooks. Mr. Stein continued to speak to the class in what seemed like some sort of spell or chant. I leaned forward and tapped on the shoulder of the student in front of me. She turned to reveal greenish, torn skin and black teeth.
“Arrrrrrraaaach” she growled as her head turned and red eyes looked me up and down like a piece of meat.
What is this place? Where am I?
The next class wasn’t much better. In fact, it was worse. The teacher was some sort of banshee. You couldn’t see her face through her stringy black hair and she walked almost like in fast-forward at times. Jumping around the room from desk to desk. In her hands, she clutched a piece of paper with lots of little dots on it.
Oh no. I had heard rumors of these. The scrolls of the dead. They were called Scaretrons. Little bewitched pieces of paper that you have to fill out with blood and slowly suck away your soul.
It was at that moment that I realized where I was.
Zed was a school for the undead.
Torture-device desks in rows.
Scary, unapproachable staff.
And the soul-sucking high stakes assessments filled out via Scaretron.
This was not a place to learn. This was a place where brains go to die.
- An off-site location
- Some sort of team-building activity
- Some time dedicated to goal-setting
While I am , I have never attempted to host a retreat. Sure, we’ve gathered at my house for happy hour or gone out to lunch together, but generally, these are social gatherings (which are necessary from time to time). We’ve also done quite a bit of revamping of our meeting structure to make it more retreat-like (more on that later), but still not technically a retreat. With the pressure mounting on what would be our first ever retreat, I felt that we needed a mixture of the following:
- Appreciating our differences
- Problem-solving in collaborative teams
- Opening up avenues of communication between the team
- Identifying passion projects
Adding those elements into the previous anatomy of a retreat, I had a mission. And since I do my best thinking with others, I brought in a couple of team members, Tim Yenca (@mryenca) and Jennifer Flood (@floodedu) to help build some of the structures of the retreat.
Team-Building Activity #1 – Guess Who
- What is your greatest fear?
- What app do you love?
- What was your childhood nickname?
- Where is your dream place to visit?
Using this information, I printed out cards that read “FEAR” or “PLACE TO VISIT” with their answers on the back. We used this to play a pictionary-meets-charades version of the Guess Who? game. Splitting the group into two teams, each team member took turns either acting or drawing out the answer on the back of the card. The team had 1-minute to guess the answer and if they got it right, they got bonus points for identifying the correct Ed Tech who said the particular item. While there were a lot of cherished moments during this activity, one of my faves was rookie Ed Tech Chris Hanson (@tejashanson) doing a flip to demonstrate the app FlipGrid in charade form.
Goal-setting (Individual & Team)
This team is composed of visionary thinkers and ideators with a wide variety of expertise. While it’s important that we create and share some common team goals, I wanted to use some time during the retreat for the team to reflect on individual goals as well. I set up this next portion to help the team answer the following questions:
- What is something that you want to learn this year?
- What are goals for your campus?
- How do you know when you are achieving these goals successfully?
- What is your BHAG or Passion Project for the future? (could be more than a year out)
We then gathered in teams (elementary and secondary) to discuss our individual goals and using district goals to guide the creation of one or two team goals for us this year. I think that third question above is one that I often struggle with. I love creating goals and ideas, but going back and checking on their success (or failure) is often a missed step. I’m hoping these goals guide each of us individually and as a team, and that at next year’s retreat, we can check in and see how successful we were in accomplishing them.
VIP Tour & VR Room Experience
Creating Avenues for Collaboration
Going on an Adventure!
Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies. For decades, these subjects have been the staple of the modern American educational system. The creative arts and physical education have also been played somewhat of a secondary role in that system. While all of these subject areas play a role in the development of our youth, they are based on career needs of the mid-20th century. According to this Pew Research study on Changes in the American Workplace, there has been an exponential demand on the social and analytical skills.
However, in our schools, we still teach the same “four core” areas and then fill in the rest with other subjects ranging from World Languages to Robotics. What’s interesting is, those original core 4 were considered the staple in preparing students for a 1950’s factory model work force. In this Sir Ken Robinson animated video, he talks about how our schools are designed for the assembly line. One only needs to look at the following graphic of companies that no longer exist to see that the American economy has shifted rapidly since the early 1970’s.
Compare the above with the graphic below which shows companies that didn’t exist in the early 1970’s that are now on Forbes top 200 list.
While there are some mainstays in terms of travel, service and retail companies, there is a huge growth in technology based companies. Now taking these new companies into account, let’s focus on the skills they desire for their future employee and see where schools stack up. This graphic by Tracy Clark (@tracyclark08) has been one that I’ve shared for many years. It’s sort of a “Soft Skills Bingo” chart of things that employers in those Fortune 500 companies look for when hiring.
I don’t see any of the “core four” subjects listed on that chart. While you could definitely argue that communication plays a role in language arts and critical thinking plays a role in math and science, I start to wonder why we are trying to “fit” these soft skills into our 1950’s core?
What would a modern core curriculum look like? And probably even more importantly, how would we transition from the current curriculum to a more updated model?
Let’s break apart both of these questions so I can attempt an answer.
Future Ready Curriculum –
If we were starting the American school system from scratch today, knowing what skills our students will need, we could change the subjects and not base them on what big-time publishers want us to focus on with our students. Building on some of the great work from FutureReady.org, the ISTE NETS for Students and keeping in mind those most desired future job skills from above, I would propose the development of the following 7 courses for every student:
Collaborative Outreach – A way for students to both serve the communities around them, but also work in teams, plan projects, and practice empathy.
Entrepreneurialism – Thinking “outside-the-box” but in a class form. Many of the ideas from this class could work hand-in-hand with the other courses listed here. Again, working in teams, students create solutions or products with the goal of developing the entrepreneurial spirit.
Communication & Design – Oral and written communication still play a major role in our current system, and by all accounts they will in the future. However, what about visual communication? What about making a visually pleasing presentation to pitch a product or reflect on an outreach opportunity? This course would encompass those skills.
Creative Expression – Having outlets to express yourself creatively and time for passion projects is huge in the workplaces of Google and Apple. The same should be true for schools. This course could be all about an app you are designing or a sculpture you are trying to complete (either by hand or by 3D printing).
Critical Problem-Solving – Much of the curriculum from math and science would fall into this course, although elements would be sprinkled in the other courses (like economics in the entrepreneurial course and science in the Environmental Mindfulness & Outreach courses)
Investigative Thinking – This course takes many of the research skills taught in social studies and applies it with a twist. How can looking back and investigating history help predict future outcomes? Traditional statistics would play a role in this course too.
Environmental Mindfulness – We need to allow time for students to be outside and/or active during the traditional class day. We also need to allow time for students to reflect on what they have learned and set goals for their future. This course takes some of traditional P.E. and mixes in meditation and deeper thinking exercises as well.
Transition to the Future
Creating these courses is the easy part. The hard part would be transitioning our current core areas into the above. It will take me an entire new blog post to outline that plan for this transition, as it involves some heavy change in mindset (by both educators and community). In the meantime, here’s where I feel parts of our current courses would fit in the above new curriculum:
Mathematics – Critical Problem-Solving, Entrepreneurialism, Investigative Thinking
Language Arts – Communication & Design, Investigative Thinking, Creative Expression
Science – Critical Problem-Solving, Environmental Mindfulness, Collaborative Outreach
Social Studies – Investigative Thinking, Communication & Design, Collaborative Outreach
World Languages – Collaborative Outreach, Communication & Design
Fine and Performing Arts – Creative Expression
Physical Education – Environmental Mindfulness
Career and Technology – Entrepreneurialism, Collaborative Outreach, Creative Expression, Communication & Design
If we really want to prepare kids for what’s next, whether that be in a high-tech career or the service industry, we need to transition our curriculum into areas that will help them be more successful in a highly automated future. I feel like the new core curriculum I am proposing does that while at the same time folding in some of the ‘classic’ curriculum models of our educational fore-fathers.
What did I miss? Chime in on the comments below.