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Tom Chappelear, a mentor at Curiosity Hacked, is helping one of the kids build the base of a BattleBot.

Curiosity Hacked brings the maker movement to Oakland’s students

on December 7, 2015

It is 7 p.m. and the young makers at Curiosity Hacked are swiftly moving between the laser cutter and their workbenches. This Tuesday, the kids have one mission in mind: creating BattleBots for the spring competition.

Eight-year-old Jonah Russell, who is homeschooled, is part of the team creating the robots. Sitting at his workbench, Jonah is focused on putting together the base of the robot, which consists of two wheels, five pieces of cardboard and wires to make the robot move. Once done, Jonah puts his creation on the floor as the other kids cheer.

His dad, Paul Russell, said he brought his son to Curiosity Hacked because it gives Jonah a way to nurture his passion for technology among like-minded kids. His son has been learning programming through the video game Minecraft. “For us, it is very valuable because he can marry that online experience with the physical presence of a classroom,” Russell said.

Curiosity Hacked is a non-profit organization that is part of the “Maker Movement,” which aims to engage people in creating objects or tinkering on existing ones. The idea took off a decade ago when Dale Dougherty founded Make magazine, a bimonthly publication focusing on Do-It-Yourself (DIY) or Do It With Others (DIWO) projects. In 2006, the magazine then launched the Maker Faire, an event where people could exhibit their work, which took place in San Mateo.

Four years ago, Curiosity Hacked Founder Samantha Matalone Cook and her husband Chris decided to create a space where children could learn and express themselves through science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, often referred by the acronym STEAM. Makers believe their approach is particularly effective in education because they can provide children with hands-on experience rather than teaching through textbooks, but until then, Cook said, there had not been a program that fully took advantage of the idea in the Bay Area.

“There wasn’t anything that really allowed the [kids] to have autonomy, to have their own vision, and to basically build the skills,” Cook said.

Initially called Hacker Scouts, Cook’s group shared space at Oakland’s Ace Monster Toys hacker space when it opened its doors in 2012. But the non-profit grew so fast that they soon needed a bigger place to accommodate the many kids joining the organization. In 2013, Cook launched a Kickstarter campaign, raising over $37,000 to open up a new space on Telegraph Avenue. Once Cook acquired the place, the children participated in the design, and built the tables and shelves.

Curiosity Hacked is not only about building robots and testing out machines. Cook says the children participate in decision making about the materials they need, where the money should be allocated, and what tools they should get next. “Eventually the [kids] come to understand that they own the space and they can really do anything in here that they want,” Cook said. “They have the support to do it.”

Children between the ages of 8 to 14 can come during guild meetings, which is time reserved for a small number of children to work on their projects. Right now, many of them are working with their parents to create fully-functional BattleBots.

Curiosity Hacked’s model has resonated with people involved in the Maker Movement around the world. There are currently over 30 guilds popping up across the country and the organization is expanding abroad. Starting in January, Cook will be launching a program at an innovation lab in Shenzhen, China.

“Parents, the community, and the educational system in China [are] starting to open up to the possibility that there are alternative ways of learning,” Cook said.

Ultimately, Cook’s goal is to bring all communities together. “We are trying to tear down that wall of hacker space versus school versus community,” Cook said.

1 Comment

  1. […] Read the rest of the story by Alison Vayne at Oakland North. […]

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