FabSLAM Goes on Tour: Pittsburgh

In March we had the opportunity to provide our 3D Printing for Educators workshop as a kickoff for the first ever FabSLAM in Pittsburgh! Given that the 2016 FabSLAM theme is cities, it’s fitting that Digital Harbor Foundation has expanded FabSLAM beyond Baltimore. We were thrilled to help build the capacity of the coaches who will be forming and leading teams through the FabSLAM design and fabrication challenge.

Pittsburgh 3D for Ed - Educators 1

From the first moment that the eleven educators began their training, the room was buzzing with excitement and an eagerness to begin their FabSLAM process. The theme of the challenge wasn’t unveiled until the third day, and the educators were on the edge of their seats until the moment of the big reveal.

The educators were welcoming and passionate about the training that they were receiving and absorbed every aspect of the workshop from the 3D design challenges to the calibration of the 3D printers. Since they are going to be responsible for leading their youth cohorts through the entirety of the FabSLAM process, each attendee wanted to make sure to design and print as much as possible throughout the three day event.

Pittsburgh 3D for Ed - Educators 2
The educators were highly engaged and motivated as they navigated the interface of the design software and asked several questions while practicing some of the more advanced design tools and features that we presented. Their passion was evident as they made use of every spare minute to develop and practice their skills in order to empower and train youth. This especially came to the forefront when several educators chose to work through the lunch break, asking us questions as they anticipated potential issues that their youth may have while working on the design challenges.

Pittsburgh 3D for Ed - Adam 1
One of the designs that stood out the most for me was in response to the design challenge where they were tasked with creating an object that would clip onto the workshop tables. We didn’t provide the educators with the table dimensions before the project started. Instead, we passed a digital caliper around the room and every educator took turns measuring the height of the table’s lip. This process of precision measurement was new to several in the room, but they knew that since they would be asking their youth to be willing to step outside of their comfort zones during FabSLAM, it would be good for them to also experience some slight discomfort at attempting a new skill.

I’m pleased to report that everyone successfully completed the design challenge and designed items that would clip onto the table. True to the spirit of FabSLAM and 3D design, there was lots of iteration that needed to happen. The most important part is that the educators were excited to learn from the mistakes and pass their insights onto the youth they’d be working with!

Pittsburgh 3D for Ed - Printing 1
It was an amazing experience to be able to take the FabSLAM program on the road and to work with such an inspiring group of educators who clearly demonstrated their energy and passion for youth development.

A huge thank you to Remake Learning who worked to bring FabSLAM to Pittsburgh, and to the Carnegie Science Center Fab Lab for graciously hosting the workshop. I look forward to seeing the projects that the Pittsburgh FabSLAM teams create!

Interactive Game Insight: Football Physics

The best way to answer the question “What is an interactive gaming experience?” is to look at a project! This is a game created by one of our youth in our Interactive Game Design Member course, and his game is a perfect expression of the skills covered in the Interactive Games for Educators workshop.

We are offering this workshop because of the powerful impact that teaching game design can have in the classroom. Youth will develop the foundations of computer programming through a medium that is fun and accessible for them while creating a product that they’ll have complete ownership over. By integrating game design into the classroom, educators are able to engage youth to learn new skills through an exciting format: the video game. An added bonus is that through the creation process, youth will shift from being consumers of games to producers of exciting content!

The first aspect of the project we’re going to look at are the sprites. All of the characters, backgrounds, and objects were created by the youth for this project.

IGforED Sprites Example

He decided to make a sports game that tests his knowledge of physics, as he had to determine how to program the arcs and physics of passing a football from the player character to the non-player characters.

The “brain” of this project was created using Scratch, a free web-based visual game engine developed by the MIT Media Lab. These projects help build planning skills for youth, as they need to determine what behavior and mechanics they have to develop in order to bring their vision to life. Once this crucial phase is complete, youth then use Scratch for their coding. The visual nature of Scratch provides an accessible experience for youth and enables them to develop and explore the fundamentals of programming in a fun, engaging way. Here is a screenshot of some of the code used in this featured project:

IGforED Scratch Example

The blocks in Scratch are chunks of code that can be manipulated and combined logically into scripts which form the basis of the game’s function and programming. Scratch blocks are broken into categories that are representative of core programming concepts, such as Events, Control, and Operators. Scratchers can then manipulate these blocks to form chunks of code that build into their game mechanics. Scratch still requires an understanding of programmatic thinking, especially variable use and conditional logic (if->then statements).

The next step is to integrate physical interactivity into the project! Once the core of the game is created in Scratch, the Makey Makey (another invention from the MIT Media Lab) is added to act as a gateway between conductive objects and the computer. The integration of these components is typically done as a game controller, but youth have lots of freedom to build this however they envision. This is a step that can be built into the design process and planning phase of the project. For this particular project, the youth designer decided to create a physical controller that matched the theme of his game. As the game is a football game that tests his knowledge of physics, he decided that the controller should also fit this theme and made a throwable football controller!

IGforED MakeyMakey 1

The controller’s main structure is crafted from aluminum foil, a conductive material. He also had to make a landing pad for the football so that it would complete the circuit once the “pass” is complete. This physical integration is a perfect opportunity for youth to creatively test their problem solving and design skills, as there are occasionally quirks and challenges that arise when working with physical components. However, since the youth have ownership over their projects there often is a higher degree of perseverance and determination to stick with their interactive game despite any difficulties.

One of the strengths of integrating an interactive gaming experience into the classroom is that it provides youth with a creative platform for designing unique products that combine problem solving, iteration, and critical thinking.

We wanted to develop a workshop for educators to build their capacity in the skills utilized in creating interactive gaming experiences with youth.

Educators that attend the Interactive Games for Educators workshop will leave with an Interactive Games Starter Kit as well as access to additional “Going Further” lessons and resources that build on the base skills covered in the workshop. Now is a fantastic time to integrate Game Design into the classroom as it is a industry that is rising in popularity with several possible career paths and deep educational potential.

Learn more or register for this workshop today!



New Workshop: Interactive Games for Educators

Digital Harbor Foundation is offering an exciting new workshop, Interactive Games for Educators. Interactive Game Design is a rapidly developing field that exists in the intersection of physical components and computer programming, where designers shape and construct new methods of gaming. In this workshop, educators will learn how to program basic game mechanics that integrate physical components.

We are offering this workshop because of the powerful impact that teaching game design can have in the classroom. Game design is an engaging multidisciplinary platform for youth and is a field with several possible career pathways. Youth will develop the foundations of computer programming in a medium that is fun and accessible for them.


Educators attending the workshop will learn how to use Scratch, a free web-based visual game engine developed by the MIT Media Lab as well as the Makey Makey, another invention from the MIT Media Lab. The Makey Makey enables youth to bring physical interactivity to their games by acting as a gateway between conductive objects and the computer. Attending educators will develop the confidence to be able to help youth unleash their creative potential in a medium that actively incorporates problem solving, critical thinking, iteration, and the design process.

Learn more or register for this workshop

One of the strengths of Scratch is that it is a highly accessible platform for teaching youth the core concepts necessary to embark on a computer programming pathway. Additionally, since Game Design is a field that incorporates several skill sets such as business, art, programming, and storytelling, incorporating Game Design into the classroom exposes youth to fields that they may not even have considered exploring. For example, a youth who may not demonstrate interest in Language Arts may excel at storytelling in a game narrative.


One of the ultimate reasons for integrating these elements into the classroom is to create more future coders. The programming principles and mechanics that this workshop covers can be the first step for educators interested in setting their youth for a future programming pathway.


Educators will leave with an Interactive Games Starter Kit as well as access to additional “Going Further” lessons and resources that build on the base skills covered in the workshop. Now is a fantastic time to integrate Game Design into the classroom as it is a medium that is rising in popularity with several possible career paths and deep educational potential.


Learn more or register for this workshop today!

Jonathan Presents at Ignite Education 2015


I recently had the privilege to speak at the third annual City Neighbors Foundation Ignite Education event and I’m excited to share my experience!

Ignite Talks are a public speaking format developed by Brady Forrest and Bre Pettis in 2006. Each talk is exactly five minutes long and 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. The slides advance whether or not the speaker is ready for them to advance; there is no ability to pause the slides once the presentation starts. The goal is for the talk to be rapid pace and to keep the topic moving forward. The tagline for the official Ignite Talks is “Enlighten us, but make it quick” and this is a great summary of the spirit of the event.


Ignite Education Baltimore is a local, education based spin-off from this larger series and it is hosted by City Neighbors Foundation each year. The overarching topic for this year’s Ignite Education event was “education and social justice in Baltimore,” and all the proposed talks had to relate to this issue in one way or another. The City Neighbors Foundation stated that one of the main goals was to get the audience talking and inspired about this larger topic, and that each talk should ideally be conversational and spark ideas and foster dialogue both during and after the event.


I submitted my proposal as soon as I found out about the event because I was interested in the challenging Ignite format and I considered it a great way to share my thoughts and experiences with the education community in Baltimore.  I thought that my talk would fit well with the topic and knew this event would be valuable public speaking practice and allow me to further refine my ability to think quickly. The driving factor for my submission was that I wanted to meet other educators and invite a discussion for my theme and highlight my passion for youth empowerment.


My talk explored how the integration of making and the Hacker Mindset in education in recent years has resulted in increased opportunity and a progression away from a consumer culture in education toward a producer culture where youth have a hand in their education and knowledge development. As these changes have gained momentum there have been big shifts on a large scale, but I wanted to dive in and dissect how this integration plays out on an individual level between teacher and student.

This was the overall goal of my talk and I integrated in two core concepts from Bruce Lee’s martial art philosophy Jeet Kune Do: the idea of being like water, embracing fluidity to change forms, and the importance of being willing to absorb that which is useful, regardless of the source. This was the driving force for my personal movement away from an ego-driven mindset in my youth education background to a more empowerment-driven mindset where I was willing to learn from youth and elevate them as experts. I related my personal experiences and how these guiding philosophical points that I borrowed from Bruce Lee have helped me change my approach to education and learning, and I relayed how working at Digital Harbor Foundation has shaped my growth as an educator. Here is a video of my talk that Jen took:

I greatly enjoyed the feeling of being able to deliver my talk in a clear and concise way while meeting the requirements of the Ignite format, but what I enjoyed most about the event was hearing the other Ignite talks. I came away with lots of insight and heard some amazing anecdotes. It was also great to recognize that there are many other educators with similar goals and approaches regarding youth empowerment and reimagining education. I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to speak at this event and am thankful to the City Neighbors Foundation for giving me the chance to share my experiences!

Scratch Game Jam Recap

Digital Harbor Foundation hosted a Scratch Game Jam on Friday October 30 and Saturday October 31. The event was open to all current Maker Foundations youth and Members, and I’m excited to announce that we had 17 youth attend!

One of the best parts about the Game Jam was the combination of youth, as we had quite a range of game development skills. The focus was primarily on using Scratch, a free web-based introductory game engine/platform that is excellent for learning programming fundamentals as well as game mechanics. Scratch is the platform that we use in Maker Foundations, and I’m pleased to write that several of our Maker Foundations youth were confident enough to participate in the Game Jam with just one week of Scratch instruction and practice!


The Game Jam was modeled as a hackathon with youth working on a new project during the event. When everyone arrived on Friday, Jean Carlos and I provided a brief overview of the schedule of events and handed out some suggested roles for a collaborative game studio as well as a guideline of some things to consider including in each project. We made sure to keep the actual event open ended with lots of room for creativity and exploration while also encouraging the youth to form development studios with shared roles and responsibilities.


One of my favorite parts about the whole event was that Maker Foundations youth and Members formed teams together!  The blending of Scratch and game development skill levels resulted in a richer and more creative experience for all involved. Throughout the event we constantly heard youth encouraging each other and offering tips and tricks to solve problems. Since the event was hosted in the MegaLab with the tables set up similarly to the arrangement during the Baltimore Hackathon, open collaboration and sharing was encouraged throughout. Youth often took breaks to walk around and play each other’s games, offering positive feedback and sharing insights.


Two of our attending Members have done significant game development work in Scratch and decided to use the focused time of the Game Jam to level up their Unity development skills. Unity is a free professional grade game engine that is quickly becoming the industry standard platform, and it was great to see two of our youth working through a game together with the aim of creating a playable demo while focusing on solidifying their knowledge of game mechanics and development. Having these two working on a game in Unity was a fantastic motivator for the youth developing in Scratch, as that is one of the possible game development pathways that we encourage youth to take.


We finished the event with a youth showcase where all the participants shared their projects, reflected on their development process, and demonstrated the game with a quick play-through. Many of the youth were sad to go when the event concluded, and we heard several participants mention that the one thing they would change about the Game Jam is that it should run longer next time!


Here is a link to the Scratch Game Jam 2015 Studio so that you can play all the projects from the weekend: Game Jam Fall 2015.

Maker Foundations Spring 2015

The Spring 2015 cohort of Maker Foundations is now in full-swing!

This newest group of 54 youth have persevered through the winter weather disruption and have begun to create amazing things! The Mega Lab is continually buzzing with excitement as the Maker Foundations youth are eagerly learning new technology skills.

As an introductory Maker activity, the group was tasked with creating “a robot that draws.” No additional information was provided other than the limitation of one electric toothbrush and the option to use only up to four markers. Programming staff decided to not show any pictures of previously completed Artbots because we wanted to see what the youth would create. The incredible creativity of the youth was demonstrated through the range and variety of design. Everyone enjoyed putting their creations to the test, and the cohort began to share their ideas and designs with each other.


The youth also were eager to learn about Internet credibility through participation in a fact-finding activity called “Release the Kraken” where they evaluated the reliability of online sources to determine whether or not the Kraken is real, imaginary, or somewhere in the middle. This activity spurred a great group discussion about online credibility where the youth had to defend their claims based on their sources.

Makers at Work

This cohort is particularly interested in sharing their ideas and processes. At the start of Maker Foundations, we ask each youth to write their thoughts about what they think being a Maker is, and then put their post-its on our decorated Maker whiteboard. Everyone was excited to write down their answers, and many of the youth included their names so that their peers could see their responses.

Makers Working 2

At this point, the youth have been working through the Graphic Design and Game Development modules, using their mini-projects for the Graphic Design lesson as assets for use in Game Development. This integration of content is exciting to witness, as the youth are already working toward a larger goal by creating characters, logos, and backgrounds for their games.

The youth are beginning the 3D Printing lesson in the next week and there is already lots of buzz and discussion about what they’ll create! This is always a popular module with the new youth, and this cohort is demonstrating the same eager anticipation.

We’re all looking forward to seeing what the Spring 2015 Maker Foundations youth will create in the upcoming months!