STEM Needs A New Letter

We are inspired by people who realize there is a need to convert the conversation around STEM into the more complete STEAM. Similar to the article STEM Needs A New Letter we see the opportunity to lowering the barriers due to affordable and easily accessible tools like electronics, robotics and coding, and rapid prototyping materials and hardware to not only revolutionize Design Technology and Art curriculums, but to do the same for all subject areas including Science, Math, Languages and more.

Below is a talk we gave on examples and the process we follow to introduce these skills to students.

Japan Robot Week 2014 @ Big Sight

Snake bot

Snake bot

The Robot Week event this year was at the Tokyo Big Sight location near Tokyo Bay and was in the same hall as manufacturing and vacuum tools. So many great applications for robots to increase automation, and human leisure time.  Many companies’ products were marketed to better health.  Exo-skeletons were in abundance, and the queues were long to give them a test drive. Besides physical health, mental health was also addressed by robots designed to assist with outlying age groups. There were robots aimed at leading the elderly through daily exercises. They could speak and respond to phrases providing interaction without a keyboard or remote. For the younger ages, they had toddler-sized telepresence robots that allow grandparents to communicate and play on the floor with their grandkids from remote cities.

Mind-controlled wheel-chair

Mind-controlled wheel-chair

Universities students brought interesting robotic devices like a solar powered survey car, mind controlled wheel-chair, and even a biomimicry inspired snake robot. The solar car is destined to be sent into nuclear disaster sites on a one-way mission. Solar panels will power sensors, communication and motors allowing this robot to take measurements at various locations reducing the number of people risking their health to enter those areas. The mind-controlled wheel-chair is able to sense its surrounding environment, and take basic instructions from an off-the-shelf Emotiv neuro-headset. The snake bot is marvelous to see in action as the 14 wheels are not directly powered, but motion is created by laterally rotating the axles in sync to create a movement in direction perpendicular to the axles .

The Kawasaki Robot Festival was also on-site showing the success from their annual event in August.  Universities compete for big prizes, and the festival hosts Jr.Robot events for school-age students to join and experiment with robotics.

Overall, it was amazing to see the wide usage of robotics already for sale, and those in the future as technical teams explore solutions to various physical, and mental challenges experienced in our everyday lives.


A Last Minute Collaboration



It is IT: A great project with kids teaching kids programming

This past weekend was the school festival at my main job Tokyo Gakugei University International Secondary School (TGUISS).  The IT club, run by the amazing Soto Yamauchi and his group “It is IT”. Their mantra is ‘of the kids, by the kids, for the kids’ and Soto is the right kid for the job. When he is not donating his time teaching other young students how to program his is busy winning programming contests. I think he is a geniusbut don’t take my word for it, Microsoft thinks so as well!


Soto on the right.


Minecraft workshop


I saw in the festival guide that they were presenting on Minecraft, Scratch and littleBits. I wondered how many littleBits they had and if they wanted to use the Maker Toolset kit; a handsome collection of Bits I must say. They agreed and I began labeling the bits.


They were running Raspberry Pis for the workshop.


Some pretty good art! They were using littleBits to lure people in. That buzzer is hard to ignore.


While labeling, the IT club and I had a good talk about integrating littleBits into TGUISS’s curriculum and making it the first littleBits school. We had some good ideas floating around, like students programming their own e-flashcards in English or using the littleBits in a play for drama or a classroom performance.

We will revisit these ideas when I crash their upcoming club meetings!

More to come on this…


New Bits!

We’ve just taken shipment of a new batch of littleBits and are excited to see what the students can do with these!


Rube Goldberg or Pitagorasuichi?

This Friday the 11th our third installment of the Maker Toolset after school club at Tokyo International School will begin. The theme is create Rube Goldberg inventions.

Full disclosure: I didn’t know what a Rube Goldberg contraption was until that viral Ok Go! video, actually the TEDx talk that summarized the process.

I was, however, quite familiar with ピタゴラスイッチ (pitagorasuichi) an NHK kids program that includes many short sections and usually including 2 Rube Goldberg contraptions. Its katakana for Pythagoras’ Switch, the math legend who came up with A2+B2=C2, but I don’t know the history and why it’s called that. It was one of the first tv shows I saw when I moved to Japan. It was love at first sight. I’m pretty sure that ピタゴラスイッチ now means RG machine.

What I am looking forward to is connecting the new digital and the analogue. ピタゴラスイッチ will sometimes include some electrical devices…but I haven’t seen any with programming involved. It seems to me that with some programming you could create some more complex and precise movements…really adding to the visual aspect of the RG contraption.

Looking forward to this installment!

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Electronic Arcade Club: A Few Lessons Learned

After wrapping up our first session of the Electronic Arcade Club, two things stick out in my mind.

The first was that having the last session before Game Day as an optional extended period. What a great idea. We saw a lot of progress that day combined with a lot of playing around. Playing around is great, and we don’t want to create a strict environment, but in a 1 hour session, it’s easy to lose a lot of time to play testing.

Second thing, was watching the amount of time each team would spend playing their own game and looking for a link to how it fared on Game Day. The winning team, Candy Inc, was giving away chocolate to players, something that really impressed me as they obviously thought about empathizing with their target audience, but definitely a lesson learned and something to mention next time as we want the games to popular for their own sake’sI mean, who doesn’t love chocolate? The second place team spent a considerable amount of time playing their own game. This either tells us that it was in fact a well designed really fun game, or that all the play testing helped make it better, or both. Win-win.

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Electronic Arcade Sessions

Congratulations to Candy Inc team who’s game was nominated most popular by the G1 students. This team was also selected for the Best Designed Game award. While the other games where also in high demand during our “Play Test” sessions, this group of girls really found the sweet spot when attracting repeat players.

Thunderstormz team was selected for Best Multiplayer Game, Electronic Dragons team was selected for Best Game Rules, and The Raptors team was selected for Most Creative Game. We were so impressed to see how each team helped the other teams through collaboration on connecting electronics, cutting cardboard, feedback and lots of play testing.

It feels good to see these students drive and focus knowing that they are the next batch of inventors and innovators to decide solutions for all our futures. We look forward to seeing what creativity will spring from these young minds in future sessions.


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Robotics and Coding Sessions

Our debut of the Robotics and Coding Sessions leveraging the Scratch-like interface of Enchanting with the flexibility of the Lego Mindstorms robots was a great success. We’ve been amazed by what the G4-8 students created and the challenges they’ve set for themselves to overcome.

Well done to our participants, we’re looking forward to many more interesting Maker Toolset sessions with you. Let’s discover the more about of the applications of electronics, robotics, coding and 3D modeling to provide tactile learning and discover together.


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