Hacker Scouts: Judo Bots
Last Sunday we had another amazing Open lab session of Hacker Scouts. With over 50 kids (plus their parents!) it was a full and active hackerspace event! Our featured project was Hydraulic Judo Bots . Other activities offered were: Learn to Solder, various advanced Soldering Kits, Compressed Air Rockets, and an LED Light-Up Bracelet Kit. We were also honored to have a reporter from NPR and from the San Jose Mercury News in attendance, both very interested and excited about what we are doing as a Maker community!
There were a couple observations Chris and I made at this Open lab that were very interesting to us:
At this Open Lab, we noticed there were a lot more girls. This is exciting in two ways: the first is that being a Maker is just as empowering for the girls as it is for the boys. It’s about being human and realizing not only skill, but potential, in oneself. Second, we think it’s extremely valuable for boys and girls to be working side-by-side, eliminating gender stereotypes and developing a healthy respect for each other’s abilities.
Also, we were asked many times about how we choose the activities being offered and how we manage to balance the needs of the kids. Our menu is no happy accident. Chris and I review the possibilities every time and try to balance between beginning and advanced skill building, multiple intelligences (or the different ways kids learn), and how each activity is meeting the developmental needs of this age group. We believe that, while the kids never see or notice this part of Hacker Scouts, it is crucial to building a program that gives them challenges, success, and real work. We believe it is condescending and disrespectful to give them any less. Our goal is to help them identify their interests and strengths within themselves and the confidence and mentoring to push themselves towards their own goals.
Finally, we realize how crowded AMT can get with that many people, and it can be overwhelming for some. While it’s true that AMT as plans to move to a larger space in the near future, we are making what we have work for now. But there are a few benefits to having such a crowd that should not be overlooked. Having that many kids created a sense of excitement in belonging to a community that many kids (and parents!) expressed to me throughout the day. It is very cool for a kid to meet so many others who are into Making too. There is also idea sharing that happens with a good size crowd. For example, down in the Judo Bot room, many kids shared improvements and modifications they made to make their Judo Bot either stronger or more effective in battle. One kid would make a hammer on the front, and another would take that idea but add forks on either side to grab with, and so on. We were so impressed with the kids’ ingenuity and enthusiasm. Not to mention their agility in battling their Judo Bots! And finally, we had 10 mentors on hand, plus many parents assisting, in the various activity areas. This was a great number to have on hand. It assured that every kid would have a chance to ask questions and get assistance, but it also allowed parents to contribute in a meaningful way. But the best benefit of having so many kids and just enough mentors is this: when the kids have to wait a few minutes for a mentor’s time, they often find the mental space to solve the problem themselves. There is nothing more empowering. And what I observed is that when they could not figure out their problem on their own, often another kid would step in and try to help. Working together, they were almost always able to work through the issue. That kind of learning, peer to peer and hands-on, is exactly how kids in this age group learn best. And it’s why, when some parents have asked us if the crowd was no big, we emphatically say “No!” because these interactions would not happen as frequently under smaller conditions!
We are grateful and honored that Hacker Scouts is resonating with so many families and hope see everyone on the first Sunday in October for our featured project: Spy Gadgets!