George Lucas Educational Foundation
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

Hacking Everyday Objects Inspires Students to Explore Technology (Transcript) 

Jay: This circuit consists of a speaker, so you can hear the sounds when they're made, a battery for power. If we were to hook the circuit up to itself with no resistor... [ high-pitched tone ]'ll get that constant frequency. If we disconnect the circuit, then we can hook it to another resistor. So, in the case of water... [ tone descends and ascends ]'s a variable resistor. This circuit sends electrons through the blue alligator clip and creates that wave that makes a sound. Well, what else is a resistor? Well, the whole world is a resistor.

Jay: So, I'll just start. I'm Jay Silver, and what we're going to talk about today and work with today is that the world that we live in, meaning cats, grandmas, rain, your computer, your shoes, everything in the world, is a construction kit.

Jay: It's like the whole education system is locked down from some ancient, you know, 100-year-old idea, except for kindergarten. The very word itself literally means "child garden." It means create an environment where people can mess about.

Jay: We're going to forget that cans are for holding food, and we're going to make cans and everything else here do something else. We're going to give them our own purpose. And so, the first really quick exercise, each group is going to grab some junk, and we're going to make some geometric shape.

Jay: The way kindergarten was designed was a set of what we would call toys, so, blocks, finger paint, certain geometrical shapes, and hoops. These things help children at the appropriate developmental stage of 5 or 6 relate ideas. What's the appropriate developmental tools or toys for a 13-year-old to learn, share, iterate, flourish, mess up, get excited?

I have a marrot triangle.

The Leaning Tower of Flowers.

Jay: So, you call it blocks?


Jay: Great.

Jay: I want someone as soon as possible to have a successful experience with something open-ended so that they can look back and say to themselves, "I have accomplished whatever it is we're trying to get."

Jay: If I touch one side of the circuit and then the other side... [ circuit squeaks ] squeaks, okay? And if I touch it harder... [ squeak ascends ] squeaks higher, and if I touch it less... [ squeak descends ] squeaks lower. Let's make a little instrument out of this. The simplest instrument you can make is with two people.

Jay: The way I believe people learn is by carrying out their own processes in the physical world.

Jay: So, hold her hand. Now -- yeah, there you go. [ circuit squeaks ] And now, hold tighter. There you go. Yeah.

[ circuit squeaks ]

Jay: I'm only going to teach people by creating a situation where people can then carry out meaningful projects.

Jay: Let's show how you can invent with a circuit like this. Let's take a piece of string. This is just regular yarn. We can dope the string with a certain type of conductive material, in this case, water. So, I just dip the string into water.

[ various tones play ]

Jay: I can even get vibrato.

[ vibrato tones play ]

Jay: Leaves can be like buttons.

[ various tones play ]

Jay: Everyday objects are in a class of their own, and, in a sense, anything can be cast as an everyday object. But the important thing about everyday objects is that people have familiarity with them.

Jay: What you do with the MaKey MaKey is you take junk, you hook it up to your computer, and you can control your computer with the junk. So, let me show you a little more about that.

Jay: But my windows, my house, you know, my relationships with people, that's how inventors think. That's how artists who push the limit think. It's the same as how scientists make new discoveries. Scientists don't think of the scientific method. They're trying to push what's possible.

Jay: So, I'm going to start by taking a piece of some tofu that I was just eating. Oh, actually, I ate all the tofu. I'll have to take the cornbread. So, you hook up the cornbread to one of these four buttons or one of these spacer clips. So, I'm touching the cornbread, the video starts. I touch it again, the video stops.

Jay: If you take everyday supermarket stuff and you give a catalyst, in this case, you know, electronic duct tape, like a MaKey MaKey, you have just changed, technology changed everyday objects, and now you have changed yourself, because you have this creative confidence that comes from this experience.

Jay: Over the next 90 minutes, we're going to work towards making an invention. You're going to make, you know, stairs into a piano or you're going to make your bench into a Pac-Man controller or you're going to take a book and when you open it, it's going to send an email. Something is going to happen when you touch something.

Jay: You might ask, "Is this about making a scientist, or is this about making someone who's resourceful and can address problems in multiple ways?" And, well, I don't think there's any difference between those two questions.

Jay: What are you guys working with over here?

We're having trouble making it work.

Oh! What kind of troubles?

Jay: I think people have the wrong idea of what scientists do. A scientist is a resourceful person who keeps attacking problems and fails 99 times out of 100.

It's like a bird. See, it's like a flapping bird. It's like a bird.

Jay: I see there's two people playing it at the same time.

Student: Mash it once and there's a voice.

[ computer voice talks ]

Student: And I've got more.

[ potatoes play piano sounds ]

This is up, this is right, this is left, and this is down. Here we go, "Dance Dance Revolution."

[ music plays ]

I'm not that good, so don't laugh at me.

Jay: If a kid comes to you with a question, to assume that you have the answer is to assume that life is really simple. But it's not true. If a little kid comes to you and asks you, "Why is the sky blue," why may know something about scattering of light, you may think you know that it reflects off the ocean, but all of that doesn't matter. The point is, it's about the process of them being curious! So, don't try to give them answers. Try to give them curiosity. So, when someone says, "Why is the sky blue," you say, "I wonder! I wonder why. It's really -- it's a really multi-faceted thing. I wonder why."

Get Video
Embed Code Embed Help

You are welcome to embed this video, download it for personal use, or use it in a presentation for a conference, class, workshop, or free online course, so long as a prominent credit or link back to Edutopia is included. If you'd like more detailed information about Edutopia's allowed usages, please see the Licenses section of our Terms of Use.

  • Producer/Director: Stephen Brown
  • Director of Photography: Joe Rivera
  • Editor: Matthew Beighley
  • Music: William Ryan Fritch
  • Maker Venue: Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention, Gainesville, Florida
  • Associate Producer: Douglas Keely
  • Senior Manager of Video: Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Web Video Strategy Coordinator: Keyana Stevens

This video was originally produced by Mobile Digital Arts, and was made possible through generous support from the Noyce Foundation.

Jean Piaget watched children develop very closely in the mid-20th century, and he realized that they weren't passively internalizing knowledge, like empty vessels to be filled. He proposed that people create knowledge by building mental structures, which he called schema, in a way that makes sense to them (I like to think of little imaginary "hands" building a knowledge tree). The focus on the construction of knowledge, as opposed to its transmission, led Piaget to develop the theory of constructivism.

I believe this is true, and so the question I ask myself when "teaching" people something isn't: "How can I deliver this information?" Instead, the question is: "How can I provide a landscape where curiosity will abound?" That's because this process of curiosity, and the resulting tinkering and ideation, is how you get those little "hands" inside someone's mind moving about, adding knowledge here and there, and trimming it, too. As a teacher, I want someone to be an active curator of his or her own viewpoint on the world, not a recipient of my viewpoint. Vibrant learners are sprouting new branches and growing their trees to the tune of their own heart's song.

So how can we do this? Well, the answer is kind of to change everything, but don't worry -- it's delightful. Let's start with language.

Answers and Questions

Paulo Freire (author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed) would say that his pedagogy is one of questions. So the next time someone asks you for an answer, what if you give them a question?

Q: "Why does this toy car roll down this ramp?"
A: "Does it always roll down the ramp?"

The question leads to more thinking and experimenting. The right answer (note this fallacy as if there is a singular answer) is what? Gravity? Wheels? Potential energy? Will these words lead to a process where the learner adds to his or her tree of knowledge internally? What about a question?

A: "How about if the ramp is made of water?"

This sets someone off running, and that tree starts growing. And it's not just the questions you ask. In fact, it's any statement that makes that internal tree of knowledge grow.

Q: "Where does wind come from?"
A: "I wonder."

By saying, "I wonder," we are modeling a sense of curiosity ourselves.

Q: "I saw this leaf blow from over there. . ."
A: "Tell me more."

That answer is lifted directly from the title of a book by Eleanor Duckworth, a student of Piaget and Inhelder. When one says, "Tell me more," one is indirectly saying, "I think your ideas are wonderful, keep on having them!"

The Purpose of Your World

What else besides language?

What about architecture? Instead of stages with lectures, how about stations with hands-on, open-ended activities?

What about rewards? Instead of tests and report cards, how about exhibitions and portfolios?

What about tools? I design tools not to provide a function. My tools, Drawdio, Makey Makey, etc. are interrogative -- they ask a question.

  • Will your webcam be triggered by a fist bump, or when a door slams, or what?
  • Will you clip your alligator clips onto bananas or some other object in the world, and how will that change the meaning of your computer?
  • What should the purpose of your surrounding world be?

Those questions are inherent to the support materials and tool design that come embedded in my tools.

Stations, portfolios, interrogative tools, and questions are all just different forms of the same thing: stimulating a human's own growth process, getting their "internal hands" moving all about their own unique tree of knowledge.

I have even seen examples in my day of someone who grows a fake tree of knowledge alongside their true tree, to help regurgitate answers that have been fed to them. But scientists who make lifesaving breakthroughs don't use their fake trees. Artists who push their medium to make others stand with mouth agape don't access textbook knowledge. They make their breakthroughs from their true trees of knowledge that they have passionately curated, and the roots grow down into their hearts.

Let's nurture and encourage each human's own growth process by providing a healthy environment with plenty of intellectual minerals in the soil. Next time I engage with any learner, I will ask myself, "How can my interaction lead to more questions, more self-direction, more curiosity?" And as for the "right answer," it's junk food. It tastes good in the short term, but the tree may never fruit.

Roots of My Tree

  • My advisor Mitch Resnick taught me about the power of kindergarten (which directly translates to "child garden") as a metaphor.
  • Makey Makey was co-invented with Eric Rosenbaum.
  • Romie Littrell co-facilitated the workshop depicted in the video.
Was this useful? (3)
STEM Everywhere: Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math in the Real World
Explore STEM education in settings beyond the classroom walls, and see how opportunities to learn science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are all around us.

Comments (4) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Jennifer's picture

This is brilliant and bought a tear to my eye. I would love to see more videos like this.

James M. Bryant's picture
James M. Bryant
museum naturalist and science educator

So, in a world full of junk, I can see that this might stimulate curiousity in the minds of some students. If students are not all curious about nature to start with, then I can see that leaping directly into the study of nature could seem a bit abstruse. I've definitley had the experience of having a live snake doing something in a cage and a child next to the cage (seeming) not the least bit curious.

Eman Elhosiny's picture
Eman Elhosiny
Science Education Curriculum Specialist

No word can describe my feeling to watch this conceptual actions . i'd like to apply it at this moment
never wait

Susan Chen's picture

This is a great awakening. The focus has long been on facts and tests. We need to put back wonder and discovery in our teaching. This will surely capture the interest of our students to learn.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.