Friday, February 27, 2015

Inspired by VentureLab in San Antonio

Here is post I just added to  my  Where the Girls Are series of posts from my TechSavvy Girls blog. 

As some of you know part of what we look for as we plan our travels is to be inspired by creative people and places.  Today's tour of VentureLab  was one of the highlights of our travels through San Antonio as part of our Living Learning Mobile Journey.   When I discovered VentureLab, one of the things that caught my attention right away was the 60% female participation statistic on the front page of their web site.

we're making a real difference

 724 students, 60% female participation,

Who are these people that are having such great results getting young women involved in high tech ventures?  I immediately started clicking around their website and discovered that not only are 60% of their student participants female,   but over 60% of their team are women -- SMART women!

And one of these women is their founder, Cristal Glangchai, PhD in BioMedical Engineering.   

Cristal is a scientist, professor,  entrepreneur , and mother of two girls who is passionate about teaching girls to become leaders in technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Spend two minutes with Cristal in this short video and you'll see for yourself  how the lack of women in her university program, lack of women CEOs, lack of women investors, all fueled Cristal's desire to get  more women involved in the innovation landscape.  And one of the ways she is doing that is through VentureLab  ~ an innovation academy that focuses on hands on learning and teaching youth about entrepreneurship.

But  it's not just Cristal's passion for raising the number of females who play a role in shaping the world around us that is driving the success you see at VentureLab;  it is the passion of a whole team and their belief in a shared vision. 

Click on the WHO ARE WE Link and listen to children, parents, community members, and other stakeholders join Cristal (cofounder)  and Director of Programs, Nick Honegger. passionately describe the shared vision of VentureLab.    As Dirk Elemdorf cofounder of Rackspace,  describes "this whole industry has been dominated by dudes who look exactly like me~ young white dudes."   VentureLab is filled with a team of supporters who are passionate in making changes in an industry that currently "cuts off women and people of color".  They understands that

"diversity of view gives us diversity of solution by keeping people not otherwise exposed to this stuff in the game we get a better shot of having them actually take these roles that we need to fill our future"

The shared mission of the team of VentureLab came through loud and clear as Program Director Director of Programs, Nick Honegger, described what happens at Venture Lab during our tour of the space today.

Start YOUNG! 

VentureLab wants to start with kids as young as 5 years old!


Using our ESTEAM framework, we provide experiential learning in Entrepreneurship,Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics, teaching students the key mindsets of entrepreneurial thinking, design thinking, creativity, and we provide hands on instruction in technology.  [VentureLab Website]

Let's Utilize our FULL WORKFORCE! 
Getting more women to participate in the STEM fields and take on entrepreneurial roles is not just about achieving gender equality; our entire country will benefit from this progress and development. To realize our full competitive and technological leadership as a nation, young women must be encouraged to achieve their full potential and receive more representation within ESTEAM-related fields. We want to ensure that our full workforce is being utilized, and that is why we strive to achieve gender parity within all of our programs.  [VentureLab Website]

Thank you, Hetali Lodaya and Nick Honegger  for taking time out of your day to show us around VentureLab today and fill us with inspiration that the world is filled with creative people doing amazing things. 

Cross posted by Lucie at

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Creating Collaborative Coding Garden Part 2

In Creating a Collaborative Coding Garden Part 1 I described how I created my first flower for my coding garden by hacking a votive LED tea candle and adding to it a beautiful flower made from colored stockings.

Once an emerging maker creates their beautiful creation, the next step is to add it to a collaborative garden and learn just enough code to give the flower its own unique presence in our collaborative garden.  I'm working on the premise that 'CREATING" something beautiful will lead to a high motivation to make it come to life.  And since learning some basic coding give your contribution to our collaborative garden the life you want it to have,  maker will have a very personal reason and high motivation to learn to code.   

We all know that motivation is the key to learning, and I truly believe that this collaborative garden will provide motivation to learn to code to a more diverse audience.   But enough philosophy -- let's get started with next steps to creating the garden.

In yesterday's post we hacked our flower, by removing the battery and switch from the votive candle and replacing the LED with a new LED with longer leads, making it more versatile. Today I took the remaining 5 votives in my six-pack and quickly hacked them all (removing the battery and switch and replacing the LED with one with longer traces).  

Now let's play with our new hacked votive candles and see how easy it is to control them with a a microprocessor and a little bit of coding knowledge.

The first step is set up an Arduino board so that it 'talks' to our computer.  I chose the LILYPAD  Arduino board  because it's inexpensive and once you learn some basic coding techniques, you can use it for all types of fun crafty projects.  Installing the drivers the first time  is the trickiest part to using this board, but Sparkfun provides some great directions on how to use a USB cable and FTDI (adapter) to connect the LilyPad to your computer, and set up the Arduino software  so it can talk to your Lilypad.

Once the drivers are installed correctly, you should not have to worry about them again, but you might need to double check that the Arduino settings are still configured for your LilyPad board.  (Check these AFTER the board is connected to your computer).

The next step is to use  alligator clips to connect the positive and negative lead  of one of your newly hacked votive candles.  I like to color code my negative and positive leads.  In this project I chose black and white alligator clips to connect the negative leads.

Take the alligator clip that is connected to the negative lead on your candle and connect it to the negative pin of your LILYPAD.

Then take the alligator clip that is connected to the positive lead on our candle and connect it to any PIN on your LILYPAD (except negative).  I chose PIN 5.

Let's load the sample code called BLINK.  We are going to change the code a bit  by changing PIN 13 in the sample code to PIN 5. (assuming your colored alligator clip is hooked up to Pin 5)

It should now look like this .

You'll want to click on the Verify button to make sure your code works.  This process compiles the code and checks it for syntax errors.  It's easy to accidentally delete a comma or make a syntax error when working with code. Verify is the first step to making sure you have all the "syntax" correct to that the microprocessor (LILYPAD) will understand our instructions.

If no 'orange' error messages appear at the bottom,  you're golden and can now hit the SEND button to send your code (instructions)  to the LILYPAD microprocessor.  You'll see some lights blink quickly on the microprocessor as the instructions are transferred from your computer to the LilyPad's microprocessor.   Then if all worked well your votive candle (the one connected  to your LILYPAD with alligator clips)  should start to blink.  

Now blinking might not be all that exciting (YET).  But once you start to understand how code works, you'll be able to add other effects like blink and fade.   And once you can control one flower, you'll be able to apply your new coding skills to control a whole garden full of flowers.  Imagine what you'll be able to do then.

In the next post we'll take a closer look at the code so that we can start doing more than blink a flower.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Can MAKING a Collaborative Garden teach us MAKING and CODING skills? Let's find out!

Many of you know that I love finding new ways to introduce kids to coding.  Many of you know that I love getting girls involved with technology.  Well ever since last fall, I have been dreaming of a project that will do both get girls involved in Making and in Coding.  I'm planning on using it for our next Girls Make IT  Day.

Here is Part 1 of CREATE a COLLABORATIVE GARDEN with CODE  project.  When I first started to think about this project,  I was thinking we might create a 3D map or a Village where we all make structures of buildings that have LED's inside the buildings.  This was inspired by +Leah Joly  Christmas village project and the 3DVermont project.

From MIT News
Then +Mara Siegel posted this  a link to  a Robot Garden from  MIT  aimed at making CODING more accessible.  That's exactly what I was thinking, but with  less complexity. After all they are MIT!  Instead of 100 robots and distributed algorithms,  my idea was to start with a half dozen flowers designed to include a programmable LED and then have the garden slowly grow with each iteration of the workshop.

So I combined all these ideas and in the next few days I'm going to blog about my journey into making my 'simpler'  version of creating an accessible Collaborative Coding A Garden Project.

Here is Part 1 of a series of blog post I will use to document my journey during this new Maker project.

I loved the garden idea. If everyone involved created something for the garden that they could code, what a fun dynamic intersection of art and technology we would have.  I immediately started looking around for some fun ways to MAKE flowers that could have a programmable LED.
I was inspired by this video of creating Flowers from stockings and could easily see a way to work this into our idea for a Collaborative Garden.

I looked into two fabric stores, neither of which had fabric that was stretchable like Stockings, so Off to Walmart.  Finding colored stockings turned out to be harder than I thought,  but I eventually found some colorful somewhat sheer tights in the children's department.

I picked up different gauge craft wire and ended up using the 20 gauge wire.

With a little practice wrapping wire around an toilet paper roll, stretching fabric and securing the fabric by wrapping thread and tying knots, I soon had 10 petals ready to go.   

The next step was to assembling the petals around the flame of an LED powered tea candle that I found at Walmart (6 for $2.50)

So far so good... Now for the geeky part.  If you've ever done a toy hacking project, you know how much fun it can be to tear things apart.  When I took apart the tea candle votive, I discovered a 2032 battery,  and LED and a switch.   This was so perfect.  Not only did I have all the supplies I needed at less than 40 cents per flower,  I had a great opportunity to include 'hacking'  in my project and to also review the circuits and switch concepts we introduced in our last Girls Make IT DAy.

At this point the girls could change the LED to a different color and have a stand alone light.  
Or they could change the LED to one with longer leads to open up a whole array of options for using their new flowers in a project.  

Here a short video preview of what the flower hack looks like (Sorry about the 3D printer noise in the background, I was printing parts for version 2 of the flower)

Ah the possibilities... Come back tomorrow and see what I come up with. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Let's Make it, Girls!

For a few months now I've been cooking up something fun with   Jill Dawson,  Vermont Works for Women and the Generator!  And today we're ready to unveil a fun all girls Maker Event that will be held Friday January 30 at the Generator in Burlington Vermont.    We hope you will get your school involved.  Find two middle school girls and an educator and sign up a team today.