TechShop Inside! is providing mobile ‘Makerspaces’ for Californian schools in order to raise awareness of the new technologies among children.
An increasing number of initiatives are now being set in motion with a view to attracting the attention of children to such fields as computer programming and digital technologies at an early age. In France, the Ministry of Education recently announced that computer programming will be on the timetable as an optional subject in primary schools, starting from the next academic year. Over in the United States the code.org organisation is offering computing courses free of charge, and has set up partnerships with many state schools. In order to highlight and promote this initiative, President Barack Obama recently wrote his first lines of code. All this underlines the increasing influence of what is known as the ‘maker movement’, a term which covers projects ranging from setting up your own website, building a product prototype and manufacturing an end-product…yourself.
The TechShop ‘Makerspace’, launched in California in 2006, first helped to popularise the ‘maker’ movement and has since opened six Makerspaces in the United States. These ‘spaces’ give school pupils the chance to use state-of-the-art equipment and professional software, most importantly receiving high-quality training and coaching as they take their projects forward.
TechShop recently announced a partnership with Japanese multinational information technology equipment and services company Fujitsu to design and operate mobile Makerspaces for primary schools in California. The first TechShop Inside!, a 24-foot trailer equipped with some of TechShop's most popular building and prototyping technologies, started operating in San Francisco in early December. The TechShop press release claims that this project “underscores a commitment to education and to increasing youth’s creativity and interest in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) fields through ‘learning by making,’ offering students hands-on activities and access to technologies.”
The slogan of TechShop Inside! is ‘Learning by Making’. Mel Olivares, a TechShop coach who attended the inauguration of the TechShop Inside! trailer, explained that it contains, in addition to laptop computers, a variety of high tech tools including mini 3D printers and laser cutters. The mobile space is large enough for a class of around fifteen children to work inside. A number of local authority schools and libraries that are looking to offer children a new way of learning children have already scheduled TechShop Inside! sessions in their teaching programmes. “When we show people how easy it is to create in a way that helps them understand the process, they become more curious, engaged and genuinely interested in learning more,” explains TechShop founder and CEO Mark Hatch.
Given the budget constraints on US schools, they cannot always afford to buy or rent high-quality tech equipment, so making high-quality – and most importantly affordable – equipment available in schools to help children develop a digital mindset still remains a major challenge. The TechShop approach could therefore prove to be a very useful supplement to the standard education system resources.