Learning

 Idit Harel, Globaloria, SXSW Interactive, gaming, education, Media Lab

New media entrepreneur Idit Harel PhD ’88 spoke to Slice of MIT at SXSW Interactive 2015.

There are 55 million K–12 students in 132,000 schools in the United States. Ninety-seven percent play video games. Many people see gaming as the enemy of education—an unproductive time-waster filled with violent images and unsavory themes.

“No one says, ‘Let’s stop reading because there are too many violent books,’” says Idit Harel PhD ’88. “So why say it about gaming? We need to understand this medium better and develop capabilities and literacies around it. Gaming is a powerful and pervasive tool that tells stories, explains concepts, and helps kids learn.”

Harel’s quest for gaming literacy led her to create Globaloria, a programmable game-making platform that teaches young learners STEM skills like software engineering and coding. The platform teaches students how to build video games through teacher-based instruction and hands-on learning.

“Playing games and apps are not enough—no one’s fully literate until they learn how to write them,” she says. “Of the 97 percent who play, not all are digitally literate. So how do we make them critical thinkers and computationally fluent? Through coding—we teach them how the games are made.”

Idit_Harel_SXSW_1_SliceSince 2006, more than 800 educators in 180 schools in 14 states have integrated Globaloria into their curriculum. And more than 17,000 students have built games like “English in Action,” “Save Me,” and “Puny Pestilent Problematic Parasites.”

“Our platform is focused on a central theme—encouraging students to create technology, not just use it,” Harel says. “Designing and engineering video games is the new literacy, coding is the new writing, and games are the lure.”

Harel spoke to Slice of MIT at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival, where she was part of a panel organized by the U.S. Office of Educational Technology on gaming and coding as entry point for teaching real-world skills. Globaloria also hosted the White House-sponsored Austin Education Game Jam during SXSW, a workshop and contest for game developers to create commercially-viable and education-focused video games.

“Not all of us become writers, poets, or journalists, but we become literate learners by both reading and writing,” she says. “It’s same with digital media. Playing and making games is fundamental to teaching and learning in a digital world.”

Idit_Harel_SXSW_2_SliceMost important, mastery of computational and coding literacy carries real-world implications for the future workforce. STEM-related fields will soon account for nearly 8 million unfilled U.S. jobs but only nine states list computer science as a requirement for a high school diploma and less than 4 percent of U.S. schools offer computer science and coding in their curricula.

“Our research shows that there’s talent in every zip code,” she says. “But we need to cultivate innovation skills. Having engaging STEM content should be a requirement in all K-12 schools.”

Harel’s learning-through-gaming mindset dates back 30 years when she part of the MIT Media Lab’s first-ever cohort. In 1989–1990, she received funding from Nintendo and the National Science Foundation to study the power of kids learning computer programming and her book, Children Designers, won the 1991 Outstanding Book Award from the American Education Research Association.

“The Media Lab’s perspective from the beginning was to construct imaginative applications, learning environments, and creative tech demos for new knowledge representations and new ideas for the future,” she says. “At MIT, we learn to design, invent, and engineer technologies to solve the world’s problems. I want all kids to learn just that. And games help, too.”

{ 0 comments }

Alice_Brooks '10. Photo: Paul Sakuma

Alice Brooks ’10. Photo: Paul Sakuma

When Alice Brooks ’10 was eight years old, she asked for a Barbie for Christmas. To her surprise, her father told her that Santa Claus didn’t bring dolls.

“Santa brought me a saw instead,” Brooks says. “It worked out great. I ended up building a dollhouse.”

That gift sparked a passion for science and engineering that eventually led her to co-create the Roominate, a construction kit for a dollhouse that can be electrically wired. Time magazine called it the number one toy of 2014.

While in graduate school in 2012, Brooks and fellow Stanford student Bettina Chen recalled shared childhood experiences of building and making. But after looking at the modern toy market for girls ages six to 10, they saw little that spoke to the same interests.

“We wanted to create an engineering product that would be exciting and fun,” she says. “Girls love dolls and stuffed animals. But they also love Legos and Lincoln Logs, too.”

After months of research, Brooks and Chen launched Roominate through the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. They reached their $25,000 goal in less than five days, raised more than $85,000 in 30 days, and sold nearly 1,800 units.

“We were amazed by what these girls built—it went way beyond a dollhouse,” says Brooks. “We got pictures of doggy hotels, car washes, a cotton-candy maker, and a fully lit Golden Gate Bridge—completely built from their imagination.”


Roominate on Shark Tank. Video via abc.go.com.

Roominate’s popularity further increased in September 2014, when it was featured on Shark Tank, a television series that showcases entrepreneurs making business proposals to a panel of investors. Two “sharks,” Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner, combined to invest $500,000 for a 5 percent equity share. Cuban’s investment was contingent on a promise that Brooks and Chen would mentor his two young daughters.

“We e-mail weekly with Mark, and he’s been really helpful,” Brooks says. “A lot of his ideas are influenced by what he sees from his girls, who are in Roominate’s target age. The partnership has been great.”

A Massachusetts native, Brooks received a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford and still lives in Northern California. She says the company’s long-term goal is to create even more opportunities for young girls to fall in love—and stay in love—with science and engineering.

“We’re taking in feedback and stepping up the complexity,” she says. “We have a lot of things coming this year. Girls’ interests are always changing, and we want to evolve with them.”

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.

{ 2 comments }

Print
What’s the science behind a warming climate, and can it be combated? In this All Ears MIT podcast, MIT faculty members discuss the history and science behind Earth’s warming climate, and if anything can be done to mitigate a rising global temperature.

Some public debates on climate change tend be centered on complex numerical models—great for predicting quantitative estimates, not so great for collaborative discussions and brainstorming solutions. During this podcast, listen to four MIT faculty members—supported by historical and scientific data—discuss divergent areas of climate-related research, including coastal flooding, global warming, hurricane activity, and economic policy.

Subscribe to All Ears MIT on iTunes and SoundCloud. Listen to past podcasts with novelists, professors, and entrepreneurs by visiting the Alumni Association’s SoundCloud page.

Associate Professor Dan Cziczo
Dept. of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences
Cziczo is an atmospheric scientist studying how whose research is analyzing the effects that clouds may have in a increasingly warming climate. His research focuses the effect of atmospheric aerosols on cloud formations, meteoritic debris, and vehicle emissions in the atmosphere.

Kerry Emanuel

Professor Kerry Emanuel ’76, PhD ’78
Dept. of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences

Emanuel is a co-founder of the Lorenz Center, MIT’s climate activity think tank. He is the author of What We Know about Climate Change and his research on hurricane activity earned him a place on Time’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2006.

Knittel_225

Professor Christopher Knittel
MIT Sloan School of Management
Knittel co-directs MIT’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research. The first energy chair at MIT, he has studied consumer and company reactions to energy price fluctuations—including rising prices of gasoline—and its implications on effective environmental policies.

whittle_225

Professor Andrew Whittle ScD ’87
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Professor Andrew J. Whittle is a geotechnical engineer who served on the panel reviewing the hurricane protection systems in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s safety review of Boston’s Big Dig tunnel system.

 

These interviews were culled from the Alumni Association’s Faculty Forum Online series—monthly live webcasts that feature faculty interviews on timely and relevant topics. View the entire archive on the Alumni Association website.

For more information on climate change research, visit  the Climate Change Conversation at MIT website, which is exploring the actions that MIT could take to make a significant positive contribution to confront climate change. MIT alumni can join the Energy, Environment and Sustainability Network, a group of worldwide alumni volunteers who want to share their energy interests with others.

{ 15 comments }

Externship students (from left) Bryan Williams ’16, Stanley Cen ’18, Berj Chilingirian ’16, and Joey Conway G

MIT IAP externship students (from left) Bryan Williams ’16, Stanley Cen ’18, Berj Chilingirian ’16, and Joey Conway G

For many MIT students, the annual Independent Activities Period (IAP) in January serves as a short-term break from all things MIT. But for five MITers who spent IAP at NASDAQ’s Boston office, it was the opposite: strangers-turned-friends who spent nearly the entire month working side-by-side.

“I didn’t even know there would be other students going in to it,” says Bryan Williams ’16. “But by the end, we were inseparable—lunch together, same meetings, and helping each other out whenever it was needed.”

Williams was part of a group that also included Stanley Cen ’18, Berj Chilingirian ’16, Joey Conway G, and Uma Girkar ’17 who worked with NASDAQ through the Alumni Association’s Externship Program, which places MIT students in alumni-sponsored externships (short-term internships) around the globe. This year’s program featured nearly 400 students—including 45 graduate students—working at 278 companies in 16 states and seven countries.

“There was definitely a shared connection from the beginning,” Chilingirian. “We didn’t know each other, but when I’m working with someone from MIT, I have an inherent trust that they’re capable. It was amazing what we accomplished together in a short time.”

NASDAQ senior vice president Heather Abbott, Cen, Uma Girkar ’17, Williams, Chilingirian, and Conway

NASDAQ senior vice president Heather Abbott, Cen, Uma Girkar ’17, Williams, Chilingirian, and Conway

The MIT students spent the externship in a shared office collaborating together and working on individual projects, like creating an app that could help NASDAQ’s sales team predict customer behavior.

“We hit the ground running from the first day,” says Chilingirian, “We got a rough outline of the work that needed to be done and our team was motivated to attack the presented problems. They basically said, ‘Here’s what we can give you—what can you do with it?’”

Each student served a played a different role in the group. For example, Conway, and MBA candidate, acted as de fact project manager while Cen, a first-year undergraduate, focused on programming.

“I’ve basically been programming since the fourth grade,” says Cen. “And our group was able to produce a list customers that were likely candidates to cancel in the next month. We definitely learned a lot and got a lot done.”

The paid externship was sponsored by NASDAQ EVP and CIO Brad Peterson SM ’89, P ’16, who connected with the students throughout their stay at NASDAQ and helped craft their work environment.

“They made a tremendous amount of progress in the time that they were there,” Peterson says. “We built their stay on what we had learned in previous non-MIT externships. Working without structure is unfair to students, so we made sure to maximize their time while they were there.”

Peterson initially connected with the program through his daughter, an MIT student who previously participated in an externship, and his MIT classmate David Birnbach SM ’89, a lecturer at MIT Sloan, who helped facilitate the interview process and connect NASDAQ with MIT.

“I was interested in helping facilitating work experiences for current students and I knew NASDAQ would be a perfect fit,” Birnbach says. “It was great to see how much impact they were able to make after starting at zero on day 1. Everyone was impressed with how cohesive they were as a group.”

A few months removed from IAP—and more than halfway through the spring semester—the MIT group has remained in touch and often connect on MIT campus.

“It was cool to work with other MIT students outside of classroom,” says Cen. “They definitely have a high amount of drive, which is something you might not see too many other places.”

{ 0 comments }

TechBreakfast

Image via @TechBreakfast

MIT’s alumni directory contains a lot of interesting job titles, but Ron Schmelzer ’97’s stands out as unique: Chief Event Wrangler.

Nope, he’s not a cowboy. Schmelzer wrangles for TechBreakfast, a monthly morning meetup founded by Schmelzer that demos new technologies and has connected thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs in more than a dozen U.S. cities.

Before starting TechBreakfast, Schmelzer was a Course 6 major-turned-serial entrepreneur who started his first company with an MIT classmate, Dan Housman ’95, in their Alpha Epsilon Pi dorm room.

Ron Schmelzer '97

Ron Schmelzer ’97

“Near the beginning of the dot-com boom, Dan and I started an internet software company,” he says. “We said, ‘Let’s try this e-commerce thing.’ So we built VirtuMall (later ChannelWave), one of the first e-commerce sites. We basically had to invent everything from scratch—shopping cart technology, credit card transactions—because none of it existed yet.”

By 1998, the internet’s popularity had exploded and ChannelWave had become a successful venture. After raising nearly $60 million in funding, Schmelzer and Housman sold the company to the larger Quick Commerce.

After ChannelWave’s sale, Schmelzer started the analyst firm ZapThink, among other ventures, which he sold in 2011 after he and his wife moved from Boston to Baltimore.

“When I got to Baltimore, I thought, ‘Well, I guess I need to start another software company,’” he says, “So I organized some small meet-ups in Baltimore to see what kind of startups people were working on. My only rule was no PowerPoint. That’s how TechBreakfast go started.”

The meetups quickly became popular and Schmelzer began expanding TechBreakfast out-of-state. Less than four years later, the monthly breakfasts have more than 12,000 active members in 13 U.S. cities. The meetup’s most recent event, “Ask a V.C.” in Boston on April 13, featured nearly 250 attendees who heard from two panels of more than 20 investors.

“TechBreakfast moved so fast that I actually put another software company I started, Bizelo, on hold,” he says. “I’m still in the startup industry. But instead of running a software company, I’m running TechBreakfast.”

Schmelzer spoke to Slice of MIT at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive, where he was one of more than 100 MIT alumni who presented at the festival. He organized the TechBreakfast Spectacular—“basically TechBreakfast on steroids”—which featured 25 demos and more than 1,400 attendees. He also hosted SXSW’s first-release hardware meetup, a showcase of new internet-related demos that he called a “show-and-tell from grownups.”

“MIT has a great overlap on technology advancement and entrepreneurial innovation,” he says, “It’s a very supportive place for people who are creative and innovative. SXSW attracts the same audience, and people who are successful innovators and creators—like MIT alumni—tend to come here.”

For more about TechBreakfast, visit their website and follow @TechBreakfast on Twitter.

{ 0 comments }

Gizmo Garden student works on powering a disco ball.

Students work on powering a disco ball and Hawaiian windstorm. Photo courtesy Gizmo Garden.

When a middle school girl from rural Maine updated her Facebook page with photo of herself soldering on a circuit board, the creators of Gizmo Garden© knew the project was working—participating students were developing new images of themselves.

Bill Silver ’75, SM ’80 and his wife, Judy, held the winter-break workshop in February for 10 students to bolster the opportunity for technical education in a place they loved—coastal Maine—but a location with limited resources.

The couple, living fulltime in Nobleboro, Maine, for the past five years, wanted to find a way to contribute to their community in a meaningful way. Bill Silver, a co-founder of the machine vision systems maker Cognex, and Judy Silver, who worked at Cognex in marketing and sales, drew on their technical and outreach skills. Working from MIT Edgerton Center curriculum models, they developed a week-long workshop that brought middle school students together in a local library and invited them to create their own projects using their newly acquired skills of breadboarding and soldering electronics onto circuit boards.

Bill Silver lead the Gizmo Garden workshop.

Bill Silver, who led the workshop along with a local educator and a librarian, works with students.

The Silvers, at their former home near Cognex’s headquarters in Natick, Massachusetts, routinely visited Boston’s Museum of Science and the MIT Museum, says Bill Silver, who continues to work remotely from Maine as a Cognex senior vice president. “Technology was in the air there,’ he says, “it’s not in the air up here.”

Feeling empowered to work with electronics could transform the five girls and five boys selected for the program, says Judy Silver. “As wonderful as this community is, kids growing up here don’t see engineering and technical careers as even in their universe. And now the kids see they can do this. And they have seen what young professionals can do from the videos we showed them.”

The Silvers plan to continue the Gizmo Garden project in 2016, again working from an established curriculum and adding their own opportunities for creativity and cooperation. This year they based the project on the Edgerton K-12 electronics curriculum course created initially for i2 Camp. Local TV produced a short video that shares student projects from a spinning a disco ball to recreating an Hawaii wind storm.

Want to know more? Visit the Gizmo Garden Facebook page or email the Silvers: gizmo@tidewater.net. Alumni interested in working on similar projects can join the K-12 Education Volunteer Network and tap the MIT Edgerton Center for ideas as well.

{ 0 comments }

UPDATE: Missed the webinar? Watch it here.

Resume Scrabble

Credit: www.flazingo.com

Does your resume have what it takes to attract future employers while accurately demonstrating your skills? At the March 24 Career Lunch & Learn webinar, resume coach Robin Schlinger ’78 will discuss key components and information to consider before drafting a resume. All too often, individuals write a resume without taking the prep time to strategically think through the document. According to Schlinger, this process is essential to formulating a clear narrative that highlights your accomplishments—which is what a potential employer wants to know.

The free, online webinar will be held from 12-1 p.m. EDT and is available to alumni new to the workforce, considering a career transition, or just eager to strengthen an existing resume. Learn more and register.

About Robin Schlinger ’78
Robin Schlinger is a recognized leader in the Resume Writing and Career Coaching industry, a certified Federal Resume Writer (CFRW), Master Career Director (MCD), Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), Certified Master Resume Writer (CMRW), Certified Electronic Career Coach (CECC), Job and Career Transition Coach (JCTC), Entrepreneur Coach, and 360 Reach Branding Specialist.

Since 2001, Schlinger has been coaching clients and adding value to federal and civilian resumes and other career marketing documents which get her clients the interviews and the job offers they want. In 2006, she started her own company, Robin’s Resumes® specializing in executive, technical, and federal resumes.

When Schlinger helps clients, she draws upon her previous career in industry and business. Prior to starting her practice, she worked as a Process, Research, and Quality Engineer and as a Planning Analyst for several Fortune 500 companies. She is an MIT alumna from the Class of 1978 who earned an SB in Chemical Engineering.

 

{ 0 comments }

Do cognitive skills always peak early and then decline? Not according to a new study by MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital researchers. By catapulting the research project into the universe of online games, they were able to get information from a vastly larger pool of people than previous studies. And their findings shook up conventional views.

Crowdsourcing reseeach through online games.

Crowdsourcing research through online games produces more diverse data. Illustration: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

Fluid intelligence, the ability to think quickly and recall information, was thought to peak around age 20, says coauthor Joshua Hartshorne, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. However, being able to tap some three million test subjects online led Hartshorne and coauthor Laura Germine, a MGH postdoc, to make several surprising discoveries—including that fluid intelligence may peak as late as the 40s. The data also showed that crystallized intelligence, the accumulation of facts and knowledge, may peak in the 60s or the early 70s.

Having a larger pool of subjects produced better data.

Josh Hartshorne

Josh Hartshorne is a post-doc in MIT’s  computational cognitive science group.

“Most of what we know about the human mind comes from studying children under five years old, college students, and retirees … because those are the people who have time to take out of their day to come into the laboratory,” says Harthorne. “This really limits how much of the human experience we understand. Even worse, for the most part, we are mostly able to study people who are part of a university community—again, because those are the people who are nearby the laboratory.”

“By switching to using the Internet, we can get a much more diverse population, and so we are in a better position to understand what generalizes and what does not. Otherwise, we are in the dangerous situation of trying to extrapolate from MIT undergraduates to the entire human race.”

All that data also allowed them to use a statistical technique called bootstrapping.

“The basic problem is in our actual data, it may be that people who are 33 years old did the best. But that could be due to random chance. How do you know that the people who are 33-years-old really are doing reliably better than people at other ages? What you’d like to do is run the experiment many times and see if you usually find the 33-year-olds doing the best. In bootstrapping, you use the data you collected to simulate those additional experiments.”

What are some other intelligence timestamps?

  • Raw speed in processing information appears to peak around age 18 or 19.
  • Short-term memory improves until around age 25, holds steady for a decade, then begins to drop off.
  • The ability to evaluate the emotional states of other people peaks in the 40s or 50s.

Now you can play

You can compare your responses in a series of quick games and quizzes to others of your age and education range on these research web sites: gameswithwords.org and testmybrain.org.

Read the MIT News article, the “Rise and Fall of Cognitive Skills,” to learn more. Or check out Hartshorne’s other writing on topics on such as brain games and the role of citizen scientists.

{ 0 comments }

New robot adds two useful fingers to your hand.

New robot adds two useful fingers to your hand.

MIT is full of invention. One quick way to tap into the riches on campus is to browse the MIT Video collection, curated by the MIT News Office to bring highlights of research and campus culture into view. Whether you have just a minute—or an hour—you can learn something fun, intriguing, or maybe life changing. Here are a few suggestions:

Learn how to don the mascot costume.

Learn how to don the mascot costume.

If you browse by types, do venture into the Demonstrations section. Upwrap one of the mysteries of campus culture by watching Tim the Beaver: Putting on the Mascot Costume. First rule: do not try to put on the costume by yourself. Did you know ice packs are involved? Time: 00:03:54

Need an extra hand—or at least a couple of extra digits? Watch 7 Finger Robot, a 0:58 second spotlight on a new robotic device, worn on the wrist, that acts like two extra fingers adjacent to the pinky and thumb.

Learn how materials science is changing energy resources.

Learn how materials science is changing energy resources.

How are materials-driven advances transforming energy and economics worldwide? Watch Hey, Atoms: What Have You Done for Me Lately?: The age of materials design and how it will change the energy world. After an eight-minute introduction, hear Jeffrey C. Grossman, MIT professor of materials science and engineering, present the Wulff lecture. First, he lights things on fire, the way most energy is currently produced. And then it really gets interesting. Time: 58:12.

If you browse by channels, you can zoom in on 133 videos on mathematics including the 18.02 Tutorial Video: Partial Derivatives, which runs 11:59. Or among 261 videos on engineering, you will find Emmy-Award Winning Work on High-Speed Video Cameras by Brian Anthony SM ’98, PhD ’06, an entrepreneur who leads the MIT Medical Electronics Device Realization Center. Time: 02:51

Most visitors to Barcelona visit Antoni Gaudi’s iconic structures that join fanciful decorations with conservative structures—churches and housing. You can understand the subtleties of his work by watching an architecture and urban planning channel video titled the Creative Practices of Antoni Gaudi in Colònia Güell and Sagrada Familia. Time: 01:42:19

You can also explore channels devoted to the arts, student life, and entrepreneurship. Or click types to find history for a video on the Harnessing the Wind at MIT: Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel or the story of the telegraph and its impact in the Whole Wired World. Enjoy!

{ 0 comments }

Ice shells become strong and artful objects.

Ice shells become strong and artful objects.

When MIT students are out in freezing weather making things, anything can happen. During Independent Activities Period (IAP), they made structurally complex objects using the power of frozen water-soaked fabric. Watch the video Forces Frozen: Structures made from frozen fabrics.

The three-day workshop drew students from many disciplines.

The three-day workshop drew students from many disciplines.

The IAP workshop, titled Forces Frozen, pushed the boundaries of ice shells through design, experimentation, and fabrication. Led by Assistant Professor Caitlin Mueller ’07, SM ’14, PhD ’14 and post-doc Corentin Fivet, the workshop invited 30 students to research and design ice/fabric forms and the methods for making them on the first day and then spend the second day building formwork and rigging systems.  On the final day, they constructed an outdoor landscape of frozen structures and shared the work in a public exhibition.

The projects focus “on thin shell structures that get their strength not from the materials they are using or a thickness of material, but from the form they are using, just like an eggshell,” says Mueller. “The shells that we are designing are inspired by a twentieth-century Swiss structural designer, Heinz Isler…he was really inspired by nature and the forms that come out naturally through the forces of gravity. This is a really fun opportunity to combine physics, mechanics, and science with creating something that is almost artistic.”

Learn more on the Forces Frozen tumblr and a BetaBoston article.

You can try this at home.

{ 0 comments }