About Samantha Wittchen

Posts by Samantha Wittchen:

MEET TROY TAYLOR

Author:
SAMANTHA WITTCHEN
Date:
APRIL 14, 2015

Troy Taylor, Building Hero

Last Spring, after several afternoons of watching the Bell sisters toil relentlessly at building rolling hang-out pods at their high school, Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber (SLA-Beeber), Troy Taylor and his friends finally decided they should help out.  Public Workshop’s Alex Gilliam gave them some guidance and told them to figure out what they needed to do to help build.  It was hard, but they got to work, and before long, Gilliam told Troy about The Department of Making +Doing, and Troy started coming to DM+D to take part in the Building Hero Project.

An avid skateboarder, Troy spent a lot of time skating at Public Workshop’s Pop-Up Skate Park project in Camden last summer.  When he was nine, Troy got his first skateboard from Toys ‘R Us, although he didn’t really skate with it—he and his brother found that it was great for rolling around on their stomachs.  When he was twelve, he upgraded to a better skateboard, but it wasn’t until a year later, when he traded in his Xbox 360 to get what he calls his “first real skateboard,” that he started practicing tricks and spent afternoons and weekends skating.

We caught up with Troy in between tricks to find out what keeps him coming back to DM+D.


5 QUESTIONS FOR TROY TAYLOR

1.  WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON RIGHT NOW?

I want to start making [ear]plugs. Eric, Ryan and I are working on getting a lathe so that we can make plugs for the Building Hero Etsy shop. Besides that, I’ve been working on fabricating desk organizers for the shop. I’ve gotten my Building Hero certification on a number of the tools here at DM+D, but I’m still working on a few of them.

2.  WHAT ABOUT DM+D INSPIRES YOU?

DM+D inspires me because there are always people here to push me. If I say I want to do a project for school, someone will help me with it.  I just had a geometry project, and I said, “Hey, Max, I want to do this,” and he said, “Do you have a model, do you have a Sketch-up, et cetera?” and I said “No,” and he said, “Well, start with that.”  People here are always pushing you to do better because you can do better. The people here who have that mindset are inspiring.

3.  WHAT’S ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS YOU REMEMBER MAKING ON YOUR OWN?

I was ten-ish, and my mom got a shoe rack and told me she needed it made, so I assembled it for her. (My dad wasn’t home at the time.)  Then whenever we needed something new—like a shower caddy or something—I’d be the one to put it together.  I became the person in my house who builds stuff.   Most recently, we got a new living room coffee table and side table, and I put it together.

4.  WHICH MAKERS HAVE HAD THE BIGGEST INFLUENCE ON YOU?

If there is one person here who’s had the most influence on me, definitely without a doubt it’d be Max Lawrence.  When I first started coming to DM+D, he was always here in the background cracking jokes, and I was like, who is this guy?  He told me a while ago, “You’re me when I was your age if I was black.”  He used to just have fun being a kid…doing things that kids do.  My mom knows that he’ll put me in check if I’m not doing what I should be doing.  He’s kind of a mentor.

5.  WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE CREATIVE PROCESS?

Can I tell you my least favorite part?  My least favorite part is thinking I did something really well and having to redo it because it wasn’t good enough.  But my favorite part might be the outcome.  It’s when you worked really really hard on something and had to do it a billion times to get that thing that you’re really proud of.  It’s like mastering a trick in skateboarding, and the feeling is amazing.  That’s how it feels when you create something you’re really proud of.

Troy on skateboard

Odyssey of the Mind

Author:
SAMANTHA WITTCHEN
Date:
APRIL 7, 2015

Four of the Masterman OM team members

Four of the seven Masterman OM team members (l-r. Shahla Mukhtar, Ellie McKeown, Adam Gizis, Anya Gizis)

It’s Saturday morning at DM+D, and a group of Masterman Middle-Schoolers are working fastidiously on creating a very large Monopoly game board.  That is, they’re working hard in between teasing each other in that particular way that middle-schoolers seem to do almost automatically and begging Mike Darfler, DM+D’s Program Manager, to accompany him upstairs on an errand to the mysterious upper floors of the Science Center.

These enthusiastic middle-schoolers are making final preparations for the Pennsylvania State Finals of Odyssey of the Mind (OM), a team-based competitive educational program that provides students with extra-curricular creative problem solving opportunities through experimentation, original thinking and risk taking.  On February 28th, the Masterman team took first place in the Southeast Regional Tournament to advance to States.  This Saturday, April 11th, they will compete against nine other Pennsylvania teams for a spot in the World Finals to be held at Michigan State University in mid-May.

They’ve spent months preparing for the competition, first coming to Drop In +Do on Thursday nights and then arranging to use the space on Saturday mornings.  Each team that participates in OM has their choice of five problems to solve.  The Masterman team chose a technical problem, the solution to which involved building a series of machines that are powered by rubber bands.

But the devices are just one part of the team’s entry into the competition.  In addition to building the devices, the team was required to construct a storyline around the use of the devices that included a “mysterious engineer character.”  Enter the Monopoly board.

Their story begins at a Monopoly convention where the kids encounter a disguised Mr. Monopoly, whom they accidentally offend.  To teach them a lesson, Mr. Monopoly sucks them into a game board, where they overcome a series of obstacles and complete a series of tasks involving the rubber band-powered mechanical devices, such as a catapult, dice machine and self-driving car.

Team member Adam Gizis demonstrates how the rubber band-poerwedwee

Team member Adam Gizis demonstrates how the rubber band-powered car works.

Over a dozen visits to DM+D, the team of seven students fabricated six different mechanical devices for the competition.  Coach Kristin McKeown, whose daughter, Ellie, is on the team, says that the students transformed from complete novices with hand and power tools to experts.  ”As a parent, to see the kids undergo a transformation from being scared of the tools to being totally comfortable with them is really exciting,” she says.  McKeown recounts an early visit where using the handsaw induced a lot of anxiety.  Ellie’s reaction after they left DM+D that day?  ”Can we go back next Saturday?”

In addition to learning how to use the tools, DM+D has been a lesson in learning what’s possible.  When asked what her favorite part of coming to DM+D is, Ellie responds, “It’s seeing what we could make but in a much cooler version because we had the right tools.”

Shahla Mukhtar, another team member, concurs, “It’s a really good workspace with a lot of tools and really cool technology.  You get a lot done.”

As for sibling team members Anya and Adam Gizis’ favorite part?  They’re in complete agreement—the snacks.

Who knows?  It might just be those snacks that help them bring home the state championship this Saturday!  Best of luck, Team Masterman!  We’ll be rooting for you!

Using the table saw  OM team member using the nail gun

Masterman OM team members practicing

Masterman OM team members practicing

Philly Tech Week 2015 Preview

Author:
SAMANTHA WITTCHEN
Date:
MARCH 31, 2015

Pendulum painterPhilly Tech Week 2015 is fast approaching, and with it comes myriad events focused on showcasing Philly’s vibrant tech scene and the people and organizations working to keep it that way.  For the uninitiated, Philly Tech Week represents a great opportunity to sample what Philly’s tech community has to offer and find out what’s happening in our own backyard.

Philly Tech Week begins April 17th and presents a jam-packed eight days of events that draws tens of thousands of participants from all over the region.  DM+D and several partner organizations are participating this year, and below we present of a round-up events that you won’t want to miss.  Get the skinny, and come say hi!


DM+D EVENTS:

Arcade @ Dilworth
Friday, April 17th | 6 to 9 p.m. | Dilworth Plaza

Come visit DM+D, The Hacktory, NextFab, and other great Philadelphia maker spaces at the “Maker Corner” on Dilworth Plaza. Make art and explore math with a giant 8’ spirograph and get messy with a pendulum painter. Free and family friendly.

Philly Tech Week Signature Event
Friday, April 24th | 7:30 to 10 p.m. | Comcast Lobby

Cocktail reception meets tech-expo. We’ll be showing off some of the best projects, products and ideas DM+D Partners The Hacktory and Public Workshop have been working on over the past year.


THE HACKTORY EVENTS:

TechExpo
Sunday, April 18th | 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. | Northeast Regional Branch of the Free Library

The Hacktory will be leading activities, such as kaleidoscope making, creating computer art jewelry, and building a banana piano with the Makey Makey. Free and family friendly.


NEXTFAB EVENTS:

Open House and Demo
Sunday, April 19th | 12 to 3 p.m. | NextFab

Come visit NextFab for an extended tour and demonstration of the modern fabrication capabilities available to NextFab members. The laser department, electronics department, woodshop and others will have demos ready to show visitors what can be made with access to these machines, education on how to use them, and a touch of creativity.

Stories from the Trenches
Tuesday, April 21st | 6 to 8 p.m. | NextFab

Gather for an evening of networking and discussion as we hear from two local hardware-based startups and a member of Ben Franklin Technology Partners about the process of raising capital for a product. There will be networking opportunities before and after the talks.


For more information about Philly Tech Week 2015, as well as a full line-up of events, visit the Philly Tech Week website.

Family Fun with Light-up Felt Monsters

Author:
SAMANTHA WITTCHEN
Date:
MARCH 17, 2015

LED felt monster

Last month DM+D launched Family Fun Day, a monthly series of family-friendly events led by The Hacktory’s Kids’ Club facilitators Allison Frick and Eric Manganaro.  The event attracted about fifteen attendees to create and battle robots made from toothbrushes and simple motors.  This month’s event on Saturday, March 21st, will be focused on creating ferociously adorable light-up felt monsters, and like last month’s event, it’s open to elementary school-aged kids and their adults.

Frick says there will be precut monster shapes and accessories so that kids can focus on the circuitry and not worry about cutting the component out incorrectly.  They’ll sew using conductive thread, which is similar to the thread used in gloves with fingertips that allow you to use your smartphone.  Each monster will connect up to two little battery packs several LEDs.

“The number one goal is to get one light that lights up,” says Frick. “After that they can do other stuff with it, like make the lights blink.”  The kids will focus on the circuitry while they’re at the event, but they’re encouraged to embellish their monsters after they’ve created a working circuit or at home.

LED in felt monster

This is the fourth time Frick has led this workshop, and she says that these events at DM+D attract parents who are excited about doing science with their children, so the adults are really engaged.

One of the things that excites Frick about this event in particular is that this is a project that parents may not necessarily try at home. “If you had the buy the parts on your own, it can end up being a little expensive and overwhelming,” laments Frick.

To make one–or one hundred–monsters still requires a spool of conductive thread, and that can run about $40 alone.

Another benefit of the event is that there will be lots of individualized instruction from both Frick and Manganaro, which lightens the load for parents.

“It may seem overwhelming to take this on by themselves,” says Frick, “but if parents can bring their kids with them to where there are teachers, it makes it less scary and encourages parents to try something new.”

Click here to register for family fun with light-up felt monsters this Saturday.

Felt monster 2   Felt monster 1

 

Felt monster in progress

Meet Eric Manganaro

Author:
SAMANTHA WITTCHEN
Date:
MARCH 10, 2015

Eric Manganaro On Friday afternoons, DM+D hosts Kids’ Club, The Hacktory’s weekly after-school program that lets 3rd to 5th graders explore simple machines, build robots, fabricate musical instruments and otherwise do cool stuff.  Fearlessly leading that program, along with Allison Frick, is Eric Manganaro.

Eric came to DM+D by way of NextFab, which had previously occupied the DM+D space before moving to its current space on Washington Avenue.  Eric was interning with an inventor, and they worked out of a small workshop in the inventor’s home and ran a group together making Tesla coils.  Having toured NextFab with the inventor, Eric took a membership after his internship ended so that he would still have access to the kind of tools had been using in the home workshop.

So when NextFab moved and DM+D took over the space, Eric was naturally interested in what was happening here.  The Hacktory was looking for a co-teacher for Kids’ Club, and Eric jumped at the chance.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s having more fun–the kids or Eric.

When he’s not dreaming up awesome projects for Kids’ Club, you might also find him playing guitar, bass guitar, flute or composing computer music.  His indie pop R&B crossover band (yes, really!) has an EP due out in the Spring.  We caught up with Eric to talk LED hula hoops, solar panels and language.


5 QUESTIONS FOR ERIC MANGANARO

1. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON RIGHT NOW?

I am starting a toy company, iSpinToys. We’re developing a set of poi—it’s basically an illuminated weight on the end of a string.  They’re used for swinging in a variety of rhythmic patterns. That’s where I get to use a lot of my skills. It combines 3-D modeling with casting and circuit design.

In addition to running the toy company, I fix a lot of LED hoops.  A new LED hoop can run hundreds of dollars, so I fix them for people instead. At DM+D, I’m teaching a class on building your own LED hoop. It’s basically a soldering class that’s disguised as a hoop-making class.

I’m also currently working on a Jeffersonian polygraph for the American Philosophical Society.  It’s a device that Thomas Jefferson used for duplicating manuscripts.  His pen would be attached to another pen by a series of mechanical linkages, and as he would write, it would create a duplicate copy.  The APS is going to use the one I’m building in an upcoming exhibit.

2. HOW DOES DM+D INSPIRE YOU?

The people there inspire me, and the degree of freedom I have is inspiring.

There are a lot of bright people that come into the space to work on things and learn, and that’s really inspiring.  Because of the position that I’m in, I have freedom to control the curriculum of Kids’ Club without an institution to direct me–it’s really just the attention spans of the kids that guide me.

If you’re prone to being inspired by that kind of environment, it’s a great place to be. The fact that DM+D is able to keep itself a place that’s open to all kinds of people and presents a learning environment that isn’t intimidating to them is also inspiring to me.

3. WHAT’S ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS YOU REMEMBER MAKING ON YOUR OWN?

Where I grew up in NJ was close to Edmund Scientific. They just do optics now, but they used to sell educational scientific experiments. They’d also sell loose motors and broken solar panel parts. One of the first things I remember doing was putting together solar panels from broken solar panel parts. I used to use them to power my little projects that incorporated motors and switches.

4. WHICH MAKERS HAVE HAD THE MOST INFLUENCE ON YOU?

Neil Gershenfeld, who teaches a class called “How to Make Almost Anything” at MIT, runs a center there called the Center for Bits and Atoms, and I was intrigued by the beginning of the concept of being able to unleash your creativity because you’re surrounded by tools in the right configurations with the right people. He also started the fabrication lab (or Fab Lab) movement as an alternative form of industrial education.

Richard Feynman is someone else I really like.  He’d do this mental exercise where you’d have to explain an object or an idea to him, but you’d have to eliminate context-specific jargon. When you do that, it forces you to explain something in common language that might take a little longer but ultimately makes it clearer. You start losing boundaries between those who understand the jargon and those who don’t.

5. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE CREATIVE PROCESS?

The part that I value is failure. I value it in a way that makes me really anxious and that has a really long build up to a dopamine release when I finally succeed.  It’s using the failure to realize where I’m coming from and to be honest about the project. I like to be able to allow the process to take over. I have an idea of what a project means going into it, but as I remind myself of the physical limitations of the project, it lends itself to the next step. I guess my favorite part of the process is allowing the project to tell me what to do next.

Eric at Kids Club

Eric shows a Kids’ Club attendee how to cut a pomegranate.

Eric - cigar box guitar

Eric helps kids build a cigar box guitar.

Inquiry-Based Science with Mr. B

Author:
SAMANTHA WITTCHEN
Date:
MARCH 3, 2015

UCSC-KWPP Polymer Play Program - Nicholas Bungard

Bioplastics final presentation with students from KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School and Director of Enrichment, Nicholas Bungard

Every Wednesday afternoon, a group of intrepid 8th graders from KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School (KWPP) and their teacher, Nicholas Bungard (or Mr. B, as he’s known to the students), board a trolley from their Baltimore Avenue school and head to DM+D for two and a half hours of inquiry-based scientific exploration.

The program, which is comprised of two nine-week sessions held in the Fall and Spring semesters, is in its second year. Last year, Danielle Stollak, Program Manager for STEAM Initiatives at the University City Science Center, contacted Bungard, who is the Director of Enrichment at KWPP, and suggested that DM+D would be a good fit with KWPP’s core values. Bungard says he was excited about having the ability to provide opportunities for scientific inquiry and exploration–something that has become less common in our modern test-driven middle school curricula.

“DM+D really stresses inquiry-based scientific exploration,” says Bungard. “Students have the opportunity to make mistakes and hypothesize and not have it work out. Sometimes it’s hard for them.”

Bungard says that often in sciences labs, there’s a predictable outcome. Teachers will pick a lab that they know students are going to have success with, so students don’t have an opportunity to fail, which is critical to the learning process.

“Our students have some natural fear of making mistakes,” notes Bungard, “and pulling that veil off and teaching them that it’s okay to make mistakes is slowly eroding away their fear.”

Last Fall, students learned about creating and using bioplastics. They experimented with different kinds of bioplastic materials and ultimately participated in a collaborative project where they created a new product or reinvented an existing one using bioplastics. During the final presentation, to which family and friends were invited, visitors were asked to act like investors, so the students learned a bit about entrepreneurship and selling their products, too.

USCS-KWPP Bioplastics presentation group

Students from KWPP present their bioplastics product

This Spring’s session focuses on batteries and electric circuits. Students learn about voltage, amps and electron movement. They’ve learned how to make batteries using everyday household items, like hooking limes together to power an LED, and this semester’s program will culminate in students making a battery-powered machine. If they can incorporate what they learned about bioplastics last Fall, even better. Similar to the Fall session, there will be a presentation during the last week of the program.

Bungard says that one of the main benefits of being at DM+D is that it allows students to experience working in a real laboratory. “DM+D is reflective of the kind of spaces that the students will find themselves in during or after college,” he says, “and it shows them that a lab isn’t always glass beakers and lab coats. It’s a vibrant place where people are communicating and collaborating, and sometimes it’s messy.”

Students apply for fifteen spots in the program. Currently, there are more girls than boys, but Bungard says that’s just luck of the draw.

Bungard has been working in enrichment at KWPP since it opened in 2009. When it comes to the program at DM+D, he says that he plays more the role of an active participant than a teacher with all the answers. He feels fortunate that he can facilitate this kind of self-directed, inquiry-based learning for students because it adds another layer of understanding that will only help them when they leave KWPP.

“I feel confident that when they get to high school, they’ll be ahead of the other students.”

Mr. B - Urban Blazers

Mr. B with student as part of Urban Blazers, another enrichment program at KWPP

School For Poetic Computation

Author:
SAMANTHA WITTCHEN
Date:
FEBRUARY 24, 2015

School for Poetic Computation - Fall 2014

Photo courtesy of SFPC

Last Spring, when The Hacktory was planning for its Unknown Territory residency program, the New York City-based School for Poetic Computation (SFPC) announced that it would be offering a two-week intensive class that focuses on the nexus of art and technology.  This wasn’t the first time that The Hacktory’s Executive Director, Georgia Guthrie, had heard of SFPC.  She had been following the work of a number of the school’s founders, many of whom were doing interesting hardware projects in the world of design and computing, for several years.  When the school launched two years ago, Guthrie had been interested in attending its inaugural class, but it was a ten-week session, and it was expensive.

So when SFPC announced it was offering a shorter two-week session last Spring, it dovetailed nicely with The Hacktory’s hiring of Lee Tusman as Creative Director.  Tusman expressed interest in attending the class, and with help from a grant, The Hacktory was able to send him to attend.  Guthrie says it was a really good experience for Tusman, and when another ten-week session was announced for this Spring, Tusman encouraged Guthrie to apply.

Guthrie doesn’t often have the luxury to take time off from her job running The Hacktory, but the timing of this class, which begins March 16th and runs through May 22nd, turned out to be relatively convenient, so she decided to apply.  She was accepted.

The school’s self-described mission is to explore “the creative and expressive nature of computational approaches to art and design. The school approaches writing code like creative writing — focusing on the mechanics of programming, the demystification of tools, and hacking the conventions of art-making with computation.”

SFPC stresses that they are neither a technical bootcamp nor a vocational program, and what Guthrie hopes to get out of it is a deeper understanding of creative programming (and the tools used to facilitate it) that she can bring back to The Hacktory and share with others.  ”I’m excited to have a strong foundation myself that I can use to come up with more projects to bring back to Philly and expand the work we do,” she says.

In addition to having time to devote solely to learning the programs and programming languages that form the backbone of creative programming, Guthrie is also looking forward to making more contacts in New York.  She thinks it can only benefit The Hacktory and DM+D for more people in New York to know about the good work that’s happening in Philly.  ”It’ll strengthen our residency,” says Guthrie.  ”There’s been a lot in the news about Philly lately, and it seems like a good time for people to want to come and check Philly out.”

The teaching roster includes some big names in the creative programming space.  Guthrie says that Zach Lieberman, one of SFCP’s founders and a teacher at the class she’ll be attending, was one of the first people she knew doing work in this area.  Lieberman built an eye tracking mechanism for a graffiti artist who had been diagnosed with ALS, which left him almost completely paralyzed, and this mechanism allowed him to continue working by using just his eyes to control the creation of his work.  Guthrie is excited to have the opportunity to work with teachers like Lieberman.

Ultimately, though, she hopes that the experience at SFCP will be a way to jumpstart further creative programming work at The Hacktory.

“The more I’ve done work at The Hacktory, the more I’ve discovered that what it takes to get people to make stuff is to get them excited about it.  And I’m looking forward to finding some of that excitement for myself.”