The ceiling in the truck is beginning to look really happy nowadays.
Yes, what appears to be an avant-garde new art installation is a hanging collection of sketches and notes made by all the kids that come to do a SparkTruck workshop. After the past several days, I think we’ve officially reached the point when Post-Its cover more territory than they don’t cover up there. This is really fun, especially for the truck’s taller visitors.
And as the Post-It count on the ceiling goes up, so do the digits on the odometer. Over the past week, we’ve driven from Chicago to Austin, and have learned a lot of things along the way.
1. Shade tents are wonderful.
This is important when conducting workshops anywhere in the Central Time Zone in August between the hours of 8am and 6pm.
In Chicago, we got to participate in a really fun event called Medline Makes a Difference, organized by Chicago Cares, in which Medline employees participated in hands-on community service projects. There were school murals being painted, fall carnival fundraiser kits assembled for local charities, and all sorts of other really neat stuff. It was inspiring to see such a big gathering that showcased the benefits that hands-on building can have on communities.
In Austin, we went to IBM to hold an informal community event, and once again, shade tents came to the rescue, preventing almost-certain melting of several Sparkees. (Thanks for the tents, Jennifer!)
At IBM, we held an activity in which kids got to re-imagine their ideal city. Everyone picked a part of the city to design and build, and together we made a scale model of this futuristic metropolis.
Imaginations ran wild.
The trusty glue gun proved to be a valuable companion:
As did the laser cutter, which enthralled and captivated kids of all ages.
2. The truck can successfully clear a 9-foot overhang.
This is very important when you’re driving through Oklahoma and are in dire need of a milkshake. Our first drive-in experience of the summer was a Sonic, where we treated ourselves to much-needed treats after a long day’s drive. I guess large, decked-out build-mobiles don’t frequent this particular Sonic, because we got some very curious questions from the nice lady who brought us our frozen goodies (after we finally figured out how to use the intercom ordering system).
3. Girls rock.
We had an amazing time at the Girl Scouts of Central Texas today.
We ran a workshop that came to us from our friends over at Design Squad, called Harmless Holder. The challenge was to redesign a holder for six cans of juice that’s animal-safe, sturdy, and convenient. (The common plastic one that is often used for soda cans can cause harm for animals by entangling them.)
The girls rose to the challenge spectacularly. The sheer variety of concepts and the exciting changes that the designs developed as we went through three cycles of prototyping was impressive, and all the adults in the room were fairly sure they would not have been able to come up with anything quite so imaginative.
For their ingenuity, the girls who participated in the workshop earned a Girl Scout badge - this one was for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). And we each got one too!
I was very proud.
4. Sometimes, the truck breaks and you have to fix it.
Luckily, this has so far only happened to our remote-controlled mini truck (I am knocking on every piece of wood I can find right now), and Mechanic Jason handled the issue masterfully, resorting to the most high-tech invention of all: Elmer’s glue.
5. You have to get up really early for school.
This is the first week of the school year in Texas, and thus the first week this summer when we’ve held workshops in actual schools. I guess we don’t like gentle transitions, because we’ve managed to line up back-to-back-to-back workshops in schools every day this week. Four 5th-grade classes yesterday, three 6th-grade groups today, some number that I’m currently choosing not to think about tomorrow and the day after. And the most exciting part is that we get to wake up at 6am!
But jesting aside, it’s been an absolute blast to plug into Austin public schools. So far we’ve visited Lake Pointe Elementary and Ojeda Middle School, with UT Charter Elementary, Four Points Middle School, and some more in the coming days.
Our friend Rick McMaster wrote a really cool blog post about our Vibrobot workshops at Lake Pointe Elementary. Here is an excerpt:
the real fun began for the kids in the library. First the brainstorming, a list of land animals and sea creatures. The lists were long and all got the sprocket stamp of approval from Eugene. Then a tough decision – which land animal to cross with which sea creature. Hmmm, a turtle with an aardvark… a tardvark? How about a monkey and a whale… a monale. There were almost 100 different ones.
In case you were wondering what a frog-meets-piranha would look like, there you go.
Rick McMaster, by the way, brings me to the last point that we’ve been thinking about in the past few days. Of course, we knew this one already, but it’s an important one and worth reiterating.
6. You can meet some amazing people driving across the country.
None of our Austin adventures would have been possible without Rick McMaster. Thanks so much, Rick! (Also for the delicious dinner!)
And a huge thank you to everyone else - all the folks at GirlStart, the Girl Scouts, all the schools, IBM, 3M and other friends whose excitement and hard work have made it possible for us to come to this really cool city.
We also would not have been able to go on this leg of the adventure if it weren’t for the awesome Stanford alumni who have so graciously opened up their homes to us. Juanita and Mike Osborn are our wonderful Ausin hosts, and James and Jessie Greene put us up in Dallas (at the minimal charge of piggyback rides for Quinn and Zoe).
It’s been an unforgettable week so far, and we can’t wait to see what other adventures this cool state has in store for us. “Cool,” of course, in this instance refers to everything but temperature.