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  • Sparking Tomorrow’s Best Ideas–All Weekend Long April 22, 2017
    by Dot Cannon"Imaginology Gate 8 on Orange County Fair marquee

    “Ooh, I want to go play some music!” exclaimed one elementary-school student entering “Imaginology” at the Orange County Fairgrounds on Friday morning.

    He would get that opportunity.

    Imaginology lifesized photo grames with costumes on main mall

    He would also have the chance to program LED lights, play math games, make clay, fabric or paper art…

    kids program LED lights at OC Fair Imaginology


    Imaginology employee at clay station

    Jurassic Parties staffer lets viistors handle pythons

    …and even handle a snake.

    The thirty-eighth edition of the Orange County Fair’s Imaginology had kicked off at nine that morning.

    kids and teachers build with blocks at Imaginology

    Opening day of “Imaginology” is “Field Trip Day”.  A bevy of school buses had delivered students from all over Orange County.  They’d be exploring, learning–and imagining the ways they could use STEAM to create their futures.

    But most of all, they’d be having fun.

    And this was just the first day of the OC Fair’s free three-day family-oriented STEAM event.

    mathobotics display in main hall

    Throughout the Fairgrounds were all kinds of areas of interest in science, technology, engineering, art and math.  But these weren’t just displays.

    Imaginology staff display prints at printmaking station

    Workstations stood ready to help participants get a hands-on taste of Arduino, Raspberry Pi, printmaking, and whatever else captured their imagination.

    “Face time” with animals and agriculture

    Scout troop leader and troop handle python at Imaginology

    One of the biggest crowd-pleasers was the “Jurassic Party” area–with its tortoise and two pythons visitors could hold.

    "Agventure Land" farm games at Imaginology

    Imaginology attendees work in the "Super Dooper Pooper Scooper" station

    Young “Imaginology” attendees even had the opportunity to play at being farm kids for a day.

    spectators take pictures of sheep shearing

    Two 4-H clubs were exhibiting in the livestock area.  The sheep shearing seemed to be popular with Imaginology attendees…

    Closeup of sheep shearing

    –although not necessarily with the customer.

    Attachng a miling machine to Annabelle the cow

    And “Anabelle” the Jersey cow had a capacity-crowd audience for the afternoon milking demonstration.

    All this, and “Imaginology” has barely begun!  They’ll be open this Saturday and Sunday, April 22nd and 23rd, from 10 am to 5 pm.

    Main mall of Imaginology at the OC Fair

    Saturday’s scheduled events include the “Fashion + Art LIVE” fashion show and VEX Robotics Awards.  On Sunday, Imaginology will host Digital Media Arts and My Dream Career Photo Awards presentations.  Both days, there will be a “MiniMAKEathon”, with an awards ceremony at 3:00 on Sunday afternoon.

    And twenty years from now, a rocket scientist, web designer,  sculptor, musician, agricultural technologist or other STEAM professional may look back and say, “For me, it all started with ‘Imaginology’.”

     The thirty-eighth annual “Orange County Fair Imaginology” event runs from 10 am to 5 pm, Saturday and Sunday, April 22nd and 23rd, at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.  Admission is free; parking is $8.  Here’s the link for directions.
  • The Makings of Magic April 15, 2017

    Vocademy General Manager Dylan Harter

    Dylan Harter has an extraordinarily cool job.

    As General Manager at Vocademy: The Makerspace, Dylan oversees a unique program.

    Vocademy, which opened in Riverside in 2013, is a maker space with a difference.  Their program focuses on education–for everyone.  And they’re teaching real-world skills that most schools no longer offer.Vocademy General Manager Dylan Harter displays laser-cut plaques

    “We are makers,” says Vocademy’s website.   They’re sharing those making skills  by offering training in 3D printing, laser cutting, woodworking and a host of other hands-on areas.    With employee-training programs for companies, as well as students and the general public, they’re bringing the “fun” element back to learning.

    Batman costume near sewing machines

    Oh, and they’re creating some fantastic cosplay, LED signs, and go-carts, too.

    "I'm not a complete idiot" LED sign

    gocart made by Vocademy students

    In March, we met Dylan at Vocademy for a tour of the fifteen-hundred-square-foot facility.   Like the maker culture itself, Vocademy is continuing to grow and evolve.  Vpro 3D printer

    These 3D printers were made specifically for Vocademy!

    Laser cutting cutting wood

    This massive laser cutter has a three-foot-by-four-foot cutting area.  It can cut anything that burns.

    Electronics station with LED light circuit

    The day we visited, Vocademy had eight electronics stations, were adding features to their finishing room, and were continuing to explore the possibilities for a second Southern California location, sometime within, approximately, the next two years.

    They were also planning a maker faire, this autumn, in Riverside!  We’ll give you more details when they announce the date.

    Dylan Harter with 3D printed and molded masks

    Dylan talked about his experiences with Vocademy, showcased some of the facility’s features (a high school actually teaches shop classes onsite, due to Vocademy’s high-end equipment and safety procedures) and offered a preview of what’s next.

    On this edition of Over Coffee®, you’ll hear:
    • How Dylan and founder Gene Sherman first came up with the concept of Vocademy;
    • How a local charter high school is using Vocademy for onsite curricula;
    • Some of the maker skills students and members can learn;
    • Dylan’s recommendations for favorite resources for makers;
    • Where Vocademy is heading, in the future;



  • FIRST® Robotics: Where Innovation Meets Kindness–and Professionalism March 24, 2017
    by Dot CannonFIRST® Robotics participants outside Walter Pyramid, CSULB

    “This is a varsity sport for the mind,”  said FIRST® Robotics Education and Technology Consultant Eileen Kahn.

    Friday morning, March 24th, had arrived at Cal State Long Beach’s Walter Pyramid.

    FIRST® Robotics teams arriving inside Walter Pyramid

    So had sixty student robotics teams–including participants from Hawaii, Arizona and Chile.

    FIRT® Robotics arena in Walter Pyramid with students in seats

    And everybody was preparing and practicing for the Los Angeles Regional FIRST® Robotics Competition, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, March 25th and 26th.

    FIRST® Robotics is billed as “a major sporting event…with a mechanical engineering twist”, on its website.  It is, technically, a four-day international high school competitive robotics event.   Each team builds its own robot, from a kit they all receive at the same time.

    FIRST® Robotics team at their station with robot

    This year, teams received their kits in January.  From that point, they had six weeks and three days to design, build and program their robots.  At  a specified time, all construction must stop–and teams must bag, tag and photograph their robots for transportation to the arena.

    Then, on competition days, robots vie in traversing an obstacle course, throwing projectiles at targets, and climbing.

    However, “four-day competitive robotics event” is a term that falls far short of doing justice to FIRST® Robotics.

    FIRST® Robotics Chilean team


    “We have a mantra that is called ‘gracious professionalism’,” Eileen said.  “If a (team’s) robot breaks down, other teams will help fix it. ”

    In addition, she said, teams will help one another if parts are needed.  This year, one competing team from San Diego, the Holy Cows, are bringing along a mobile machine shop, for that purpose.

    And the highest honor in FIRST® Robotics–the Chairman’s Award–is given for much more than technical skill.

    Eileen, who has started a number of FIRST® Robotics teams since getting involved fourteen years ago, says Chairman’s Award recipients are chosen on the basis of community service, outreach and sharing their knowledge of robotics with younger students.  (“It’s about) your being a good person, doing things for others,” she explained.

    Anaheim-based Team 3309, the Friarbots, have firsthand knowledge in that area.  They’re the winners of the Chairman’s Award at the recent Arizona North Regional competition, in Flagstaff!

    First ® Robotics Brandon Caparelli

    “I was fortunate enough to be on the team that competed and presented for this award,” said team member Brandon Caparelli.  “One thing that we did was ‘Business Rockstars’, where two of our students, our Vice-President of Public Relations and our President,  talked with announcer Pat O’Brien about what we’ve done, and that was streamed to over one million people, across the country.”

    FIRST® Robotics Jacob Schlossman with robot

    While the majority of teams we saw represented one high school, Team 980, the ThunderBots, is a community team.  “We draw students from over eleven different schools in the L.A.-Burbank-Glendale area,” explained team captain Jacob Schlossman.  “All (these students) come together, some traveling from over forty minutes away, just to get to our build site, to work.  So all of our students are very dedicated.”FIRST® Robotics Team 696

    History, innovation and community

    FIRST®, which is an acronym for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”, is a nonprofit organization incorporated in 1989.  The FIRST® Robotics Competition debuted in 1992, with twenty-eight robotic competition teams in a New Hampshire high school gym.

    FIRST® Robotics team works on a robot

    Since then, FIRST® has expanded to four technology-based events–in which more than 400,000 young people participate, annually.

    Every FIRST® Robotics competition has a theme.  Past themes have included 1992’s “Maize Craze” (robots had to navigate a playing field strewn with corn!) and2016’s medieval-themed “First Stronghold™” where competitors navigated moats and portcullis in an attempt to breach their opponents’ castle towers.

    The 2017 theme? Steampunk–and the 2017 title is “FIRST® Steamworks”!

    In addition to technical expertise, teamwork and professionalism, FIRST® Robotics is giving participants a background in both public speaking and entrepreneurship.  Students raise funds to design, build and program their robots.

    “Some teams can spend up to $50,000 in a year,” said Kelly Crabtree, of Team 4201, the Vitruvian Bots.  “(So) we have to get a lot of sponsors.”

    A sense of community was evident during a walk through the preparation area.   Unlike most sporting events, FIRST® Robotics is highly inclusive–with arts and humanities members welcome among the science folk.

    FIRST® Robotics - Karen with regional award

    “We take in everyone,” said Karen, who is Culver City High School’s Team 702‘s CAD designer.  (And pictured here with an award her team, the Bagel Bytes, recently won for their robot!)  “When I first came onto the team, I didn’t know the difference between a Phillips and a flathead screwdriver.  I really started from nothing, and everyone was so helpful.  When I didn’t know something, I could ask, and anyone would give me the answer without a second glance.”

    FIRST® Robotics Bagel Bytes team

    Karen says Team 702, the Bagel Bytes, have something special on their robot: an autonomous auto tracking system!  But the Bagel Bytes, who are proud not only to have LGBTQ team members on their crew but to have almost a 50/50 male-to-female ratio, aren’t going to keep the technology to themselves.

    “It’s all open-source,” Karen explained.  “We have it on our team website, and we have it on Bitbucket.”

    FIRST® Robotics participants looking at the arena space

    The best kind of robotic “reach”

    Eileen says FIRST® Robotics’ reach has extended far beyond even the goals of inspiring young people to challenge themselves and find their passion.

    “These guys have been in (FIRST® Robotics) for eighteen years,” she said, introducing the Hawthorne High robotics team, Team 207, Metalcraft.  “They’ve changed the whole culture of their school,,,it’s in a very disadvantaged area, and yet they’ve changed the whole culture of their school, (and) their community.”

    DIRST® Robotics participant Nicole Henriquez with team

    Metalcraft team member Nicole Henriquez says the graduation rate of Hawthorne High, over the eighteen years her school has participated in FIRST® Robotics, has jumped to 98%.  Hawthorne High now has a school of engineering, and Nicole says some of the alumni currently work at SpaceX.

    Nicole said she had just begun participating in FIRST® Robotics this year.  Asked about her own future goals, she replied, “I think this has shaped a lot of what I want to do.    It’s so great to have (hands-on training).  We’ve been having LTW classes, so we’re able to have twelve college credits by the time we get out of high school.  And if we take one more extra drafting class, we’re able to have an Engineering certificate.”

    “I’ve been in the Academy ever since freshman year,” she said.  “From the beginning, when we first started (Hawthorne High’s School of Manufacturing and Engineering), we only had one percent (of female students).  Now it’s up to 25 percent.”

    “I think the best experiences I’ve had are not just when I’m building the ‘bot,” commented Antony Suarez, of Team 4019, Mechanical Paradise, which is Bridges Academy’s team.  (Bridges Academy, he explained, is a twice-exceptional school: its students are highly gifted, with learning disabilities.) “Of course, it’s a lot of fun, building the ‘bot and watching it go out there and do the things that we built it to do.

    “But I think really, it’s just talking with the people on my team, having the ability to converse about something that I enjoy.”

    Something else he enjoyed, he said, was getting to be versatile.  In the past, Antony worked with tools, and on the robot’s wiring.  This year, he’s on the PR team, did fundraising and “a little bit of website design”.

    He even helped to make these new Hawaiian shirts for the team!

    Nisan Tamam, captain of Van Nuys High Tech L.A.’s Team 4 Element, summed up the experience.

    “We’re a family, basically,” he said.  “Everything that happens, there’s no ‘I’s’ or ‘me’, it’s all ‘we’ in this.  So whether the robot breaks or we win or whatever, it’s all one team.  I think that’s the most important part, and that’s how we got through the competitions.”

    The Los Angeles Regional FIRST Robotics Competition is open to the public, this Saturday and Sunday, March 25th and 26th, and you are cordially invited to come and cheer on that team!  Admission is free, and doors open at 8 am each morning at the Walter Pyramid, 1250 North Bellflower Boulevard, near Atherton, on the Cal State Long Beach campus.  Winners of the FIRST® Los Angeles Regional Competition will go on to compete in the 2017 FIRST® in Houston, April 19-22.
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