Hummingbird Makeathon

Guest post by Tom Lauwers, Birdbrain Technologies

Birdbrain Technologies would like to invite Pittsburgh area high schoolers to join us for a free weekend of fun, creative making!

On September 26 & 27 we are holding a Hummingbird Makeathon where teams of teens will join together to create awesome robotic pets. 2 weeks later we will display these creatures to the community at our "Robot Petting Zoo" at the Pittsburgh Maker Faire.

The Makeathon is designed to be beginner friendly; teens do not need to have any experience with robotics or computer programming to attend, just a willingness to be creative and try new things! 

You can learn more and apply at:

If you have any questions please email us at

What does tech fluency have to do with Christian formation?

Guest post by Lisa Brown.

The following post was initially written for an Episcopalian Christian educator’s blog but it I hope it would encourage anyone who wants to make the world a better place.


I just spent two days at Context 2015: Tech Fluency for Teaching & Learning. The conference was sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab, housed in the university’s Robots Institute.

What could an Episcopal priest (e-Formation’s Kyle Oliver) and a Sunday school teacher (that’s me) possibly gain from this gathering of techies, scientists, and secular educators? What could we want with robotics? Circuitry? Digital imaging? Digital badges?

What would Mr. Rogers say?

Perhaps a hint that we weren’t completely out of our element was represented in the simple choice of venue for the event.

In addition to the breakout sessions at the university—which is known for both letters and science—we gathered for each morning’s keynote address in the Carnegie Museum of Art. Best of all, we concluded our conference in WQED studios, where the perennial children’s classic television show Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood was filmed.

In addition to being a beloved presence in the lives of millions of children, Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister whose message of unconditional love is embodied by Christian formation ministers everywhere. His theology was expressed in his profound respect for children’s curiosity, their worldview, and their need to explore. This gentle outlook served budding philosophers and scientists equally well.

Which brings us back to the technology. We couldn’t help but think about how what we saw at the conference would be useful in Christian formation. Here are a couple of ideas …

Arts & Bots: Bringing poetry to life

As an incredible example of the intersection of humanities and science, we learned about one of the “Arts & Bots” projects in which students created motorized shoebox dioramas based on poetry.

In choosing which poetic image to represent, and by carefully constructing the diorama out of traditional craft materials brought to life by robotic components for motion, sound, and light, the students were encouraged to “go deeper” into the meaning of the poems they were studying.

They were forced to consider the writer’s intention and context, as they reread and interpreted the words as a visual, animated image. In their personal response, they were forced to ask “I wonder?” questions.

Wait a minute. That creative exegesis and questioning sounds a lot like Godly Play.

Telling a story with 100 objects

In an illustration of technology being used to enhance historical understanding, we discovered the “100 Objects” project. Based on a popular exhibit at the British Museum, “The History of the World in 100 Objects,” the instructor asked his students to narrate a history of race in the U.S.

The students chose the objects, and then recorded audio podcasts telling a first-person narrative, a witness to history from the “perspective” of that object. Next, the students used graphic design software to create posters featuring the object and a scannable QR code.

The posters were displayed where other students could use their smartphones to read the QR code and gain access to the podcast. In one example, we listened to a microphone from the Cotton Club talk about being present in one of the first spaces where people of different races could mingle socially and witnessing the memorable day when Billie Holiday sang.

Wait a minute. Educating young people about the history of race in America sounds like an effort to transform unjust structures of society. That’s one of the Five Marks of Mission in the Episcopal Church.

Immigrant children become Bigshots

Another fascinating demonstration introduced the Bigshot” camera, the first digital camera designed for experiential learning. Children can assemble the entire device from a kit, and understand much of the underlying science with the help of some engaging online tutorials.

As a Christian educator, they had me at “experiential.”

In one Bigshot learning project, immigrant children were each given a kit to assemble the digital camera, which is powered by a hand-crank and features a “Swiss Army”-style rotating lens. The children then took to the local art museum, where none had ever visited. They took photos there, had them printed (something most could not have afforded to do), and then got to see them exhibited at the museum with their families as special guests.

To tell our story is a basic human urge; in fact, it is through storytelling that our shared identity is formed and propagated.

For these mostly marginalized children, for whom English was a second language, and for whom economic and academic prospects were sadly limited, this camera gave them a voice with which to speak and be heard. It gave them a measure of dignity.

Wait a minute. That sounds a lot like the Baptismal Covenant promise to “…strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” (Episcopal Book of Common Prayer)


At this point you may be asking if these examples are just gimmicks. Isn’t it a bit of a stunt to pitch technology education as Christian formation. I think not.

Here’s an observation: in today’s world, if you give an 18-month-old child a spoon and an iPhone, you might be shocked to discover that they are equally adept with both tools.

Technology provides us with tools. And tools are no more and no less than the means by which we accomplish something else.

We build, we travel, we communicate using our tools. We share our faith using our tools. Before you could read the Bible on your Kindle, you read it in a book printed on a digital printer. Or an offset printer.

Before the printing press, it would have been a hand-copied book written with a quill. Further back, before most people could read, we shared our stories and formed our community using stained glass windows and altar frescoes, crafted with hand tools and delicate brushes. We used the tools we had to tell our story.

So today, when we have tools that are capable of miracles compared to their precursors, why wouldn’t we use them?

This is how people communicate. This is how people form communities. This is how people interpret the world in which we live.

To proclaim the Good News, to teach and nurture believers, we need to meet them where they are. We need to speak their language.

It was with an almost theological orientation that Context Conference keynote speaker, former Carnegie Mellon provost Indira Nair, urged us to teach the next generation to use the marvelous tools available to us. The root of the word “technology,” she explained, was derived from the Greek word tekhne, meaning art, or craftsmanship, and logos, meaning expression.

What tools in our modern world will allow us to cleverly craft and express the foundational stories of our faith? As Nair noted, “…stories inspire and orient me.”

What tools will allow us to carry our faith into the next century and orient young believers? How can they help us to, as Nair challenged us, “invert the standard power relationship and privilege the child’s voice”?

As Christian educators, these are the questions we need to be asking.

Lisa Brown (@LCBrown67 ) is the Director of Children’s Ministry at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, PA. She is also a coordinator for the Children’s Ministry Team of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon, an active member of Forma, and a multi-troop Girl Scout leader, Lisa is passionate about creatively engaging, enlightening, and enriching the spiritual lives of young people.

The Rev. Kyle Oliver is the Digital Missioner and Learning Lab Coordinator for the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary. He is the coordinator of the E-formation Conference ( ) which is an ecumenical conference on ministry in a digital world.

Hummingbird and Finch at TRETC

There's still time to register for the Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference on Nov. 17th & 18th. TRETC is the premier K-16 educational technology conference in Western Pennsylvania. Over 350 educators from K-12 schools, higher education and non-profits come to the event. In addition, each year over 30 vendors showcase their new technologies.

CREATE Lab has been featured in the past at TRETC and this year, the Hummingbird and Finch will be part of the Maker Space and will be part of Breakout Session B: Featured Presentation – Ball Room – 11:10 am – 12:10 pm

Presenter: Zee Poerio, K-8 Computer Teacher, St. Louise de Marillac Catholic School

Presentation Title: EdTech Takes the Runway at TRETC: Trends to Rock your Classroom Style

Description: This session will present trending APPS and tools in a fast-paced, fashion show format. Learn how to engage your students, stimulate creativity, foster collaboration, and encourage deeper learning while putting your teaching style in a class of its own.

Watch "TRETC invite 2014" on TouchCast
(Watch to the end to see the Hummingbird t-shirt and the Finch which will be in the fashion show.)

Hope to see you there!

Post submitted by Zee Poerio, St. Louise de Marillac Catholic School

Remarks to the WV Board of Education

Last year we attended the West Virginia Board of Education meeting to introduce them to the Satellite Network. This September we returned to to update them on the Network's activities in West Virginia over the last year

The people in the group photo, from left to right, are: Karen Savitz ASSET STEM Education, Jeffrey Carver West Virginia University, Jessica Meyers ASSET STEM Education, Rachel Hite CREATE Lab, Lou Karas West Liberty University, Dror Yaron CREATE Lab, Carrie Beth Dean Marshall University, Stan Maynard Marshall University

I’m Lou Karas, Director of the Center for Arts & Education at West Liberty University. I’m here today with my colleagues from the CREATE Lab Satellite Network. With me are Dror Yaron and Rachel Hite from the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University; Stan Maynard and Carrie Beth Dean from the Harless Center at Marshall University; Jeffrey Carver from the College of Education and Human Services at West Virginia University and Jessica Meyers and Karen Savitz from ASSET STEM Education.

Last fall, professor Illah Nourbakhsh the Director of CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute shared with the you the story and vision of the CREATE Lab and its Satellite Network.

We’re here today to give you a brief update on the work of the CREATE Satellite Network in West Virginia.

Update on the work of the CREATE Satellite Network in West Virginia

Over the past year, the satellite partners have worked, throughout WV with over 1,200 children, Pre-K through 12th grade and more than 700 educators, both teachers in the field and pre-service students at the three universities.

We are empowering a technologically fluent generation through experiential learning opportunities in and outside of school. The technology is the raw material, a tool for a child to use to explore and address real world issues, to learn - and communicate - about their own environment and perspective.

We’ve been able to take new technology tools from the desk of an engineer at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute to the hands of a child in rural West Virginia, making them among the first to gain access to these innovations.  Each of the Satellites not only provides training on the use of these technology tools but also, in many instances, is also able to lend the tools to teachers throughout the state.

Over the past three years the CREATE Lab Satellite Network has grown from a partnership between the CREATE Lab and the school of education at Marshall University, to a network including Marshall, West Liberty, West Virginia University, and Carlow University as well as ASSET STEM Education. Each Satellite team adapts and uses the CREATE Lab innovations in a locally meaningful way with the educators and future educators they support. Similarly, working closely with the CREATE Lab, the Satellites bring their communities’ needs to bear on the technology innovation process.

As the Satellite Network model of outreach is gaining traction and in light of its rapid growth, we recognize now is an appropriate time to invite more perspectives and stakeholders to the table, as we consider how to meaningfully direct and leverage the momentum and resources at hand. This has resulted in the formation of an advisory board that will meet for the first time later this fall at West Liberty.

Our work with children has focused on using four of the CREATE Lab technologies:

Message from Me

Message from Me enables young children to better communicate with their significant adults about their daytime activities at early childhood programs through the use of digital cameras, microphones, e-mail, phone messaging and other technologies. Originally developed using adapted computer kiosks, the program now uses an app developed for the i-Pad.

The Harless Center has been at the forefront of using Message from Me in their Pre-K classroom and sharing their experiences with others around the state.

The Children’s Innovation Project

The Children’s Innovation Project takes a broad interdisciplinary and integrated learning approach, focusing on creative exploration, expression and innovation with technology. Children explore and learn about electricity through hands-on engagement with a kit of components designed for young hands. Utilizing this learning, children disassemble toys, identify components and then repurpose and reconfigure these internal components into new circuits, empowering them with new relationships and understandings of their world.

The Harless Center has also taken the lead in the use of the Children’s Innovation Project in West Virginia schools. In addition ASSET and Carlow University are developing professional development programs, which will be shared with the Satellite partners for their use.

Arts & Bots

The third program is Arts & Bots. The Hummingbird robotics kit is designed to enable engineering and robotics activities for ages 10 and up that involve the making of robots and kinetic sculptures built out of a combination of kit parts and craft materials. Hummingbird provides a great way to introduce kids to robotics and engineering with construction materials that they are already familiar with. Hummingbirds have been used in nearly every aspect of the curriculum: teachers and students have completed Hummingbird units in science, art, math, history, english, drama, poetry, and character education classes. The kits have also been used in numerous summer camps, after-school programs and other community-based environments.

The CREATE Lab had been awarded a three-year $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant to support the “Creative Robotics” project, an innovative program that introduces robotic technology into non-technical middle school classes. It is the intent of the research project is to identify and nurture students with an affinity for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

All 7th and 8th grade students at Springdale Junior-Senior High School in the Allegheny Valley School District outside of Pittsburgh and all 6th, 7th and 8th grade students in the Mingo County Schools — a total of 900 children annually — are using the robotic kits developed at Carnegie Mellon University. They will use the kits to complete at least one project or assignment each year in required courses such as health, earth science and language arts.

The project also includes faculty members and pre-service educators in the schools of education at Marshall and West Liberty universities. We are working with CMU researchers to develop the curriculum and integrate the project into both existing and new courses for our students.


GigaPan is an earthly adaptation of NASA’s Mars Rover imaging technology - GigaPan helps bring distant communities and peoples together through images that have so much detail that they are, themselves, the objects of exploration, discovery, and wonder. Using a small robotic device, point and shoot camera, stitching software, interactive online platforms and large-scale prints, GigaPan is enabling people to explore, experience, and share each other's world.

West Virginia University is working with North Elementary School in Morgantown, to train the teacher to both use gigpan images as well as generating their own gigapan images.  The technology integration of Gigpan is being conducted in and around the Garden Based Learning project at the school.  The ability to take super high resolution images during the garden growing season and then utilizing those images during the non-growing months in the winter allows teachers to extend the garden based learning curriculum through the non-gardening months.

At West Liberty, we have incorporated learning how to use the GigaPan images and technology into several courses in the professional education program. We are also working with the art teachers in Ohio County Schools supporting them in the integration of GigaPan into their classrooms.

A key focus of the Satellite Network is to provide professional development opportunities for both teachers in Pre-K through 12th grade settings around the state –and- for our pre-service students

We have presented at conferences throughout the state included the West Virginia Technology conference and the West Virginia Art Education Association conference. The partners have provided opportunities ranging from GigaPan workshops lasting a few hours to weeklong Creative Robotics programs. It is important to note, that these programs are only the beginning of our work with teachers. Each Satellite provides on-going support to the teachers.

We are emphasizing the integration of the CREATE Lab resources into pre-service education because we believe it is important for our future teachers to learn these skills and technologies throughout their undergraduate years so they will be fully prepared to integrate them into their classrooms. ASSET, as our newest partner, will be involved in the expansion of this work.


I would like to acknowledge the amazing work done by Debbie Workman, Carrie-Meghan Quick Blanco and Cathy Walker. They devoted countless hours building the programs and services of the first Satellite site at the Harless Center. Over the summer, Debbie and Cathy retired and Carrie-Meghan moved on to another position. Their enthusiastic support has helped the other two Satellite sites get off the ground.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the support of Benedum Foundation and Jim Denova.  Jim has not only provided financial support for our work but has also shared connections and given us guidance as we expand the Network’s programs and services.

Looking ahead

next spring, The CREATE Lab Satellite Network and The Sprout Fund are partnering to present the first annual Creative Tech Conference: Best Practices of Creative Technology in Education on April 21 through the 23 in Pittsburgh. The Creative Tech Conference will ignite productive dialogue and spur the exchange of ideas about the use of creative technologies (or creative use of technologies) in education, teaching, and learning.  

The conference will feature two tracks of programming: Practice and Ecosystems. The Practice track will feature educators sharing ideas and stories around their methods and experiences with integrating technology creatively and successfully into their classrooms and programs. The Ecosystems track will focus on discussions about the networks and conditions that support and empower meaningful technology practice in education. We hope you will consider joining us for the conference.

In the mean time, we also invite you to visit us at Marshall, West Liberty and WVU to see the work of the CREATE Lab Satellite Network in action this school year.

Thank you,

Lou Karas, Director of the Center for Arts & Education at West Liberty University.

Arts & Bots in Harrison County, WV

Having recently partnered with the West Virginia University CREATE Lab Satellite to include Arts & Bots as part of their “Hot Science Camp” week, The Harrison County Community Center raved about the experience.  The science camp was a combination of two summer camp groups, and included 35 students ranging in age from third grade to sixth grade, all from low income families in Harrison County.  

Campers were instantly engaged. After a short presentation on the basics of engineering, participants unpacked the hummingbird box and practiced with the software. They then began designing their robots on paper, following the rules of at least one motor, at least one light, at least one something else, multiple expressions, and at least one sequence. The kids quickly took over the computers, excitedly programming and building their robots.  Despite being chaotic, as active science always is, camp leaders at the Community Center said it was likely the best day of the week. The campers seemed enthralled by their work with Arts & Bots, and when asked if they would like a 2 or 3 day experience with this, they all wanted more! 

In addition to participating in "Hot Science Camp" this summer, WVU's CREATE Lab Satellite has also been working with the Children's Discovery Museum of West Virginia to offer robotics days for early elementary and preschool aged children. Two Arts & Bots sessions were held at the museum so far this summer, with participants ranging in age from four to nine years old.