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The Spark: The Book that will Inspire a Generation of Makers

When you’re the founder of a mobile invention lab, electric knitting and making music with bananas is all in an average Saturday. What’s average for Stefania Druga, however, makes the weekends of the kids involved with HacKIDemia extraordinary.
by Caitlin Schiller | Jul 2 2015

When you’re the founder of a mobile invention lab, electric knitting and making music with bananas is all in an average Saturday. What’s average for Stefania Druga, however, makes the weekends of the kids involved with HacKIDemia extraordinary.

With its roots in the rapidly spreading Maker movement, HacKIDemia gives today’s future leaders the opportunity to solve problems, test solutions, and, ultimately test themselves. Through rapid prototyping technologies and new ways of learning complex concepts, novices discover their talents and, most importantly, get their hands dirty and their brains engaged to make stuff.

“It’s important to catch kids early and show them they can build anything,” Stefania says. “Any passion, idea, and talent they have is valid. We’ve got to expose them to as many experiences as possible.”

But how do they get that exposure? When she looked at modern schools, Eastern Europe to Western America, she realized quite quickly that they would not be the place.

With funding to the arts and humanities being slashed left and right, Stefania saw that kids were not getting the kind of education that would inspire them to innovate—nor would it help them solve tough problems in the future. What today’s future leaders needed, she posited, was a place and an occasion to start experimenting.

With her Google-tested tech background, time at the revered MIT media lab, and a uniquely technology-driven view on the future of education, Stefania decided to hack that place into life.

Roots and wings


HacKIDemia draws influence from the culture of Open, the maker movement, and Stefania’s own research on child development and theories around play and crafting. One of the books she points to as fundamental to HacKIDemia’s start is Seymour Papert’s classic, Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas.

Papert’s book has two central themes: that children can learn to use computers in a masterful way, and that learning to use computers can change the way they learn everything else. The technological fluency that Papert saw as critical to a flourishing society is precisely what HacKIDemia strives to teach.

“Our core principles are curiosity, play, and empathy, and a lot of these values were drawn from Papert’s book,” Stefania explains. “But the thesis that stuck with me is that we need to teach kids at an early age to program, or they will be programmed. Tech has become a new religion, but at the end of the day, there are still people behind it.”

Stefania is an advocate for teaching kids about programming early so that rather than shy away from complexity, they embrace it—finding their own solutions and fearlessly experimenting. For this reason, HacKIDemia’s workshops are exploratory and never designed around finding one perfect answer. This environment opens up the participants—kids, parents, and mentors alike—to stumbling upon beautiful new solutions and ways of learning.

 

Programming the future

In the past year, HacKIDemia has organized workshops with kids in schools and hospitals, in favelas and museums, in the park and in stuck trains from Bucharest to Bangalore.  With more than 80 workshops in, HacKIDemia has interacted with 10,000 children and 400 volunteers in more than 40 countries.

Cultivating in tomorrow’s leaders a mindset of confident, curious, humble experimentation is a mission in which Stefania and HacKIDemia are very much invested. “This kind of attitude is the basis for entrepreneurship,” she explains. “Right now there aren’t many organizations innovating in education—but an entrepreneurial, innovative way of thinking should be applied there, too.”

HacKIDemia’s next entrepreneurial adventure? Designing self-serve kits for schools that will make the novel learning that happens in every HacKIDemia workshop available in every school, too. The mission is to weave play and experimentation back into the educational tapestry—exactly how Papert described.

Mindstorms is about education, but you read it and what you mainly take away is inspiration—you rediscover how we learn and play, even as adults, and how to better bring that back into daily life. Playing is like riding a bike—you never forget how to do it.”

To learn more about what HacKIDemia is up to or to connect with Stefania, you can take a look at HacKIDemia’s site. For more on Maurice Papert’s book Mindstorms, check it out on Amazon.

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