The most exciting truck to visit my elementary school was the bookmobile. Other kids might not have been quite as happy to see the bookmobile arrive as I was, but I read a lot. I have little doubt that the bookmobile was at least partially responsible for turning me into a writer. You can only read stories for so long without having some desire to give writing a shot.
It’s that sort of idea, a positive experience early in life, which led a number of Stanford students to create SparkTruck. In place of books, the SparkTruck is filled with electronic devices such as a laser cutter, two 3D printers, a vinyl cutter, a sewing machine and a clay oven. SparkTruck volunteers drive the techmobile around to schools and demonstrate the power of engineering creativity to children, hoping to inspire them with an interest in science.
SparkTruck began as SparkLab, an effort by the Harvard design school to get schools involved with a hands-on design experience as part of a thesis project. During the course of discussions with educators, the group was dismayed to find just how little funding was available to support design work in schools. They hit on the idea of the mobile workshop and set up a Kickstarter fundraiser to pay for it.
The Kickstarter campaign brought in enough money for the group to get SparkTruck rolling. The Stanford students (I’m resisting calling them Sparkers) raised $35,000, which was enough to expand from their original notion of tooling around the Bay area visiting schools to travelling across the U.S.
“Our favorite age range to work with is 7-13 years old, because this is the range when opportunities to create and explore in school diminish, and pressure to conform and fit into standardized systems and tests increases,” said coordinator Jason Chua. “We want to make sure that fun, open-ended opportunities are made available to kids as they move through school and life because this is what helps kids get over their fear of failure and grow confidence in their abilities to be creative and work through tough problems.”
I suspect that creative endeavors like the SparkTruck are the best way to get kids interested in engineering and design early in life. When I talk to people in the additive manufacturing field, I hear the same story over and over. There aren’t nearly enough qualified workers to fill all the jobs. Perhaps Stanford’s success will spark similar projects elsewhere.
Below you’ll find a video that discusses the SparkTruck.