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West Coast Tour 2012, Part 1

SparkFun is no novice when it comes to educational tours. Last year we made several excursions around the country; here's a recap of our successful West Coast Tour in late 2012!

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SparkFun travels a lot these days. The Education Department spent most of September and October 2012 traveling, meeting our customers and teaching. With the announcement of the SparkFun National Tour last week, we thought it would be a good time to share our story about one of these trips.

Last spring, Linz and I did a tour of the east coast, continuing our goal of reaching more people and spreading the word about SparkFun and electronics. As we’ve spread out from teaching classes at the Boulder facility, we’ve gotten great feedback about what works and what new material we can bring to classrooms, after-school programs and the larger community.

In discussions over the summer we figured we’d tackle the western United States and see how we fared. We started reaching out to people we’d met at Maker Faires and conferences during our travels to see what the interest would be along the route. At first glance, the plan was deceptively simple: We’d leave Boulder in an RV and head south through Arizona, then on to southern California and on up the Pacific coast to the Bay area. We would add a stop at Parallax near Sacramento at the suggestion of our friends there, stop in Portland and Seattle, and then perhaps add an intermountain stop before returning to Boulder.

Around mid-August we started setting our dates. One of our first hits was outside Phoenix with a teacher at Perry High School in Chandler, AZ. We found that travel by RV was the most efficient, and the ability to park and sleep on this tour was key. The next morning was a fun workshop using Arduino for data-logging and measurement in science classrooms for the Chandler School District. We’d like to thank Dave at Perry High School for hosting -- we’ll be sure to stop back and see how things are going as we bounce around the country. Through the night the RV chugged into the desert, and after a night of good sleep near Joshua Tree it was on into Los Angeles.

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Ah, life on the road.

Our friend Patricia at Handmade Penguin had booked two days in the Sea Scout Base in Long Beach, CA. Patricia has been working programs there, and we had a great group of kids and parents for our first night of Lilypad e-textiles. The kids were great and dug right into programming with the Lilypad Development Board. We love it when people find nontraditional ways to use our stuff, and Patricia is really great at figuring out things in her own way. She has an awesome YouTube channel with projects for younger kids under Squigglemum. The second day with Patricia was a concentrated day with home-schoolers doing Arduino with the SparkFun Inventor's Kit. The day flew by and we all had a great time. One of the great things about doing workshops with our customers is the range of people we see, and how we go from one group of interesting people to the next without a lot of repetition.

For our next engagement, we had the fortune to cross paths with Jean at The Exploratory in Santa Monica, and were in for a real treat. Jean runs programs for kids of all ages and we had booked two nights with her at Paul Revere Middle School in LA. The first night was an all-out craft and “Maker” spectacular in the lunchroom. Kids could build robots from recycled materials or do e-textiles, as well as great e-origami. The night rocketed past us as kids continually amazed us with their creativity and focus.

The next afternoon we headed back to Santa Monica for a second night at Paul Revere Middle School. Linz has put together some great material using the Scratch programming language and the PicoBoard to build interactive gaming with the up-and-coming programmers of the world. We settled into the cafeteria at Paul Revere, and about 30 families joined us for an evening of programming, hardware and camaraderie.

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Molding young minds

The next morning bright and early found us at the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL). We had been contacted several weeks earlier by the Manager of Youth Services about helping them get a pilot program for a hackerspace off the ground. We had been in contact with both the library and some folks from Crash Space - the LA Hackerspace - and we put together a training with about fifteen librarians at the Central Library in downtown LA. The discussion was lively, we worked through the basics of Arduino with the Inventor's Kits, and we talked about the challenges associated with trying to get a program like this together. We’ve since seen a great deal of interest from libraries around the country in adopting the hacker/makerspace model. We’re in debt to Tara Tiger Brown for her persistence and help in setting up our time at LAPL.

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Spreading the Arduino love at the LAPL

After a quick lunch we had one last stop in the Los Angeles area, where we’d put together an e-textile afternoon with Santa Monica High School. We all gathered in the yard outside the science building and settled in to a good afternoon of sewing and talking about LilyPad and its possible applications and creative possibilities. We had a mixed group of young men and women; even some folks from the local DIY/Hackerspace community joined us.

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E-textile madness!

As the afternoon turned to evening, we loaded back in to the RV and bid our new friends in LA goodbye. We headed up the incomparable Highway 1, hugging the coast and taking in the great views of the Pacific Ocean. That night late found us in central California for a workshop with Qtechknow. We’ve been really lucky to get to work with Quin over the last few years, and he’s been teaching a lot in southern and central CA, so we were delighted to get chance to work with him again. We did a day dedicated to Arduino, with Quin leading a group of fun young people through the basics of embedded electronics.

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Intro to Arduino for the kids, by the kids, with Qtechknow

If you’re curious about classes, products and events with Qtechknow, the website is a great resource. As well, Quin does events with Crash Space in Culver City. We enjoyed a well-needed day off with Quin and his parents and we’ll count the days till we see them all again.

Stay tuned for part two of our West Coast Tour recap coming later this week!

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