Are the kids alright? And, what are they doing? Few topics have created as much discussion — and controversy — as the experiences of young children during the pandemic given school closures and changes to education. But learning and kid’s experiences don’t stop at the classroom door: What’s happening for kids in their communities? In many ways, informal learning environments — from museums to libraries to after school programs in recreation centers, and camps — have been impacted even more than formal educational settings both economically and due to the myriad public safety issues that have arisen for interactive spaces. As the situation evolves, what will happen this coming summer? And, what kinds of hands on making experiences are available to help kids learn through play.
This week on Plan C Live, Dale Dougherty of Make Community and Dorothy Jones-Davis of Nation of Makers talk with makers and educators who work with kids outside of schools about the importance of play and how that has evolved over the last year. We hear from panelists about their thinking and initiatives, particularly relating to hands-on learning and maker projects, including:
Cara Lesser is Founder and Executive Director of KID Museum, the DC region’s pioneering experiential museum and educational makerspace. KID Museum is designed to accelerate and democratize access to transformative maker learning experiences that empower the next generation with the skills to invent the future. Recognized by the Catalogue for Philanthropy as “one of the region’s best nonprofits” and nationally as a leader in maker education, KID Museum has served 300,000 kids, educators, and community members since opening its doors at Davis Library in Bethesda, Maryland in 2014. Under Cara’s leadership, KID Museum has grown from an idea to become an anchoring regional institution, offering high-impact maker learning through deep, embedded partnerships with schools, weekend and after school programs, camps, and community events. With a focus on K-8 students, their families, and classroom educators, KID Museum builds pathways for sustained student growth and development. Deeply committed to diversity, equity, inclusion and access, the museum consistently prioritizes populations traditionally under-represented in STEM fields. Prior to founding KID Museum, Cara held a number of leadership positions in the field of health policy and health services research. She received her Masters of Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley, and her Bachelors of Arts from Barnard College, Columbia University.
Ram Mosher is the Senior Maker Educator at KID Museum, where he designs and facilitates innovative workshops and programs. He also oversees the development, design, and fabrication of museum exhibits and special event activities. Ram combines extensive experience in the building trades, with an eclectic array of intellectual pursuits and a love of teaching children. His background includes building homes, teaching wilderness survival skills to teens, and leading tours at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. He holds a BA in History from the University of Maryland.
Lisa Regalla, PhD is passionate about providing equitable and creative STEM opportunities for all. As CEO of Regallium Consulting, she focuses on bridging the gap between research and practice by putting actionable tools in the hands of adults to support the creative development of children of all ages. Lisa was the project director for Makers in the Library providing a suite of practical tools to support public libraries in building community-driven makerspace on any budget. Previously, she was the Director of STEM Learning & Innovation at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, where she created the Reimagining School Readiness toolkit and the Try It Truck, inspiring young children to embrace early engineering. As Deputy Director of Maker Ed, Lisa supported a growing, national network committed to broadening participation in making as a form of creative learning. She was also the Science Editor and manager of a national outreach program for SciGirls children’s television series at Twin Cities Public Television. As the project director of several national initiatives throughout her career, Lisa has experience planning, leading, and evaluating programs focused on building and sustaining innovative learning environments. Lisa received a BS in Chemistry and a BA in Theater before earning her PhD in Chemistry. In 2011, she received a Daytime Emmy Award for her work on SciGirls and the Rising Star Award from the Women Chemists Committee of the American Chemical Society for her work to promote gender equity in STEM.
Mario Marchese is the alter ego of Mario the Maker Magician…or is it the other way round? He is a NY-based (normally touring) performer with an all-ages theater show full of homespun magic, DIY robotics, and punk rock slapstick. It’s magic through the lens of the maker movement and #itsafamilybusiness — as he tours with his family, including business partner in crime Katie and their two kids! This year they’ve gone virtual with The Mario Show. Mario has appeared on Sesame Street, NBC’s Universal kids, HGTV, and live on tour with David Blaine, who calls him “the best kids magician in the world!!” He is the author of The Maker Magician’s Handbook: A Beginner’s Guide to Magic & Making. Want to try one of Mario’s tricks? He’s even developed the Chomper Bot Kit to guide you through the process. And his lecture for magicians won him the 2020 lecture of the year award from Penguin Magic! Throughout the past year he has been working with kids across the country through Maker Camp and his live program #WKRTW – What If Kids Ruled The World in which he has been getting the low down from kids on what is happening out there.
Sandy Roberts is the Makerspace Coordinator for the Warren County, NJ Library System and founded the system’s first Makerspace. After working in publishing, theater, and pharmaceutical research, she changed careers and became a middle school science, technology, math, and engineering educator. Outside of the classroom, she owns Kaleidoscope Enrichment, offering after school, homeschooling, library, club and camp programs. Roberts is the author of The Big Book of Maker Camp Projects and regularly brings her Maker Camp projects to Maker Faires where she has earned multiple ribbons for her team’s work. She’s also spoken at Maker Faires, hosted live workshops for Maker Camp, and presented for a variety of organizations sharing her love for the maker movement. She has a B.S. in Chemical Biology from Stevens Institute of Technology with a Minor in Literature and Certificates in Chemical Engineering and Computer Science. You can engage with some of Sandy’s super fun maker classes in the classes she teaches on Maker Campus.
Elise Spontarelli loves vectors. She’s made an entrepreneurial career rendering lines, arcs, and polygons, and, since cofounding Vector Space, the addiction has only gotten worse. You’ll often find Elise giving her designs life by vinyl cutting, laser engraving, plasma cutting, and silk screening. When she’s not enthralled by graphics, you’ll find her in the wood shop making toys and home decor. Elise is also a strong advocate of the maker movement, and the fearless leader of Vector Space, a community makerspace in Lynchburg, VA that focuses on formal and informal maker education for adults and teens.
Azi Jamalian, PhD is the CEO at The GIANT Room, giving every child the opportunity and community support they need to act on their most ambitious dreams. She got her PhD in Cognitive Science in Education from Columbia University’s Teachers College and then co-founded Tiggly, an early learning company that pioneered the integration of physical play with digital applications, to provide a rich and interactive learning experience for children. Next, she joined littleBits as their head of education strategy. She is a TED speaker, former TED resident, and has published on a broad range of topics such as designing learning platforms for children, emerging educational tech, game design, mathematical education, and cognition. She has received numerous awards for her work including “IES Prize for Excellence in Research on Cognition and Student Learning” and “The Cooney Center’s certificate of innovation in Children’s Learning”.
Jessica Mezei, PhD is Co-founder of The GIANT Room. She has a PhD in Science Education from Columbia University, where her research focused on science educators’ perceptions of play and how that influences pedagogy. She is a former HS biology teacher, informal educator, and National Geographic certified educator with a love and deep respect for the out of doors. She has a passion for play based learning and believes mistakes are portals to discovery! She has worked as an Instructional Designer and Education Program Manager for Mendeley, which invented an iTunes like platform for researchers; was the Director of Research at an incubator generating solutions focussed on Nature-based education and the Skills Gap; and product managed a human capital technology called Frontier Signal using machine learning to help companies more effectively onboard, train, and retain talent.