When a middle-school girl from rural Maine updated her Facebook page with a photo of herself soldering on a circuit board, the creators of Gizmo Garden knew the project was working — participating students were developing new images of themselves.
Bill Silver ’75, SM ’80 and his wife, Judy, held the winter-break workshop in February for 10 students to bolster the opportunity for technical education in coastal Maine — a place they loved, but one with limited resources.
The couple, living full-time in Nobleboro, Maine, for the past five years, wanted to find a meaningful way to contribute to their community. Bill Silver, a co-founder of the machine-vision systems maker Cognex, and Judy Silver, who worked at Cognex in marketing and sales, drew on their technical and outreach skills. Drawing from MIT Edgerton Center curriculum models, they developed a week-long workshop that brought middle-school students together in a local library and invited them to create their own projects using their newly acquired skills of breadboarding and soldering electronics onto circuit boards.
The Silvers, at their former home near Cognex’s headquarters in Natick, Massachusetts, routinely visited Boston’s Museum of Science and the MIT Museum, says Bill Silver, who continues to work remotely from Maine as a Cognex senior vice president. “Technology was in the air there,” he says, “it’s not in the air up here.”
Feeling empowered to work with electronics could transform the five girls and five boys selected for the program, says Judy Silver. “As wonderful as this community is, kids growing up here don’t see engineering and technical careers as even in their universe. And now the kids see they can do this. And they have seen what young professionals can do from the videos we showed them.”
The Silvers plan to continue the Gizmo Garden project in 2016, again working from an established curriculum and adding their own opportunities for creativity and cooperation. This year they based the project on the Edgerton K-12 electronics curriculum course created initially for i2 Camp. A local television station produced a short video that shares student projects from a spinning a disco ball to recreating a Hawaii wind storm.
Those interested in learning more can visit the Gizmo Garden Facebook page or email the Silvers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alumni interested in working on similar projects can join the K-12 Education Volunteer Network and tap the MIT Edgerton Center for ideas as well.
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