Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I’m always happy to watch movies about dirigibles and robots, and never more so when the hero is a young inventor.

Not so long ago we watched Steamboy, Katsuhiro Otomo’s 2004 steampunk anime. I have a budding animator with a tinkering bent at home, and it was a pleasure to watch a movie with him that featured a young inventor hero, Ray Steam.  (There are also great pleasures to be had from the scenes of the young female aviation designer, Fio, in Hayao Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso.)

The tinkering bent brings with it a constellation of related interests. The science fair experiment in progress at our house involves an investigation into air pressure via a homemade potato cannon. We sampled the invention camp sponsored by the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and that was fine, but we’re migrating back to a camp with a more unstructured, self-directed Maker Faire ethic—Parts and Crafts, based in NYC and Boston. There is just a little whiff of void-the-warranty anarchy that we like.

So it was with glee that we caught the viral video by OK Go, in which a team of engineers crafted a huge Rube Goldberg machine timed to the verses of “This Too Shall Pass.” Wired has an article about the team that created the video and the video itself up on their site.  The OK Go video was fresh in my mind when I got a call from Shawn Jordan, Perdue grad and Rube Goldberg machine builder extraordinaire and veteran of the National Rube Goldberg Machine Building Contest. I’ll be talking about the Rube Goldberg contest itself more in a later post, but it was in reconnecting with Jordan that I learned about ST∑@M. STEM is used in K-12 education parlance to refer to a constellation of disciplines: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. ST∑@M is devoted to the idea that you gain more traction and bring more kids into the circle when you add the A (or @) for Art.
In a March 9 Commentary in Education Week, Joseph Piro of Long Island University wrote urging we not overlook the arts in the push to create a scientifically literate citizenry. He concluded

If American schools are to become a leading force in guaranteeing that the country is well prepared to negotiate the complexities of the future, they must be encouraged to make every student’s education one that is broad and comprehensive. And in meeting this goal, we might take a cue from Albert Einstein. While Einstein’s reputation undoubtedly rests on his scientific contributions, a lesser-known fact about him was his estimable musical ability. This great physicist, theoretician, and STEM-exemplar was known for revering Bach and Mozart, and to have once said: “I know that the most joy in my life has come to me from my violin.”

I will be thinking about the care and feeding of my own steamboy as I hear him practicing violin out in the kitchen, the sheet music secured to our fridge with a magnet.

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