PodPi makes STEM education exciting!

Problem solving with electronics, code, and cartoons. School wasn't this cool in my day.

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Duncan Hull (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

When I was a kid, the way science was taught was, on the whole, pretty boring … well, except for chemistry where the class chemistry wiz would “accidentally” blow things up or make horrible smells every now and then. Science was a class to get through with gritted teeth and even today, getting kids interested in STEM education (Science, Engineering, Technology, and Mathematics) is still difficult. The problem is how to make topics that appear dry and complicated into something kids can get excited about. 

Five years ago, Stéphane Côme, the founder, chairman, and chief technology officer of LCS Technologies, a consulting firm specializing in Oracle database wrangling, decided that he wanted to give back to the community and that his focus should be on inspiring children to get involved with computers and software. Côme told me he started off by establishing a Meetup group to teach children and their parents through hands-on technology projects:

Our first informal meet saw 45 kids with their parents (over 100 people) ... The group grew rapidly to close to 1,000 families and I couldn't host workshops anymore (I had sometimes 3 x 2 hours back to back on Sat and Sun), but wanted to continue.  My wife and I gathered feedback from everyone and spent 6 months on the drawing board to come up with PodPi.

PodPi, which has been in operation for one year, offers a well-designed and sophisticated set of kits sent monthly that teach technology and problem solving through electronics, coding, and comic books.

podpi2 PodPi

Côme sent me one of their comics and they’re impressive; printed on high gloss, durable stock they combine a manga-like aesthetic with solid science, terrible jokes, and pizza recipes; in other words, they are the opposite of boring. The comics explain concepts such as how a wing generates lift and what a millisecond is, along with instructions for building electronic circuits and coding in JavaScript. The first kit comes with an Arduino UNO micro-controller and a breadboard and the subsequent kits include devices such as LEDs, moisture sensors, and servo motors for the various projects. 

podpi3 PodPi

PodPi offers 12 modules each priced at $39 (you can buy a 12 months bundle for $359) as well as a standalone basics kit  for $64.99 and a Special Electroninks / PodPi Kit which includes a CircuitScribe pen that lets you draw circuits with conductive ink for $69.99. PodPi also sells additional or replacement components, the individual comics separately, and a summer camp bundleThe released modules are currently released up to volume 11, "To the cloud”, on which PodPi has partnered with ThingsSpeak; Côme explained:

In this edition, we show the kids what is involved in connecting a device to the cloud, sending data and analyzing it in real time.  The main difference between our program and others is that we don't "dumb the tech down".  We highlight all elements of the tech stack and make it fun in the process.

podpi4 PodPi

Côme told me PodPi currently has just under 200 subscribers:  

We've done very little outreach so far and mostly grown from word of mouth.  Creating the curriculum takes most of our time.  However, over the past couple of months some schools reached out to us and adopted the curriculum. The main feedback from the teachers and principals is that they finally found some real hands-on and problem solving lessons.  Last week Microsoft reached out to us to partner on one of their events (see the news segment at http://www.kcra.com/article/young-sacramento-girls-taught-science-technology-at-digigirlz-event/9183965).

I’m really impressed with PodPi’s concept and products so if you’re a parent looking to enrich your kids’ education or a educator looking for a foundation for your STEM program, look no further. I wish my science education had been this exciting.

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