About 10 years ago, a young artist named Jeremy Boyle was selected to be an artist in residence at a contemporary art museum in Pittsburgh called the Mattress Factory, in the city's historic Mexican War Streets neighborhood. Boyle said he wasn’t sure what kind of installation to create for the room-size space in the museum, and eventually settled on what he named “The Studio Project,” which is described as his “ultimate studio” for making art. But it didn’t stop there. Boyle had no place to live. The museum curator suggested, partly in jest, that Boyle might move into the space of the permanent exhibit at the museum, which was created in 1988 by another artist, Allan Wexler. It was called “Bed Sitting Rooms for an Artist in Residence.” Perfect! Boyle took up residence inside the museum for 9 months.
Fast forward to now. Boyle is the resident artist at the CREATE Lab (stands for Community, Robotics, Education, Technology, Empowerment) at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University. In 2010, he teamed up with Melissa Butler, an experienced kindergarten teacher in the Pittsburgh public school system, who has creativity to match Boyle’s. Together, and with the support of the university, the school system, and many other players, they designed the Children’s Innovation Project.
The mission is to set elementary-school age children in a public school “on a pathway” toward a fluency and ease with technology. Ambitious, to say the least. So Boyle and Butler’s question was: how to get there? They focused on the vehicle of electricity and circuits, which would start very simply and grow in complexity with the children. Boyle, with his experience in electronics artistry, designed easy to use tools for the kids—wires, blocks, accessories. Butler designed a graduated curriculum, starting with kindergartners, which included plenty of precise vocabulary and teaching methods to build habits of exploring, questioning, disciplined thinking, and persistence.
I found it easier to understand all of this by watching the kids in and out of the classrooms at the Pittsburgh Allegheny K–5 public elementary school, in Pittsburgh’s downtown North Shore area.