Saturday, March 5, 2016

Over-engineered printer or art?

This week's video on America's Greatest Makers available here showcased three makers who are revolutionizing basketball, music and art.
1)  ShotTracker allows basketball players to track their own shot/score stats from anywhere in the court.  Players use the bluetooth and sensor enabled app-integrated innovation to collect valuable real-time data.
Before I even played the first part of this week's video to my students, we started with a class talk about how they track their basketball data.  They all said that their coaches or parents do it by tracking their shots and successful shots with paper and pencil on a clipboard. I then asked them to brainstorm answers to the following questions:
What could you invent to track your basketball shots?  How could you integrate technology to come up with a way to track your basketball shooting data?

It was amazing to hear their responses! As a class, they came up with the same idea as the ShotTracker.  One student said that she would put a sensor in the net to determine whether or not a shot was made.  Another one added that data would be run through an app through bluetooth to smartphones.  When asked how the app would know how many shots were made, a student offered the idea that the player would have a sensor.  I then asked the student where this sensor would be and they all said that it would go on the wrist.

This type of discussion was really productive.  While I usually have my students go through the engineering-design process and actually prototype and test a solution, this was a different type of task but just as useful.  They had the opportunity to actually think like an engineer and dream up solutions to solve a real-world problem.

2)  The next two excerpt on this week's America's Greatest Makers were focused on music and art.  I used these maker stories as an opportunity to bring in a class discussion about science, technology, and society.  Is this art really art, or is it an 'overengineered printer?"  One student said that it couldn't really count as art because it wasn't done by a human.  Others brought out how many of the masterpieces that are hanging in museums all over the world are a result of 'happy little accidents' as Bob Ross would say. Would robot art ever have these occurrences or would they be so programmed that they could only ever produce predictable arts?

We then discussed the music that award-winning musician and composer A.R. Rahman makes "out of thin air" using Intel's Curie-based technology:
I posed questions to the students - does this count as 'real' music?  Does this type of music take away from using physical instruments?  Many students seemed to feel that this type of music doesn't convey the depth of human emotion or feeling that a live symphony does, for example.  While they thought it was a pretty neat performance, they still felt that it could never replace actual instruments.  Perhaps most interestingly of all, we ended our conversations with a question: what if these types of art and music are actually generating a new kind of genre in these areas?  So that in the future, there might be robot/computer generated art in its own section of the art gallery?

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