What is Hacker Scouts?
Hacker Scouts is a national non-profit organization that teaches kids about science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM). Founded last Fall, Hacker Scouts has grown from a local program to a national organization with over 30 guilds.
Thus far, there have been a number of posts about why Hacker Scouts is great from a childhood development perspective: it offers individualized instruction, self-directed learning, and hands-on experience. From a technical perspective, Hacker Scouts is exciting because of the material it covers, and how in-depth it goes. Scouts are given as much information as they want, which often significantly exceeds what they are “expected” to be capable of learning.
Why Hacker scouts is awesome:
(1) The material!
The Hacker Scout curriculum was laid out by engineers and experts who use these skills every day. They distilled the coolest part of what they do into a tree of skills designed to guide kids to achieve similar goals.
The skills required may take a while to acquire, but unlike the tedium of a forced lecture, kids are excited to learn because they know it will bring them closer to their goal. The motto of Hacker Scouts is “The Unrelenting Pursuit of Knowledge,” but nothing is taught without a clear purpose or implementation in mind. Rather, Hacker Scouts builds on one of the basic ideals behind engineering: with the right set of skills, you will be able to do/make anything you want.
(2) Education for All – Hacker Scouts is Open Source.
From the beginning, Hacker Scouts was designed as a program that would be open to everyone, with all the material made open source. Our code is BSD licensed, and our material is Creative Commons: Share-Alike. This has some really powerful implications:
- We are sticking to our principles. We believe all educational programs, if they are truly interested in furthering knowledge, should be open source. For example, how can you really learn to program if your compiler is closed source? You have no way of accessing the ultimate “truth” – with a black box system you can only guess as to the inner workings. Only in an open source system can the motivated student really pursue her interests in depth and find exactly how things work, down to the smallest detail.
- The internet needs better educational resources. So many educational programs hold onto their knowledge and expertise as their only asset, which results in a dearth of solid educational resources online. Educational companies come and go, and when they do not release their materials, they do nothing to improve the world.
- Education is a community effort. Just look at Wikipedia vs. Encarta; the contributions of a learned community can far outpace the efforts of a few paid curators. Further, the type of knowledge curated by Hacker Scouts requires community feedback – how else would we come up with things like: how to solder BGAs with a skillet, or how to build a hydraulic robot powered by syringes? This type of information requires the creativity of a large group of contributors.
- By offering the information at no cost, Hacker Scouts sets the bar for the rest of the industry. Since Hacker Scouts offers its information freely, any competing agency must offer something more than just the same knowledge reheated. Competitors must add knowledge, or mentorship, or innovation – thus Hacker Scouts improves the whole educational industry.
(3) Hacking, not Making
When we first started out, we discussed the merits of naming the program Maker Scouts instead of Hacker Scouts. One example from our discussions captures the spirit behind our program quite succinctly:
If I told you I was making cookies, it could mean I was using a recipe, or maybe even heating up store-bought cookie dough.
However, if I told you I was hacking cookies, it would tell you that I really knew my stuff! You can imagine me testing out different recipes, thinking outside the box, trying new crazy ideas until I found something really awesome.
That is the idea behind Hacker Scouts. The maker movement is wonderful at getting the common person involved in technology, but Hacker Scouts focuses on taking people much further. Hacker Scouts seeks to get kids deep into technology and science – laying foundations that will last a lifetime.
- Rather than playing with snap circuits and little bits, we teach soldering, and circuit design.
- Rather than programming with Scratch, we teach C++ and Python
- Rather than Lego Mindstorms, we teach chassis design and motor controllers
Why not? If an 8-year-old is physically able to solder, she should learn! Snap circuits, Lego Mindstorms and Scratch are all great learning tools, but each has their limitations. We’ve found when kids are exposed to the ‘adult’ tools, they start to realize that their biggest dreams are actually achievable. When we give a child a hammer, she says “I could build a birdhouse”. When we give a child a welder, she says “I could build a skyscraper”.
This philosophy is epitomized in the badge tree. After every badge a scout earns, that scout will be able to design something new. For example, after the microcontroller badge, a scout will be able to make an Arduino from scratch. And if a 10-year-old can design an Arduino, think about what they will do when they are 12, or 16, or 20… And that is why Hacker Scouts was created.
The resources are out there; help make it happen.
Hacker scouts is currently growing like wildfire (the interest from kids has been overwhelming) and needs support from the technical community to keep growing. So far, Hacker Scouts has been run by a small and very dedicated team, but that team will need to grow in order to support a large national program.
Hacker Scouts is the program we all wish we had when we were kids. If you want Hacker Scouts to continue to be around for your kids, now is the time to give your support!
Here’s how you can help:
1) Check out our kickstarter.
Hacker scouts is setting up a national headquarters in the Bay Area. From this base of operations, we will be able to grow the program much faster!
2) Volunteer to mentor. Hacker Scouts is a community that requires technical mentors. Teaching experience is not a requirement! Children appreciate it when you talk about what you know, and they will ask you questions that will really challenge the depth of your understanding. All Hacker Scout mentors are constantly learning new skills, and honing their existing knowledge.