Editor’s note: During the Bay Area Maker Faire earlier this year, Scott R. Kline photographed a number of participants who call Menlo Park their home base. Pictured is Eugene Korsunskly, standing in front of enthusiastic post-its from admirers of his SparkTruck, a mobile platform for learning that tours the country teaching “maker” skills. We asked Eugene to tell us more about how he’s inspired kids to find their inner maker.
InMenlo: What prompted you to start SparkTruck? And how long have you been doing it?
Eugene: SparkTruck started as my Masters project in the Stanford Design Program. When a couple of my classmates and I visited local elementary schools, we were sad to find that budget cuts and the proliferation of standardized testing have severely limited teachers’ ability to incorporate fun, hands-on activities into the curriculum.
Not being professional educators ourselves — and therefore not having the burden of knowing anything about what we were getting ourselves into — we decided to do something about it. The silliest idea we came up with, and one that seemed the most fun to try, was to get an old delivery truck and fill it with maker tools and supplies, and drive it around to local schools to teach hands-on workshops to kids
We had no plans of keeping the project going past our graduation in June 2012, but enough people were emailing us with invitations to their towns that we decided to take the truck on a big cross-country road-trip that summer.
InMenlo: How many places have you visited — and how to you decide where to travel?
Eugene: On its inaugural road trip in the summer of 2012, SparkTruck drove 15,323 miles across 33 states, visiting about 73 schools, libraries, museums, community centers, etc, and meeting about 2,697 kids. We set up a website, where anyone can go and invite us to their community. Then we looked through all the invitations to see out what route we could take that would let us visit as many of those places as possible.
We did the same thing for the SparkTruck’s second annual trip this summer.We are excited to go anywhere we are invited, but we especially try to get to communities that don’t usually have these kinds of experiences, and also to schools where there is already some energy around doing maker-type programming, which could use a SparkTruck visit to catalyze those efforts
InMenlo: Can you give a couple of examples of how your mobile learning platform has sparked kids to become makers?
Eugene: One of my favorite stories comes from Milpitas. About a month after we ran a workshop with a sixth-grade class in an elementary school there, the teacher sent us a video of one of her students, Brooke, who was demonstrating a new invention of hers. After seeing people in her school litter, she created a beautiful prototype cardboard-and-duct-tape plastic bag holder to help incentivize people to pick up their trash. She said that our visit “made [her] love inventing things.” It doesn’t get much better than that!
InMenlo: What is your professional background? Is SparkTruck now your full time pursuit?
Eugene: After driving SparkTruck across the country and back, I took a job teaching design at Stanford, which is now my happy, full-time pursuit. Part of this job is teaching the SparkTruck class, which aims to train the next generation of SparkTruck drivers to take the reigns of the project and keep it going.
InMenlo:What’s surprised you most about being involved with the SparkTruck project?
Eugene: By far, the most surprising thing about the whole project was how much demand we found for what we were doing. After we knew that we shouldn’t wrap up the project last June, we were sure that a single cross-country trip would allow us to visit almost everyone who wanted us to.
What actually happened is that we wrapped up the summer with about 250 schools on our ever-growing waiting list. So we decided to keep it going
Right now, the truck is on the road again, driven by a whole new group of Sparkees — two students from Stanford, one from UC Berkeley, one from the Art Center College of Design, and a recent graduate of UC Santa Cruz. My hope is to turn SparkTruck into a self-sustaining student-run project at Stanford, with a cross-country trip happening every summer, driven each time by a new crew, and always evolving.
Photo by Scott R. Kline