A Growing Technology Cluster—Whose Products You Can Touch

[In the Pittsburgh region there’s a growing groundswell of edupreneurs. In this RemakeLearning article several edupreneurs are mentioned including Tom Lauwers, the founder and Chief Scientist at Birdbrain Technologies. I’m fortunate to work with Tom on several elements for Birdbrain, including the Robot Petting Zoo happenings that have happened here in Pittsburgh and Berkeley, California.]


One afternoon in 2012, Matt Stewart was in the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh watching kids play with puzzle pieces. The pieces were part of an exhibit Stewart helped design to teach the building blocks of coding to children as young as four. He soon noticed one young girl taking charge with some puzzle pieces, and showing her classmates how to use them to solve problems. The girl’s teacher told Stewart that the student was usually behind her peers in many areas of learning, but the puzzle pieces seemed to click with her.

Photo/Digital Dream Labs

An idea for a company was born. Stewart and his cofounders, Justin Sabo and Peter Kinney, fellow Carnegie Mellon University graduates, founded Digital Dream Labs in 2012. Today, their first product, Puzzlets, uses puzzle pieces and sensors to control video games and teach skills like logic and sequencing in a hands-on way.

“If you’re on a touch screen, you’re in your own zone,” Sabo said. “You’re no longer here.” At a time when so much technology for kids is screen-based, Puzzlets’ physical pieces invite problem solving and collaboration with parents or peers.

Sabo and his cofounders are part of a small scene of entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh who are creating hands-on educational technology, toys, and games, and in the process are helping to create a cluster of entrepreneurs, designers, and manufacturers that could situate Pittsburgh as a hub of edtech hardware production. The scene is small but seems poised to grow into the type of industry cluster that characterizes maker-oriented Pittsburgh.

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How Strong Community And Educator Support Drives Ed Tech Success

[Sebastien Turbot shares his insights in a Forbes article into a project from the French group, Libraries without Borders. The project distributes e-materials to refugee camps to provide these marginalized people experiences to re-link them to the world. ]

When we think of education technology, we often imagine large-scale impact and reach. But it’s not that straightforward.

Stacked amidst temporary shelters, tents and thatched huts in Burundi’s Kavumu refugee camp are a pile of bright blue, green and yellow boxes. Stowed away in these 800 kg metal palette-size boxes are countless ideas to educate, entertain and foster creativity among refugees. The self-contained watertight boxes are packed with e-readers, tablets, cameras, e-books, paperbacks, board games and e-learning tools to offer educational and training opportunities to refugee children and adults and prepare them to reintegrate the world. In less than 20 minutes, the boxes are unfolded into interactive media centres with tables and chairs.

Ed-tech initiatives like Worldreader  provide children and families in Ghana (and now other African nations) access to books which it achieves by providing them with e-readers in the form of Kindles or their new mobile app that works with regular feature phones rather than smart phones. (Photo credit: Newsha Tavakolian)

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Building the Next Great App

[Here’s an interview with Richard Culatta, the Director of the Office of Educational Technology for the US Department of Education. Richard shares his insights in a Games and Learning article that highlights the lessons learned in the new publication, Edtech Developers Guide.]

"We are at a time of real transformation in the education system."

“We are at a time of real transformation in the education system.”

Games and other apps that may improve education have been getting a lot of attention from the U.S. Department of Education this summer. From special day-long meetings at E3 and Games for Change to a dozen regional meetings with game developers, the federal agency has been reaching out to inspire an entire new kind of educational publisher.

Richard Culatta, the director of the Office of Educational Technology at the Department of Ed, said there is an obvious reason for the flurry of visits and actions by the department.

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