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School of the Madeleine third-graders build Piper computers: Clara DeRosa, Dante Martinez, Sasha Bartel, Lia Sullivan and Miyabi Schroth are in the upper photo; Melissa Perez and Sean Franklin collaborate in the
photo at left.
All: MICHELE JURICH/
THE CATHOLIC VOICE
Madeleine pupils build computers in school day project
How about building your own computer?
It's at the root of the founding of Apple Inc., and the lesson that young entrepreneur Mark Pavlyukovskyy took to heart in creating his company.
His company, Piper, makes kits that allow children to assemble their own computers, which the children can connect to the Internet. Among its attributes: Students can use it to play the popular Minecraft building game.
The founder said he "set out to create a tool I wish I'd had."
In leaving behind his graduate studies in neuroscience at Oxford, Pavlyukovskyy said his move to educational technology "gives me a different way to think of what's exciting," allowing him to create "fun, inspiring, interesting things."
He was at the School of the Madeleine in Berkeley to watch students turn a kit full of components and boards into those "fun, inspiring, interesting things."
Pupils, after all, would be the true test of those elements.
That was the idea of Madeleine Principal Kenneth Willers, who met Pavlyukovskyy at an educational conference a couple of years ago. Pavlyukovskyy was set up at a table with his plan for Piper computer. What drew Willers' attention was that the entrepreneur, now 25, did not look much older than some of Willers' pupils at the K-8 school.
While some education technology companies hire teachers to test their products, at Willers' suggestion, Pavlyukovskyy agreed to use the ultimate testers: the pupils themselves.
"Our kids were part of this from the beginning," Willers said.
Since that initial meeting, the school's administration, staff members and pupils have participated in at least a half dozen events with Piper, assisting in the development, marketing and testing.
The school invested $5,000 — the Mission Control level — in the startup last year. Delivery of 25 units was set for April 2016.
On the last day of February 2016, the mission launched.
Guided by detailed blueprints that stretched across their tables, the children worked in teams of two or three to begin the building process.
With technology coordinator Lisa Anthony available for assistance, pupils followed the guidelines encouraged by Anthony's instructions. (She had built a couple of them the previous weekend to see where they might need additional guidance.)
"Engineers follow directions closely and carefully," Anthony advised as the students began building, starting with the controller box.
The boxes, made of light wood, resembled a cigar box in which children of the '50s might have kept their treasures.
There's nothing like taking a screwdriver and wiring the components into the boards to make you feel like you're in charge. "I'm an electrical engineer," one enthusiastic assembler announced.
Tommy Gibbons, a Princeton graduate and classmate of the company founder, worked the room, observing the students' work and offering encouragement.
Working in a room with photos on the wall that include Pope Francis, Steve Jobs, Jim Henson and Yoko Ono and John Lennon, the engineers-in-training deftly shifted roles so each team member would have a part in building.
"I learned not to be afraid of building stuff," said Melissa Perez.
"It makes me happy and proud of myself," said her collaborator, Sean Franklin. "When I finish, I'll know I made it."
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