We have an interview today in the STEAM education realm. Victor Ciccarelli has this business called STEAM Maker Workshop in San Diego. We got hooked up with him because of Cindi Schulz, the Teacher of the Year who we interviewed on a previous episode. It is the workshop through which she was hired to develop her program for how to incorporate 3D printing into the classroom for the curriculum. It was facilitated through him and sponsored by Robo3D. That’s how we got hooked up with him.
I had the most fun talking to him. Let’s listen to the interview, and we will talk about it after.
Listen to the podcast here:
3D Print STEAM Building with Victor Ciccarelli of STEAM Maker Workshop
So Victor, thanks so much for joining us today.
Thanks for having me.
I’m really excited about the fact that you have the A in STEM. You have a STEAM workshop, which I love. It’s STEAM Maker Workshop. Why and how are you bringing in art?
I don’t think you can do STEM without art. For us, the A is about the creativity aspect. Less about the I am going to pick up a pencil or pen and draw than it is about in order to do any technology, you have to be creative. Game design, software design, building an engine, there is an art in every part of it. That is what we look at that art for. Let’s be creative. Let’s think outside of the triangle when we do stuff.
We have had a lot of controversy about the design/art side of things as we have been talking about various topics on the podcast. I believe the exact thing that you said: design and art, that innovative process, has to be a significant part of it, or it doesn’t take it to the right level. Are you finding that it seems really logical, that it fits really well for the types of programs you’re putting in place?
I come at this a little differently from a different background. My job is to engage kids. In order to do that, I have to meet them at their level. In order to get a kid excited about doing something or a teacher excited to help excite a kid, you have to feed it to them in a way they will want it, and they want that creativity. They want that freedom. One of the great things about youth is that we are still exploring and experimenting, and we still have vision and color. The world is something we haven’t explored yet. To give them cold, hard facts, they won’t accept it. To give them the art in it, to give them the freedom and creativity, that is what gets them excited and passionate. That is what we are here for: to get them passionate about what they are doing.
I think that works as an adult, too. That is what gets me passionate about everything. I couldn’t agree more.
I always joke that my inner twelve-year-old isn’t all that inner. I’m right there.
You have a very cool space in San Diego. Tell me a bit about how you got started in it.
Completely absolutely backwards and by mistake. My background is technology, software design, image compression technology. I worked for the courts as an expert. I had nothing in the world to do with STEM or STEAM or education. Simultaneously, if you have been in a costume/Halloween store, you probably have seen my photography and my costume design.
Later in life, I went to a maker fair one day. For me, I was this cathartic experience. For the first time in my life, both halves met. It was that marriage of the creativity and art along with the science. I got very wrapped up in the maker movement. I thought it was amazing. I started building robots, and I got inundated by schools asking me to help. I looked at them, thinking, I have the worst education. I am not the guy. Yet the teachers kept coming to me. They kept asking me how to do things, and what I was able to do was look at what they needed and apply the technologies and the art to it. Because of that, we started getting more and more teachers in districts and schools and states coming to us, asking for our assistance in bridging that gap: How do you take technology and art and match it to the needs of modern education?
I think that is so important. I think there is a gap. That is an interesting process, especially because with 3D printing and other technologies coming up on the horizon, we are going to have such an education gap if we are not nurturing that generation.
I think it’s different than the gap; it’s the goal. We have become a nation of innovation rather than a nation of invention, to the point that a lot of people think those two words are synonymous.
I was very fortunate that I was born in 1963. I was just a little too young to be a hippie, but I got to live it vicariously through my older siblings. Then I got into the ‘70s. My teenage years were at a time when technology hadn’t exploded yet. When I was a kid, we had to wait for things to come on TV. When my parents went out, they told you the phone number of the restaurant they were going to be in. In my generation, we got to see pagers, and we got to see laser discs, which were the new wave of technology.
I grew up in a time where we had constant invention. Every other day, something new was coming out. We watched a television that you couldn’t time-shift turn to laser discs turn to Betamax turn to VHS. We watched our movies go down the same line and end up on Netflix.
I have an argument with my daughter about Wi-Fi every day. They think everything is instantaneous. The minute it slows down, they collapse.
They do. If you’re under 30-35 in the world, you have seen very little invention. You have seen innovation. You have seen your computer get faster, your phone get more features onto it. You have seen your technology get better, but there is very little you have seen that is new.
Where I see I am fortunate to be born where I was, I grew up in a generation where everything was new. We went from having nothing to invention. When I look at 3D printing and I look at the technology now, it’s one of the few things that this generation, and this generation of schools and teachers, really has as a new technology.
I think the difference is we look at it differently. When I was 12, I went onto the Queen Mary, and there was a guy that had this digital camera. It took pictures and then printed them out on Dot Matrix printers. Remember those old things? You squinted one eye, and it almost looked like me.
Yes, I remember that.
That technology was horrible. It had absolutely no real function, but it was an incredibly critical technology because it was pivotal. It taught us that digital cameras could work. It taught us what the future could hold. In my generation, I have gone from watching that camera to where cameras are today. We are watching that same thing happen with 3D printers. But a generation that is not accustomed to new looks at the modern 3D printer and thinks of it as an end technology instead of looking at it like the way I look at laser discs or Betamax. It was a critical step. It is an absolutely amazing technology, but it is a step in the process of what is going to come.
Victor, you are so refreshing because I think the same thing. It’s the tip of the iceberg.
It is. I’m dying to see 15 years from now what the technologies are. Much like my old Dot Matrix printer, it’s not going to be this printer that I have sitting on my desk behind me now.
No, it’s not. It’s going to be something completely evolved. The possibility for me, because I am a product designer at heart, and that is where I started, it’s a tool to finally do something that is so different. That is why Tom and I dove into 3D printing because it was this opportunity to do a unit of one versus the mass market that we had been in. The possibility of technology changing the way the design process works so that we could design things that couldn’t be made in other technologies that were limiting us from certain forms and ideas. I’m excited about the future.
That is the wave the maker movement is bringing: micro-production, the ability to Etsy a product. In my generation, on my first projects, you had to go make 150,000 of something to bring it to market. The new technologies allow us to micro-manufacture. You can run a couple.
In keeping on 3D printers, the real advantage of what they are today is the opportunity they present to the students. What we push really hard is not to teach 3D printing. I look at 3D printing the way I look at teaching a student how to hammer. I don’t teach a student how to hammer. It’s a waste of time; they won’t get it. Instead I will look at a student and I’ll say, “Build me a wooden ADA compliant ramp that comes up to the front of my office.” Inherent in the task, I know they will learn how to hammer, and they will learn how to saw and everything else. It’s brought to them in the way of a task rather than a tool.
When we look at 3D printers today, while I sit here and say the technology is a lot like the Dot Matrix printer I had when I was 12, that Dot Matrix printer put me where I am today and started me on a lifetime of learning technology. When we look at the kids and say, “Yeah, the 3D printer is nice,” but 3D thinking is amazing.
Look at the generational changes that you have seen. When I was a kid, a camera was on a fixed platform for I Love Lucy where every frame was shot from eye level. We moved into the ‘80s where cameras moved onto jibs and booms and they started getting to be external, but we thought in terms of first party still. When we looked at our games of our generation, it was all first person shooters. It was you are looking from the eye level of the person playing. Kids today don’t think in that way. They think in this omnipresent view of 360 degree rotations where even their games are not viewed through the eyes from the first person. They are viewed from a three dimensional reality. To me, I look at my two dimensional dog and my three dimensional cat. My dog will run around on the floor every day, and my cat will jump up on top of the stereo and dive-bomb him from above. No matter what I do, the dog will not learn to look up.
I want to be in your house and meet your pets. They sound fascinating. But I think you’re right. I think that is what has really turned me on. I have young kids. I see my daughter’s process, and she is six. I see the way her brain is already thinking in dimension. I remember that being somewhat of a struggle for me when I went to art school. Rhode Island School of Design forces you into 3D design and 2D design. I was much more 2D because I was a textile designer. I thought in micro-3D in weaving. It took me out of that and forced me through those tasks to think three dimensionally. That has always been a greater struggle. But my daughter will not have that problem at all.
They don’t. It’s funny. We have the privilege of getting to teach a lot of teachers, and we also teach a lot of students. When I am teaching the teachers, thinking in three dimensions is a major part of the day. Getting them to understand X, Y, and Z’s and rotations and how something in the distance can look like it’s farther away when it’s really higher or lower, you have to learn how to twist. But the kids don’t think that way. They just grab a mouse, spin that thing around, and look at it from all the angles.
Let’s touch on that. Cindi Schulz is the one who introduced us to each other. We had her on the podcast a couple weeks ago. Awesome teacher. Tell us a bit about the gap of teaching teachers and what you have been doing to help with that.
There is a disparity right now in education. For many reasons, schools got into teaching for the test. Financial and how they got funded and the world became about the next test and teachers are getting graded on the test scores. We realized about two or three years ago that that was a mistake. Schools are desperately trying to correct that now. Across the country, we see this amazing wave of schools. They use the acronym of STEM and STEAM, and it’s trendy. It sounds good. That’s nice. I always like to point out that if you add English and geometry to STEAM, it is school.
It’s just another trendy thing. If that’s the word the world wants to use, awesome. What we really care about is getting kids educated. But we talked about that generation gap. Unfortunately, in our schools now as we are trying to make this transition, you have a generation of teachers that are retiring. The people that used to teach woodshop and all of these hands-on tactile classes are on their way out. The generation that is on their way in is a product of the system that was teaching for the test. All of a sudden, you are looking at these teachers. They come to me every day. I get a phone call of, “I don’t know how to do this. How do I do this in schools?” Our position and the need of the schools is simply people who are artists and technicians to go in and help the teachers. Teachers know how to teach; we are not teachers. The skill of teaching and the politics and the programs, that is a job you couldn’t pay me enough to do. I have no end of respect for those people, to the point that I would never do it.
Me, too. I have to say me, too.
But they come to us because we can support them. We can fill in the gaps and augment their needs, which are they learned how to be a teacher. They didn’t learn how to be a technologist or an artist. So we go in and support them. That’s what they really need the most. They lacked that part of their education. As the senior people are retiring, the world is realizing we have to go back and look at what we used to do. It takes old people like me to go back in and say, “Hey, this is all the stuff I did when I was 14. I’m not reinventing the wheel here. I am bringing back the same stuff I did as a kid.”
That’s so great. I think when you said before how much you respect the teachers, I think for instance that the project you helped to sponsor and get going with Cindi, that showed so much respect. I keep saying as all these teachers keep contacting us as well, they need to be paid to learn here. What they are going to be teaching is going to be so important to the core of everything they teach, not just teaching how to use a 3D printer.
I couldn’t agree more. That message gets a little messed up with teachers being overpaid or underpaid. I think the bottom line is that teachers are overworked. Sometimes when a person is saying they are being underpaid, it loses the message, but they are really overworked. We have to look at getting more help into the classrooms. We have to look at getting more assistance. There is physically so many hours in a day. While I truly do believe that they deserve a higher pay, there is a point of it doesn’t matter how much you pay someone; there is only so many hours in a day, and you have overtasked these people to the point that they couldn’t possibly take on all the extra responsibilities we need them to do.
And the fact that we are expecting them for that same salary to learn how to do something completely new and then figure out how to teach it. That is asking way too much of any one person.
Absolutely. The way to approach it is to add more people. Bring in mentors. Bring in people who can assist and help. That goes to politics way above my pay grade, so I’ll leave my opinion right there.
We will just keep advocating for it. That is the best we can do. But you have a bunch of resources for teachers and field trips for schools and other things. Tell us about how you developed those.
We are in a very privileged position. When we started our approach, and we got dragged into it more than started it, we attracted a lot of attention, and a lot of people and corporations come to us having seen what our programs are, and they help us get those into the schools. The kind of programs we deliver are robotics programs. I am a big fan of all of those. Most of the schools we serve could never afford to get anywhere near that kind of budget. So instead we put in robotics programs where the robots cost $40. At this point, COX Communications here in San Diego has sponsored us. We have 125 teams now that are running our robotics programs in schools.
It’s pretty awesome. It’s an amazing run. Now we bring them to our festivals. If you are familiar with Southern California, we have this San Diego County Fair, which is 1.6 million people every year during the summer. We have partnered with the fair this year that we will on two days of the fair, June 15 and 16, be bringing in all of our robot teams and schools. We are doing a 40-booth festival. All of the schools come for free. We have recycled fashion challenges, 3D building challenges, and all are based around simple STEM and STEAM programs that these kids can do with very little money so that you can get in. For me, STEM and STEAM are not about high-end robots; they are about duct tape and cardboard and bags of beans and rice.
It still teaches the same concept. It’s just more accessible.
Absolutely. What are you trying to teach? I go back to STEM, if you add geography and English, it is school. We don’t need to teach robotics. Robotics should be a tool to teach the child how to do something in their future. Same with 3D printing. 3D printing is not a goal. It is a tool to excite a student into 3D thinking, which is everything they need in their career as they move forward.
Victor, you are so refreshing. I am really excited about your workshop and what you are doing down there. We will definitely put all this information in our show notes for our listeners. Do you have anything to add before we go?
Thank you. If your listeners are in the Southern California area, make sure to check out the Del Mar Fair this year. The STEAM Maker Festival is in December at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Our website is steammakerfest.org.
Thank you so much, Victor.
3D Print STEAM Building – Final Thoughts
I think we should go see him next time we are in San Diego because it is such a cool space. We are in San Diego enough; we definitely should do it.
He seems like a cool guy with a great mission. I like how he fell into it. He didn’t intend to build a business like this or do this for a living. He was just continually filling a need, and he felt compelled to do that, which I applaud. When you are filling a need, it’s a great business building process anyway because you have a market. You are fulfilling that. That is a way better way than trying to design or build something and hope they will join. It doesn’t work like that for him, so that in and of itself is great.
The second part about it is he just is so passionate about everything. It’s feeding what drives him, which is wonderful. The big takeaway for me is that it’s not about teaching people how to 3D print. It is about inspiring and teaching them about being creative in a very cross-functional, interdisciplinary way. 3D printing is one of those tools available to them, just like as we grew up, computers were starting to be available to us.
I tried so hard to teach my grandfather how to use a computer before he passed away. His nickname was Hap Hazzard, which was his nickname from the war. He kept it. Everybody called him it. He owned it. It was him, no question. It fit him. Such a cool guy with a great engineering mindset. He really wanted to learn the computer, but the concept of the mouse was a little too much for him. The concept that it wasn’t a physical, mechanical device like a typewriter, he understood that and could use it all day long, but he couldn’t see the mechanics. Just to use a word processor, the most basic of things these days on a computer, forget trying to do any engineering on it. There was a cognitive dissonance for him. He did not get that he was looking up on the screen and typing on his keyboard and using the mouse and it was related to what was there. It was otherworldly to him.
I think 3D printing can be that way for people who are of older generations. It doesn’t have to be if you just tried it. That’s the thing that I find so fascinating. Running a 3D printer is nothing. It’s a set of tools and instructions. I always say that it’s like threading a sewing machine. It’s incredibly difficult to thread a sewing machine in some cases, but there are instructions there. You can do it.
The hard part is figuring out what to make with a sewing machine. It’s the same thing with the 3D printer. That’s the hardest part. With both sewing machines and 3D printers, there are techniques that you learn, and you can definitely become a better technician. Is that required for jumping into it? Certainly not. And there are machines that are much more intuitive or pre-programmed. We have talked about that before. Have cams of various fonts to do embroidery. It’s the same thing with 3D printing. You can download designs and still output things. Or there are apps and tools to help perform certain functions for you.
It’s that incorporation of the brain process, how you get that subconscious creativity to move into the conscious brain to be able to produce it. I love that he thinks like that. That’s really why you and I are passionate about 3D printing. We are so passionate about it because we already have a design process. 3D printing just makes it easier. It fits right into it. We see all this potential and all this great opportunity to produce things and get what is in our head out. For us, that’s the power of it.
What I’m extremely excited about, and pleased that people like Victor and Cindi are in the world, because they are going to get our children to a place where that is second nature, where the output of it is unimportant—it will just happen. I agree with Victor. I can’t wait for 15 years down the road to see where all this technology is, and more importantly, what these younger generations are now doing with it when it’s second nature to them. When that whole class of consumers is out there saying, “Of course you would have that 3D printed. Why would you manufacture that in any other way?” When their paradigm is reset from what everything is today, I think it’s fascinating and exciting.
I think encouraging that three dimensional thinking, which so quickly gets shut down in the brain process as we grow. As we go through school, the three dimensional thinking isn’t encouraged enough. That was another great point Victor made about youths today. They will just get on a computer, look at a 3D object, and turn it around, looking at it from all angles. They will have a more intuitive understanding of conceptually reviewing something that is three dimensional on a computer, understanding that XYZ three dimensional space. 100 years ago, almost everything was book learning, two dimensional on a page. Then explaining three dimensions and all those axes…
I don’t know if I would agree with that completely. Even as much as 50 years ago, we were still building things more. There was a lot of DIY going on. You were building things yourself. There wasn’t as much of what we have, which is ready-to-wear. It’s right there. It’s so much more convenient. So you don’t make it yourself. When you don’t have that process of understanding of how difficult it is to make something so you have an appreciation for the craft that goes into it, but you also don’t have that three dimensional grasp of understanding how to build things when you are constantly in a computer or on paper only.
The physicality of actually producing it in 3D printing makes it more real in our head. It makes that process of understanding of those three dimensions greater. I think that that means our children have a greater capacity for being able to violate the rules when they know how it’s made. That means more innovation, more invention, more possibilities of forms and function that our generation couldn’t possibly think of without a lot of work.
It was definitely different. There have been ebbs and flows or peaks and valleys in that. I think at some point, the computer coming into it maybe took a lot of people further away from the physical making of things. You and I know that because how often do we talk to designers who have never stepped in a factory, or who never built a physical model of anything? We see it all the time, especially when we do furniture design.
The failure is, “Why doesn’t my chair fit with my desk?” Because you never made a full-size model of the desk to check it out. You didn’t put anything into actual context. We used to build foam-core models way back when. Or corrugated cardboard when you needed something cheap and quick to be able to check out your model. I would hot glue furniture parts together out of tubes and cardboard. We would get too dependent on our computer modeling, and we believe the dimensions there are real, but they are not always real-world. They don’t always work when you produce them. If you don’t have a process by which you actually produce a prototype and check it out and have a process to fix it from there, a lot of people go straight from the computer to final product. That is a very bad process, I think. It’s extremely flawed.
But 3D printing, CNC, all of these tools that are available at STEAM Maker Workshop, and other workshops like it across the country and festivals. We have one coming up shortly after this airs. The STEAM Carnival in Irvine for the school district. All of this opportunity to actually feel, touch, and make something really encourages that part of the process, which I think is critical.
I think it’s even more critical for this youngest generation, as we say has all this opportunity and things available to them, which is wonderful, but they are also the iPad generation. I think that we see them all too often with their faces in an iPad watching some video. Getting them out of that is critical, too. 3D printing makes it certainly fast and easy. Push a button, and it goes. In some cases, it’s not that simple, yeah, but it is. It’s really not that complicated, either, and I think Victor shows that really well.
I really appreciate Victor’s time. It was great. We have to get down there and check him out. That will be a segment of a follow-up episode or blog post in the future. Maybe it will be our first Periscope. We are learning more about it, and I think there are good opportunities to broaden our multicasting of our podcast with some of these things, and perhaps Periscope is the way to go.
It’s looking very likely at this point that I am going to be on the road starting in late May, and I will be hitting 17 cities this year and probably another 15 or so the first half of next year. I don’t have my calendar yet, but I will post it and let you know when I will be in a certain city.
If you have a STEAM Maker style workshop or a school and you want me to come and talk with you or you want to do a local meet-up around 3D printing, let us know. Send me an email saying you’re interested on 3dstartpoint.com, or send me a message on other social media. I would love to touch base with our WTFFF community while I’m out on the road.
I think there is a great opportunity there. It is in its forming stages right now, but it is going to happen. There may not be a lot we can make definitive until that schedule is set, but it is coming up soon. We will let you know all about it as it gets more solidified.
- STEAM Maker Workshop
- Cindi Schulze Interview – 3D Print Curriculum
- Del Mar Fair in San Diego
- STEAM Maker Festival
- STEAM Carnival in Irvine, CA
About Victor Ciccarelli
Serial Entrepreneur, Technologist and Creative Artist who discovered, quite accidentally, that those skills blend very well into the new educational paradigms. He has recently set out on a quixotic quest to remind the world that Innovation and Invention are not synonymous.
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