Daily Disruptions Weekly Recap

1) Skandalaris Center: Washington University’s hub for entrepreneurship, this center provides curriculum opportunities, workshops, and resources for will-be entrepreneurs from a variety of fields. Perhaps the center’s crown jewel is the collaborative opportunities such as IdeaBounce, the Olin Cup, and the YouthBridge Social Enterprise and Innovation Competition.

2) Ignition Tank: Supporting innovative ways to support budding businesses, Ignition Tank creates a network of resources that have directly contributed to St. Louis’s growing startup talent. Projects they’re responsible for include Lab1500, Cubicle.com, and ResumeCheck.

3) The Able Few: This Ruby-focused software development company focuses on providing software support and infrastructure for startups. Concerning Ruby on Rails, their developers claim: “Rails is in our blood. We have been with rails since the very first release. There is no better framework for rapidly building a web application on the web today”

Daily Disruptions Weekly Recap

1) St. Louis Dancing Classrooms: Building self-confidence, personal awareness, and overall social skills among students through dance, this program provides a very unique opportunity for students to learn through action. They intend to implement this program in every school in the St. Louis area.

2) Independent Youth: Teaches area students the foundations of  entrepreneurship in 45 minutes, go in-depth with business basics that meet students’ needs, and provide students feedback and cultivation for their personal business ideas.

3) Zombie Squad: In addition to preparing and training members for the zombie apocalypse, this clever organization hosts fundraising events for disaster-relief efforts, workshops to inform the public on how to respond to natural disasters, and instructional seminars on how to prepare in case of cataclysmic events. And they fight zombies hardcore.


Daily Disruptions Weekly Recap

1) Lockerdome: A social network for sports enthusiasts, LockerDome allows users to discover new people sharing their personal sports-related interests through smaller social groups. What sets this social network head and shoulders ahead of other similar networks is that 1,500 professional athletes also use this site to uniquely talk to their fans.

2) Nebula: Open to creative professionals of any stripe, Nebula offers a variety of services tailored to meet the needs of “the unconventionally employed.” Their services range from a satellite office from which you can send/receive mail to an office/studio. Perhaps Nebula’s greatest offering is their tenants’ incredible creativity and openness to collaboration, a great resource for helping one another think critically and broaden perspectives.

3) Natron Baxter: While very tongue-and-cheek about it, Natron Baxter games are intended to change the world. Through educating players, providing unique insights, and broadening perspectives, these very unique games take the players into a corner of their world they may have never thought about. For example, Jane McGonigal’s Evoke encourages players to develop and promote real-world solutions to global problems such as hunger, epidemic outbreaks, and climate change.


Daily Disruptions Weekly Recap

Each week we like to provide more information about each of our Daily Disruptions, providing you with more information about their contexts and the work these fascinating groups and people do.

1) Downtown T-REx: T-REx has more than 50 member company, and it’s easy to see that this “coworking space and technology incubator” is at the forefront of turning St. Louis into an innovation hub whose economic future looks brighter and brighter everyday. In addition to the support and networking opportunities provided, T-REx also frequently opens its doors to the public for a variety of community events.

2) Mission Center L3C: The Mission Center, which we are lucky enough to call home, houses and supports a variety of socially conscious businesses. This incubator provides members with conference space, office space, and a variety of other office supply needs. What’s more, they provide members with the knowledge and support they will need to succeed–helping others fulfill their vision and mission of improving communities around the world is The Mission Center’s vision and mission.

3) Openly Disruptive: Openly Disruptive Founder and CEO Dan Reuse has taken note of how quickly the world is changing and who has the most powerful role in these changes. After realizing that many global changes are under the control of faceless, enigmatic corporate and government groups, Reuse determined that it was time to inform the public as well as organizations to engage in grassroots action at the public level and more socially conscious practices at the corporate level. Learning from one another, the public and larger organizations can begin making better decisions related to STEM education, innovation as it relates to economic growth, and how to establish a “Data-Driven Sustainable Society.”

4) Lab 1500: This co-working space and entrepreneurial center allows startups and work-from-home professionals to enter a space and make it their office. Not only does this get startups out of the founders’ garages and other people out of their living rooms, it also provides members with a network to learn with, develop from, grow in, and play within. The Lab provides several happy hour events, public speaker series, in addition to member workshops. Again, the Lab is having a dramatically positive impact on innovation in St. Louis as well as the city’s economic future.

Make. Hack. Play.

This past week Greg Hill and Andrew Goodin travelled to Memphis, TN, to co-facilitate a Popup Makerspace at the Lausanne Leadership Institute at Lausanne Collegiate School. Around 20 educators from Canada and the U.S. came to our "Make, Hack, Play" session. Most teachers, who had little creative making tool experience, tried their hand at writing programs for the micro-controller Arduino, developing interactive circuits with ordinary fruit using a Makey Makey circuit and Scratch, designing key chains with a Makerbot Replicator 2, and building cardboard proto-types of products that could make a schoolday easier. It was amazing to watch enthusiastic adults learn like Kindergartners, moving around from station to station exploring, tinkering, and creating.  

Educators trying their hand at 3D printing. 

As Hill and Goodin moved around and spoke with participants, they heard several educators discussing how these experiences could be brought back to their schools. Others noted how the Design Thinking process helped them become more creative problem solvers. The Disruption Department looks forward to leading more of these opportunities at schools, organizations, and businesses around the Midwest. To see more pictures from this event, you can view them on our Flickr account

If you'd like to schedule a Disruptive Event, contact Greg Hill at gregory@thedisruptiondepartment.org to learn how you can bring a Disruptor to one of your professional development sessions or community events.

Special thanks to co-presenters Vinnie Vrotny (@vvrotny), Director of Academic Technology at Quest Academy in Palatine, IL, along with Tami Brass (@brasst), Director of Instructional Technology at St. Paul Academy and Summit School in St. Paul, MN.


Graduation Day 2013

2 years ago:

As a native St. Louisan, when I returned to teach here, I was excited about seeing the future of St. Louis rise up through my classroom and classrooms all over the area. I was saddened to see, however, the lack of innovation, creativity, and communication surrounding technology in our schools. I was also saddened to see students who were not invested in learning, in making, and in their futures. There are some great teachers doing amazing work in schools, it’s just not enough yet to make a truly collective impact on the nature of our schools. Few schools are encouraging students to learn how to code, design products, or become entrepreneurs. When I asked my students in those first few weeks about their aspirations for the future, one student replied that if they could go anywhere in the world it would be to the Arch. My students weren’t creating dreams for their futures that were big enough, that would prepare them for a life more than just working for an hourly wage at a dead-end job. Schools all too often dedicate their resources to preparing students for standardized tests. Yet despite this focus, graduation rates in St. Louis were around 65% in 2012, and looking around my classroom those first few weeks, I was nervous about the futures that laid ahead for my students as they continued on in their educational careers.

The Disruption Department’s mission is to provide the platform for students to learn, to build, and to share innovative things. We want all students to have the opportunity to work with their hands, to tinker with new tools, and to play with technology. We also want to ensure that there is the infrastructure to permit any of these students who have a passion for it, to work in a creative or high-tech field. We know we need to connect with the St. Louis business and university communities in order to ensure that St. Louis becomes a regional hotspot for innovation due to the highly trained, well-educated local talent pool. Based on students’ experiences, they will gain the confidence to pursue a professional career in a high-tech field, which in St. Louis offers an average salary of $71,000. We focus on high-tech fields in St. Louis because they offer a median starting salary of over twice the median household income for families in St. Louis and are highly engaging creative fields in which to work. I knew that this was something I wanted for my students, and something that had the potential to change their lives.

2 weeks ago:

Caps and gowns littered the scene as I watched my former students walk into the gymnasium for 8th grade graduation. Everyone was dressed up, families and friends were present, and ready to celebrate the success of their students making it past the 8th grade. When I surveyed the room, I saw lots of my former students, but three in particular stuck out to me. Three of our Student Fellows were graduating the 8th grade and will be going to high school in the fall. Over the past year, I’ve been able to work alongside them through the Student Fellowship Program and have seen the tremendous growth they’ve made. They often make fun of me because they are learning and mastering things I haven’t a clue about. When we are at Hackdays, they don’t want to work on my team anymore because, “Ms. DeSmet, what do you mean you don’t know how to do this? It’s so easy!”  They are now excited about making, creating, hacking, etc., and that excitement has transferred over to their regular schoolwork as well. While they won’t be under the same school roof as me next year, I feel confident that they will leave going to high school more prepared than their fellow students, due to their involvement with The Disruption Department, and well on their way to a thriving future.

It made me so excited to see what happens with our Student Fellows in the future. I’m elated at the prospect of sitting at another graduation ceremony in four years, waiting to learn what the future holds for these amazing kids. Whether it’s applying and getting into competitive university programs, going directly into great jobs in the St. Louis area, launching their own companies, or anything they desire for themselves, I can’t wait to hear about and be a part of it all.

I know that I will feel my involvement with The Disruption Department has truly been worth it when I see this first round of Student Fellows off in four years. Watch out St. Louis, you have a great group of kids coming your way, and I am now even more confident that the future of St. Louis is looking brighter everyday.



Prototyping: Real. Public. Learning.

Whether it's an organization, software, or a physical product, people need to prototype.   It's at the core of what we do.  We create the conditions for people to prototype without fear of failure.


Prototype is both noun and verb, the act of prototyping is an extension of design thinking.  You search for a challenge, you think about the challenge, you build something, you test it with real people, you improve or add features, you test again. 

A prototype is not the same thing as a draft.  Drafts are "early" final copies, meant to be improved in form, but are close to ready for prime time.   There might be iterations, but you're asking "Hey, will you look at this and help me make it better so I can turn it in?"

Instead for a prototype you're asking "Hey, will you use this and tell me about how it works?"

Inspiration vs. validation. 


Oftentimes, prototypes are indistinguishable from whatever the final products becomes. 

We need more prototyping in education, in workforce development, in socio-economic development. Not because we're getting away from "high-expectations", but because we believe people work better when they get to think with their hands and with others.  This thinking is visible. 


In the makerspace we've prototyped with students and seen the power it brings.   More discussion.  More motivation.  More fun.  More meaningful collaboration. 

And as you can see form our material corner, it can be really cheap to learn how your idea works with real people. 

How do you prototype?


New Site!

Although we've been rather quiet as of late, we're moving forward on a variety of projects, one of which being this new site.

The next month-and-a-half is going to be a whirlwind, so expect more action to be posted in these new digs.

The "Microgrid," innovations in the power system

One of the articles curated by The Verge's "Best Tech Writing of the Week" was one written by Tim Wu in the New Republic about the necessity for rebuilding a smarter power grid in New York City.  

Wu decribes a decentralized network, not unlike the internet, that would distribute power generation over a diverse set of sources, not a single one carrying power to a small set of substations, which convert power to home/commercial use.

It's interesting because it outlines a future enabled by technological advances in regulating such a system, which would not only prevent long-term mass power outages, but also could create more market parity for purchasing electricity.  He calls this the "microgrid". 

In lower Manhattan, for instance, an apartment building could take power from multiple sources: its own heating system, the local hospital’s generator, solar panels on a nearby office, while still relying on ConEd as a supplement and backup. Over time, homes would come to depend primarily on many different local sources of power, as opposed to the large power plants. In the event of a failure that knocked out a local wiring or power, the network would be able to heal itself, by taking power through different routes to reach powerless homes.

This has obvious implcations on the price and sustainability of of power in low-income neighborhoods as much as it does in economic centers. Imagine if a school could produce electricity for the surrounding neighborhood.  Furthermore, imagine if those same schools became hubs for internet connectivity in the same area?

Despite modern schools' spurious track records for building futures for low-income students, many folks in these communities trust the institutions they send their precious children to. 

While learning is being more centralized without anyone's active permission, we can push for necessary utilities to become decentralized as well, producing more than just the value of education for neighborhoods.  Being that the school I taught at for 5 years is one of just a handful of active, walkable businesses in a zipcode radius (the other being day-care centers, a corner store, a barbershop and a chinese restaurant), there is some responsibility to be a more fruitful member of the community.  

Our roof is large, as is our HVAC system.  Both could be used to produce and distribute power throughout the neighborhood.  Our network is robust, and could be a central node on a mesh network ranging for blocks.  And the trust is there to be a public utility that can do more than what it is currently tasked to do.

Tools to Combat Poverty

In a earlier post, I mentioned a few conversations I've had regarding the "these are just tools" arguments made by many in the twitterverse

I ran accross an update on the Indian company Datawind's second extremely cheap tablet tonight. 

Read the full blog post here, but it's interesting to summarize a few things here: 

    • The tablets will cost $20. 
    • The Indian government is subsidizing half the cost of the tablet.
    • The government is doing this because they'll recoup the cost of the tablet compared to the cost of distributing (public domain) textbooks for 3 years.
    • The company is doing this as in instrument to fight poverty.
    • Competition for cellular data is so intense that they can offer unlimited data plans for $2 a month.
    • The company has developed technology to compress and load webpages faster over legacy wireless networks, increasing access in areas where cellular connections are slow.
    • Many consultants are arguing that this model will disrupt Western markets, especially in low-income areas. 

These are not just "tools", but rather the platforms for the beginning of extreme transformations in how children in poor areas around the world learn.  I'm fascinated by the direction this will take.

Imagine if the government partnered with private companies to maintain broadband wireless networks everywhere in the U.S. and the resources to access these networks.