Written by on April 25, 2014

Dancing together from 0 to 31: Art + Computer Science = Learning

What is the benefit of educational games? How do art and computer science interact? And most importantly, what is “the binary dance?”

Pete Hawkes, our Cal Poly Science Cafe guest at the second annual San Luis Obispo Mini Maker Faire on May 10, explains all that and more in this interview.

What will we be doing at the San Luis Obispo Mini Maker Faire?

I see a disconnect in the current approach to teaching math. Children intuitively embrace technologies that are capable of incredible computational power—game systems, smart phones, electronic toys. They’re engaging and magical in the eyes and hands of a child. And yet they are often shunned in the classroom as a perceived threat to learning and creativity.

Underlying these technologies are the very ideas that math teachers strive so hard to teach. These concepts don’t need to be abstract or only taught at advanced levels of education.

I’ve created a physical exercise to help explain the hidden nature of computers in a fun and engaging way. The Binary Dance demonstrates that raising and lowering 5 inputs (2 arms, 2 legs, and 1 head) allows us to create 32 unique poses. Through this simple exercise participants explore pattern and sequence while learning the inner workings of computational machines. We’ll dance together from 0 to 31.

Pete teaching the Binary Dance in a 5th grade math class.

Teaching the Binary Dance in a 5th grade math class.

Tell us a bit more about yourself.

I’m a designer and artist. I earned my MFA in Design Media Arts from UCLA, and I currently work as a designer and g-speak engineer at Oblong Industries, a gestural interface company. I also teach some of my favorite creative tools—Arduino and Processing—at UCLA Extension.

How do you see your creative side interacting with your professional side?

My art practice and design work both focus on activating the body to enrich learning and communication. Maurice Merleau-Ponty states that the body is “not a chunk of space or a bundle of functions but … an intertwining of vision and movement.

We are playful, creative creatures. We thrive on curiosity, learn from failure, and bolster one another in the process. Designing physical interfaces that take full advantage of these strengths has shown me that there is invaluable potential in leveraging the body to disrupt the accepted norms of both the classroom and the contemporary workplace.

How do you connect art and creativity with computer science?

The way we communicate has changed drastically in the last few decades. Creativity is evolving with it. Technology isn’t replacing traditional disciplines but is becoming more central to artistic discourse and practice.

I’ve always considered myself an artist. As a child I sketched, painted, sculpted and was well educated in the traditional arts. Thanks to early video games, I learned how to use and program computers. It was only natural that I would eventually experiment with them as creative tools. I now use simple algorithms to iterate rapidly through creative ideas. They bring life and interaction to my designs in ways that were previously impossible. The intersection of computation and the physical world is an exciting space to explore.

What is your view on gaming in education?

Play is central to the way we learn and develop. Dutch historian Johan Huizinga argues that “play is a most fundamental human function and has permeated all cultures from the beginning.” It opens the attention of the mind and invites collaboration.

There is growing acceptance for new interfaces—even in our stressed educational systems. What teachers need now more than ever are accessible teaching tools and systems for learning that consider new ideas without losing sight of our inherent nature as physical beings. Playful, embodied learning is fundamental to our development and should take a greater role in the classroom. Teachers who embrace these ideas will discover more effective ways to flip the switch and inspire their students.

Hope to see you May 10!

The Mini Maker Faire will be celebrating doing and making for the second year in San Luis Obispo on May 10 in Mission Plaza from 11am-3pm. Hope to see you there! For more information about this event, visit our calendar page.

Read more on Binary Dance, Cal Poly Science Café, pete hawkes, and SLO Mini Maker Faire.

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