As the world around us continues to rapidly evolve, one of the most significant factors that inhibits technological progress is a lack of opportunities or resources that would help inspire young people and children to seek to understand the technologies that power their world.
After engaging in humanitarian work in Ghana, Mark Pavlyukovskyy, founder and CEO of Piper, Inc., realized that the concept of technological proficiency was more closely correlated to context and opportunity than it was to talent. He recognized that, because most children derive pleasure from playing games and interacting with friends, the prospect of learning coding and electronics might appear daunting unless such concepts were presented in a different context that appealed to these same children.
With this information in mind, Mark and Piper cofounder Dr. Joel Sadler set out to build a product that they hoped would motivate and excite children to learn basic engineering skills. Understanding the importance of contextualizing these skills, Mark and Joel chose to utilize Minecraft as the platform for what ultimately became the Piper Computer Kit.
As the second best-selling video game of all time, Minecraft, according to Mark, makes the Piper Computer Kit "much more accessible and much easier for [kids] to master … because they already have a shared context with the game."
The kit provides the user with everything needed to build a fully functioning computer and is designed "to inspire kids to unlock their innate creative potential … by growing confidence around being creators of technology." Kids first assemble their own personal computer by following an actual engineering blueprint before using the computer to play Piper’s own educational edition of Minecraft, which is powered by the Raspberry Pi 3.
Within the game, users are prompted to physically build and code switches and LEDs in order to accomplish various tasks. According to the company website, "kids learn the electronics and programming skills necessary to invent solutions to the problems that surround them. These skills include building, parallel circuitry, breadboarding, problem solving, [and] critical thinking," among others.
Hari Kalyanaraman, Global Head of Emerging Businesses at element14, commends Piper for "developing a fun and engaging STEM kit that enables kids to build their own computer and derive intuition behind simple electronics through Minecraft. Our collaboration started with their very first Kickstarter campaign and we look forward to bringing the Piper Computer Kit to market."
When originally designing the Piper Computer Kit, Mark acknowledged that his ability to constantly test early prototypes with kids and receive feedback from parents and educators was crucial to the product's success. He also attested that he often had to resist his "bias to action and to doing things" in order to "slow down and … make a more deliberate decision" so as not to spend a great deal of time pursuing ideas that might not have resulted in the same level of success.
There was a point in the early stages of development where Mark and Joel contemplated developing their own platform rather than using Minecraft as the basis for their product. They consulted with a trusted senior advisor who emphasized the importance of the existing relationship that kids already had with the game, and Mark recalled being told that "'if you were to switch, you're going to lose some of that excitement and magic that you have right now.'" Fortunately, Mark recognized the value of that advice and he revealed that he often receives feedback from parents who explain that Minecraft is what initially attracts them to the product.
When asked what excites him about the future of his company, Mark explained that the fact "that we're building something that doesn't exist that I think can inspire a whole generation of kids the same way that I was inspired, to be curious about the world and to understand how things work" motivates him and his team to continue to refine the Piper Computer Kit and make it a useful educational tool that teaches, entertains, and empowers children to identify themselves as creators rather than consumers of technology.
Mark also expressed his willingness to directly answer questions from any interested readers or serve as a mentor for aspiring entrepreneurs. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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