USING ‘PROCESSING’ AS A STIMULUS FOR PRODUCING STEAM
August 8, 2012
The Challenge and the Opportunity
Sir Ken Robinson  has called for a paradigm shift in our educational system away from the use of standardized testing and behavior modification drugs on our youth to one of enquiry and creativity in the arts and sciences. I think a great opportunity exists today to achieve many of the goals he advocates utilizing tools from the open-source community, in particular, a computer programming language called ‘Processing’ . I believe Processing can be used as a stimulus for merging the worlds of art, math, science and technology to meet the challenge of changing paradigms.
Processing is an open-source (FREE!) programming language developed at MIT by two graduate students (Ben Fry and Casey Reas) that is targeted for visual artists who would like to utilize digital media in their endeavors but who lack computer programming skills. It has become so popular that several circuit board manufactures have developed boards that can use Processing to obtain sensory data and/or to control motors (think ‘robots’) and other devices. In addition, Processing can be used to obtain data from the Kinect 3D camera (Xbox) for visual explorers to investigate the realm of 3D interactive media.
During the spring of 2012 I had the opportunity to teach a ‘Programming with Processing’ course at a small independent Buddhist high school  in Ottsville, PA. The course met twice a week for twenty weeks where each session was one hour twenty minutes long. The students varied widely in academic skills and backgrounds and came from several different school districts but all stated they were glad they took the course. One student stated he had known nothing about programming prior to taking the course but is now considering computer programming as a career. The only pre-requisite for taking the course was the desire to learn a computer language – no other strings were attached. On June 22, I was one of several presenters at a STEM to STEAM conference held in Baltimore, MD, where I talked about the course and showed images created by the students .
I think a course using Processing to create images would be greatly appreciated by ‘gifted’ students, by students who are comtemplating dropping out of school because they are bored, students who may have gotten in trouble with the law, other ‘high-risk’ students and students in the ‘general’ population. The growing “home school” movement should not be exempt from the opportunity of utilizing Processing in its curriculum either. Another targeted population that should not be excluded is that of teachers who would like to explore Processing themselves and learn how it can be used in their own classrooms to produce some STEAM. I feel strongly that the only pre-requisite for any student should be the desire to learn a computer language. Let the student have the opportunity to fail in a ‘safe’ environment and learn from his/her mistakes. Computer programming is an unforgiving endeavor and attention-to-detail is a must that is soon learned. But, it’s FUN!
 Sir Ken Robinson’s 12-minute summary: www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U
 Sir Ken Robinson’s 55-minute address: www.thersa.org/events/video/archive/sir-ken-robinson
 Processing website: processing.org
 Tinicum Art and Science High School: www.tinicumartandscience.org/
 Innovate Our World Conference: www.innovateourworld.org/conference.htm
Algorithms for Visual Design Using the Processing Language by Kostas Terzidis (Wiley Publishing, 2009)
Making Things See – 3D Vision with Kinect, Processing, Arduino, and Makerbot by Greg Borenstein (O’Reilly, 2012)
Processing – A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists by Casey Reas and Ben Fry (The MIT Press, 2007)
Processing – Creative Coding and Computational Art by Ira Greenberg (friendsofED, an Apress Co., 2007)
Processing for Visual Artists – How to Create Expressive Images and Interactive Art by Andrew Glassner (A.K. Peters, Ltd., 2010)