Beyond Bits and Atoms: Designing Technological Tools

Beyond Bits & Atoms teaches students to design, build, and critique constructionist educational technologies. BB&A consists of a theory-oriented class (MSTU 5199 001) and a practice-focused lab (MSTU 5199 002); students are required to enroll in both. The theory class is focused on answering three questions:

  • How does learning work?
  • How does schooling work?
  • How can technology affect learning and schooling?

Students explore constructivism, constructionism, and critical pedagogy, as well as embodied and situated cognition, the role of media and tools, representations and models in learning, and theories of technology design. These ideas are applied to case studies of schools and educational technologies, and to the design of a new educational technology.

In the lab, students are immersed in a constructionist learning environment where they reflect on their own learning processes as they learn to use technologies for prototyping and digital fabrication. Students use these tools to design nand build a constructionist educational technology.

Teaching team

Paulo Blikstein

Paulo BliksteinAssociate Professor Paulo Blikstein is an international leader in educational makerspaces. He is the director of FabLearn, which supports a network of educational makerspaces, sponsors research and conferences on maker education, and organizes trainings around the world. Paulo also built a water computer.




Chris Proctor

Chris ProctorA former high school English and middle school CS teacher, Chris is currently a PhD candidate in Education at Stanford, where he and Paulo co-taught BBA last year. Chris works with youth to design computational media that support new forms of critical literacy, so we can all participate in designing futures we actually want to live in. You should check out Unfold Studio, a web app for interactive storytelling.




Monica Chan

Monica ChanMonica is a doctoral student in the Instructional Technology & Media program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research interests include non-traditional learning spaces, emerging technologies for education, and alternative forms of learning assessments. While an undergraduate Mechanical Engineering student at Stanford University, Monica was a student in BBA 2016, a teaching assistant in BBA 2017, and is excited to be back for BBA 2019! She’s always down for a 0% sugar boba chat; feel free to hit her up to talk about edtech entrepreneurship and the Southeast Asian education landscape.



Mikhail Sigalov

Mikhail SigalovHi all, my name is Mikhail (pronounced Me – ha – eel), and I’m excited to be part of your TA team this semester! I’m a sophomore mechanical engineering student in SEAS, where I spend most of my time on Formula SAE, which is a student team, open to the entire Columbia community, that designs and builds a small single-seater racecar every year. I focus on mechanical design and manufacturing, and this year I’m in charge of the chassis (frame). My interest in mechanical engineering stemmed from my involvement in FIRST robotics, and in high school I was on a FRC team, where I learned a lot about mechanical design and simple manufacturing techniques. Now, I’m experienced in all stages of small scale manufacture, from 3D models through 3D printing and to CNC mills and lathes, and I look forward to sharing my expertise with you.


Yipu Zheng

Yipu ZhengYipu Zheng is a master’s student in Learning Analytics at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research interest focuses on capturing, assessing and facilitating learners’ attempts in problem-finding and creative problem-solving processes utilizing multi-modal data analytics methods. Before joining Teachers College, she earned her B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. Hoping to empower young learners to raise and address novel and personally-meaningful problems, she co-founded a makerspace, which has collaborated with more than 15 schools and local communities to develop creative problem-solving after-school programs, hands-on workshops, and making kits for K-8 students in Shenzhen, China.



Jonathan Pang

Jonathan PangJonathan is the acting lab manager for the Transformative Learning Technologies Lab and a program manager with FabLearn. Apart from extinguishing (and starting) laser cutter fires, he works with K-12 teachers and school administrators as they implement constructionism in their classrooms. After taking BBA his junior year, Jonathan made the Stanford TLTL his second home while pursuing his bachelor’s and master’s in mechanical engineering (and TA’ing BBA a couple times). He’s excited to continue supporting BBA and eager to see what you all make in the lab!