Table Top Inventing Podcast

Show Notes | YouTube | iTunes

Zack Dowell - Table Top Inventing PodcastIn This Episode

  • Can a fish be trained like a dog?

  • Can a school project be both art and science as well as entertainment and curiosity?

  • How do we bring engagement back to the classroom?

    Today's podcast will grab you by the ears and entertain them all the way through.

Welcome to the Table Top Inventing Online Radio Show. Every week we interview successful individuals from across the career spectrum and share their stories. We want parents and educators to learn the tools they need to get and keep the interest and curiosity of teenagers.

Today's guest is a special treat. Zack Dowell knows how to have fun and learn at the same time. He's sort of a professional at it. He's currently working on the most fun project!

This project involves several departments across his campus: math, science, engineering, computer science, theater arts, and Zack is planning to recruit sociology and psychology as well. What kind of a project could capture the interest of so many different kinds of people?

Keep listening, and I'll let Zack tell you.

Every now and then I have a guest that "Nerd Snipes" me. The term "Nerd Sniping" is from the XKCD cartoons, funny but somewhat irreverent. Essentially, today's episode grabbed the nerd inside me, and I got a little excited.

Projects like the one Zack is working on are a perfect example of the kind of learning we seek and value at Table Top Inventing. If you want your kids to be exposed to more fun and interesting applications of technology that capture the imagination, let's talk. Visit our website,, and find out how we can connect. Kids need inspiration, and we love to provide it--just like Zack is doing at Folsom Lake College.

Original Episode Date: 5/27/16

Category: Innovative Educators

Direct download: 089_-_Multidisciplinary_Projects_with_Zack_Dowell.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:14pm PDT

Show Notes | YouTube | iTunes

 In This Episode

  • How does a young lady pursuing a career in biogenetics find herself a successful artist?

  • How can a small company file a lawsuit against a huge company without getting crushed?

  • How do you fall in love with 3D printing after avowing never to use it?

The stories behind these curious juxtapositions are waiting for you in today's podcast.

Welcome to the Table Top Inventing podcast. I am Steve Kurti, aka "the Mad Scientist", and I'm pretty jazzed about something that happened this last week.

We just finished up our first Inventor Camp of 2016 in Apple Valley, CA, last Thursday, but on Wednesday while we were in full swing, I had the coolest thing happen.

One of the challenges this year involves binary numbers, byte conversions, and ASCII tables. If you're a techno geek, you'll get those references, but if you're not, those are terms for how the data moves around in your computer, cell phone, and the internet. I wanted the kids to see under the hood so-to-speak and see that things aren't really as mysterious as they seem.

I was talking to Lilli and Trevor who were tasked with programming up a little solution for encoding letters and numbers into binary, and Lilli was telling me about how her program worked. She was pretty excited that she could look at the 8-bit represented by the LED lights and look up the letter on a chart.

I turned to Trevor to ask him if he knew what they needed to do next. He answered,

"Yup. I'll get to that in a minute, but right now...


It was so awesome and so funny, I had a fit of laughter on the spot. That is what I love to see: Kids with their imagination on fire. 

Today's guest, Tracy Hazzard, also loves to see kids with their imagination on fire. Tracy is the CEO of Hazz Design Consulting, a design company headquartered in Orange County, CA. Let's find out how Tracy is igniting the imagination. 

Tracy said my favorite phrase "Successful Failure". We have a dozen different ways to say this same thing: "failing forward", "Failure is the first step to success", and a host of others. The basic idea is to stop being so afraid of being wrong or of making a mistake along the way.

Anything big requires learning, and true learning always starts by being bad at something before being really good at it. If you want your kids to experience "successful failure", check out Inventor Camp at

Let's Ignite more Imagination.

Original Episode Date: May 5, 2016

Category: Business Professional

Direct download: 089_-_Designing_Success_with_Tracy_Hazzard.mp3
Category:Business Professionals -- posted at: 8:48am PDT

Show Notes | YouTube | iTunes

In This Episode

  • What is it like to write a video game from code in a printed book?

  • Can techie kids learn to have good people skills?

  • How does a computer game programmer become a politician?

Jay Obernolte - Table Top Inventing PodcastYou'll have to listen to today's episode to learn the answers to these fascinating questions.

Hi, this is Steve, "The Mad Scientist" Kurti, and today's guest on the Table Top Inventing podcast is a first for us. We've had game-changing researchers, game-changing teachers, game-changing investors, and other game-changers on our podcast including other programmers.

However, we've yet to have a game-writing politician. Today's guest has experience as a programmer and coder right down to the assembly language level, but he has also started a small company and has now crossed over into the world of politics.

As a tech person myself, I was curious what would drive a successful programmer and business owner to step into the political arena. The path is an interesting one as always.

Let's welcome our first public servant to the podcast, California Assemblyman, Jay Obernolte.

Jay mentioned my favorite concept on the podcast toward the end: life-long-learning. I have always wondered what causes someone to leave a successful career to try something new, but learning and trying something new is a great reason in my book. As a perpetual learner myself, I am always interested in challenging my skills against some new idea or task.

I also understand what Jay said about moving from coding into managing people. My personal experience with starting a business has hit multiple roadblocks as I try to navigate how to understand the social world of marketing. Tech folks like us often choose computers, engineering, or science because at some level it is simpler to understand than people.

However, there is no shortcut in life to success that doesn't include learning to have great relationships. That's why in our Inventor Camps we always have students work in teams and show off their work at the end. Talking to other teammates and presenting our work to others are crucial skills for any professional in today's world.

Subscribe to the Table Top Inventing podcast to hear stories of other world-changers to equip yourself and your teens for the rowdy world of innovation.

Original Episode Date: 4/29/15

Category: Business Professional

Direct download: 088_-_Games_and_Politics_with_Jay_Obernolte.mp3
Category:Business Professionals -- posted at: 11:32pm PDT

Show Notes | YouTube | iTunes

Joanie Connell - Table Top Inventing PodcastIn This Episode

  • How much does work-life balance matter to today's professionals?
  • Why do people communicate differently on email vs phone vs face-to-face?
  • What are the effects of helicopter parenting on the kids we are trying to protect?

Today's podcast will reveal the answers to these crucial questions.

Welcome to the Table Top Inventing Online Radio Show.  Every week we interview successful individuals from across the career spectrum and share their stories.  The best information on how to raise intelligent, curious, successful kids is out there, and we're collecting it into one place on our on-demand radio show.

Today's guest is particularly well-acquainted with the pitfalls surrounding current trends in parenting and education.  Joanie Connell is a PhD psychologist with a degree in engineering who coaches high-performing professionals.  In her work with these high-profile individuals, she has become painfully aware of some glaring issues in modern parenting and education habits.

Let's jump straight into this action-packed interview.

Joanie and I discussed things I've believed for quite some time, but she brings the psychological and social credibility.  Her background in engineering and work with professionals strikes a curious juxtaposition with the stories and woes of executives with unmotivated kids.

I loved her advice to just let kids be bored sometimes.  It's so easy as parents to feel like we must be in an "educational moment" all the time, but Joanie's wisdom says we should back-off and allow kid's natural curiosity take over.

I couldn't agree more.  Our whole Inventor Camp framework revolves around letting kids jump into the deep end of the pool to see if they can figure out how to swim.  Standing back while kids discover things on their own inspires more learning than over-scheduling or helicoptering ever can.

It is a hard thing to let our kids face life on their own.  I know.  I have teens too.  But you don't have to take this road alone.  Sign your kids up for Inventor Camp and become a part of a growing community of parents who are learning to pull back on the helicoptering.  Head over to our Inventor Camp page and sign your teen up for the best summer of their lives!

We'll help you step back and let your teenager step up.

Original Episode Date: 4/22/16

Category: Business Professionals

Direct download: 086_-_Understanding_Engineers_with_Joanie_Connell.mp3
Category:Business Professionals -- posted at: 6:19pm PDT

Show Notes | YouTube | iTunes

Peggy Healy Stearns - Table Top Inventing PodcastIn This Episode

  • Can you learn to write software without programming experience?
  • How is educational software unique?
  • How important is technical confidence for young learners?

Join us for a look at technology through the lens of educational software.

Welcome to the Table Top Inventing Online Radio Show.  Every week we interview successful individuals from across the career spectrum and share their stories.  Hearing the stories of others who have been down a tricky path and navigated to success has a way of inspiring confidence that I too could find success.

Today's guest, Peggy Healy Stearns, began developing and writing educational software on some of the very earliest personal computer systems.  What was the road like?  What lessons has she learned about the intersection between technology and education?

Buckle up for a fun journey through the development of some of the best selling educational software inspired by the advent of the personal computer.

Every now and then, I have a guest who completely educates me on the history and perspectives of a particular aspect of education.  Peggy has seen educational software from one end to the other.  There probably isn't a trend in ed software in the past 30 years she hasn't touched.

Sometimes it's just good to reach out for someone else's expertise, and I'm so glad I get the opportunity every week to be educated by some of the best minds in the country.

If you think you might like a little extra help inspiring your teens this summer, point your browser to the website and find Inventor Camp.  This summer at Inventor Camp, teenagers across the country will be inspired to try on the title "Inventor".  Your kids may need a little push to start, but just like Alex, after the first day at Inventor Camp, they'll be hooked.

Original Episode Date: 4/15/16
Category: Innovative Educators

Direct download: 085_-_Young_Makers_with_Peggy_Healy_Stearns.mp3
Category:Technology Educators -- posted at: 11:16pm PDT

Show Notes | YouTube | iTunes

Ted Dintersmith - Table Top Inventing PodcastIn This Episode

  • Why would an entrepreneur and noted venture capitalist zoom in on education?

  • How serious are the educational challenges we face in the US?

  • Is there a simple path forward to creating a better education for every student?

My guest today is Ted Dintersmith, noted venture capitalist, author, and executive producer of the Sundance-acclaimed education documentary, “Most Likely to Succeed.”  Ted believes that with the best of intentions, we’re ruining the futures of our kids, and our country. He says we stubbornly cling to an obsolete education model that prepares kids for assembly line jobs that no longer exist and that failed policies have turned school into a dreary regime of testing and accountability. Worse,  he believes that even our best students learn little, as so many lose curiosity, creativity, intrinsic motivation, and sense of purpose.  Ted is fresh off a 50-state tour of schools and communities with his film, throughout which he has also seen the very best of learning experiences which have provided for Ted an inspiring vision of how schools can launch kids into lives of competence and purpose. 

There are lots of opinions about how and why we should change the education in the US. If you only take one point away from today's show, consider this. What would happen if suddenly tomorrow we told every teacher in the country, "We trust you to turn our kids into curious, thoughtful, productive humans"?

Original Show Date: April 7, 2016

Category: Business Professionals

Direct download: 084_-_Succeeding_at_Education_with_Ted_Dintersmith.mp3
Category:Business Professionals -- posted at: 8:53pm PDT

Show Notes | YouTube | iTunes

Peter Skillen - Table Top Inventing PodcastIn This Episode

  • Do kids really secretly enjoy hard problems?
  • What happens when we let children control their own learning?
  • What can US educators learn from Canadian educators?

Join us for some perspectives from the other side of our northern border.

Welcome to the Table Top Inventing podcast. I'm going to begin today with an excerpt from Marvin Minsky's book, The Society of Mind.

"Why are processes so hard to classify? In earlier times, we could usually judge machines and processes by how they transformed raw materials into finished products. But it makes no sense to speak of brains as though they manufacture thoughts the way factories make cars. The difference is that brains use processes that change themselves Ñ and this means we cannot separate such processes from the products they produce. In particular, brains make memories, which change the ways we'll subsequently think. The principal activities of brains are making changes in themselves. Because the whole idea of self-modifying processes is new to our experience, we cannot yet trust our commonsense judgments about such matters."

Minsky goes on to describe how difficult it is to study the brain, and conjectures that with further research, we will discover that the brain is simply a very complex computer with billions of small, interconnected parts.

I'm not sure if I agree with Minsky or not. We used to believe that cells were amorphous, gelatinous corpuscles, but the closer we look, the weirder they get--unlike atoms and elementary particles. In recent years, we've delved deeper into cells and their nano-processes than anyone ever thought possible... and cells are still... mysterious.

But I digress. Today, I want us to focus on the main job of learning: helping the brain become better at building itself.

Today's guest is an expert at helping children learn to build their brains. Peter Skillen is a truly fascinating individual, and I think you'll agree with me by the end of the podcast.

From our experience at Table Top Inventing, the approaches and ideas Peter shared are spot on, and Peter has decades of experience letting kids take charge of their learning. If you want to see what happens when kids grab their learning by the horns and charge off in unexpected directions, find an Inventor Camp near you. Signup now at




Original Episode Date: April 3, 2016

Category: Innovative Educators

Direct download: 083_-_The_Longterm_View_with_Peter_Skillen.mp3
Category:Technology Educators -- posted at: 9:55am PDT

Show Notes | YouTube | iTunes

In This Episode

  • What is possible if you shut off the television?

  • Can you really do anything you want, if you set your mind to it?

  • How hard is it to learn to fly over 80 kinds of planes?

Scott Glaser - Table Top Inventing Podcast

Join us today as we rocket into a conversation about goals, dreams, and the grit to achieve them.

I love today's interview. I admit to having favorite episodes. This is one of them, but maybe not for the reasons you might think.

Today's guest is an engineer who loves to fly planes. He has degrees in aerospace engineering, but his true passion is being in the seat holding the stick or the wheel.

Scott Glaser is a one-of-a-kind individual. He wasn't able to go directly into military aviation but never gave up on the idea of flying military jets. Years later, he is now certified to fly many different kinds of planes including military aircraft. How did he manage to get to where he really wanted to be in the first place?

You'll have to listen in to hear the story, but I'll give you a hint: he learned to fail well.

I love Scott's story. I especially enjoyed the part where he said that it is important to Fail a LOT! You don't hear that very often trumpeted from the from of the room, but every innovator knows how important it is to be resilient. Scott specifically mentioned learning to "dust yourself off".

I have been interviewing many professionals and innovators for our podcast, and they are all giving this message, "Learn to fail well." Learning how to succeed is what we normally hear about, but learning to fail well is much harder yet infinitely more valuable to the innovator. I have heard it said, "If you aren't prepared to fail, you aren't prepared to innovate."

If you want your teenager to learn to fail well, go to and find out how you can get them involved in our programs. Failing well is in our DNA, and success is the natural outcome.

Original Episode Date: March 25, 2016

Category: Business Professionals

Direct download: 082_-_Getting_What_You_Want_with_Scott_Glaser.mp3
Category:Business Professionals -- posted at: 11:22pm PDT

Show Notes | YouTube | iTunes

Ben Owens - Table Top Inventing PodcastIn This Episode

  • Are there important innovators and inventors in public schools?
  • Can being an engineer prepare you for the classroom?
  • How can a public school bring project-based learning into every class?

Join us as we speak with a true educational inventor from the mountains of western North Carolina.

Welcome to the Table Top Inventing podcast where we bring fresh perspectives at the intersection of innovation, education, and parenting.

You have probably heard of 3D printing by now and possibly even the term "maker education", and if you are a teacher, you have certainly heard the term "project-based learning". For those not familiar with the term, imagine going to school, but instead of sitting at desks in rows doing worksheets, you spend the day building catapults, writing new computer games, or growing a garden.

Project-based learning is like a rich canvas on which to hang all of those seemingly disconnected facts such as torque and momentum or cell division. However in school, educators often worry about meeting standards such as Common Core or in getting students ready to pass their yearly competency tests.

Yet the very best educators out there know that something is amiss with a system when we begin "teaching to the test" rather than helping students learn how to learn. Ben Owens is just such an educator, but he isn't teaching at a private school. He isn't talking about projects in a homeschool environment.

080 - Ben Owens 05Ben is a high school teacher in the public school system at a very special high school in western North Carolina, Tri-County Early College. Their whole school has switched to a project-based learning model for the high school years in conjunction with taking classes at the collocated community college.

You have to hear Ben's story.

I am so exited about Ben's experience and the commitment of Tri-County Early College to bring project-based learning to rural Appalachia. If you are a teacher or a parent, I want you to know that project-based learning is NOT a pipe-dream. It is a very real, very effective model for your school and for your kids.

If you live near Murphy, near Atlanta GA or Orlando FL, or in southern California, go to and signup for Inventor Camp this summer for a taste of project-based learning. It is a transformational experience where learning is both challenging AND fun.

PBL prepares kids for life in ways that worksheets and lined paper can never prepare them. Join the revolution.

Original Episode Date: 3/18/16

Category: Technology Educators

Direct download: 081_-_Project-Based_Learning_with_Ben_Owens.mp3
Category:Technology Educators -- posted at: 10:54pm PDT

Show Notes | YouTube | iTunes

In This Episode

  • When is the best time to introduce technology to your kids?
  • Is there and advantage to introducing technical problem-solving early?
  • How do we introduce coding in kindergarten?

Today's guest will fascinate you with the answers.

I'm sure that at some point in our lives we have heard the words, "You're just a girl." Those four and a half words can be very dangerous. One of my favorite Youtube videos is the "Like a girl" video. Powerful girls have always known they can do anything, but where did that power come from?

We are going to dive in head first to the topic of girls in technology, and I couldn't have picked a better guest. Kiki Prottsman is a pro in every sense of the word. People call her a "Technological force of nature" that doesn't sound like "just a girl" to me.

Let today's interview sink down and resonate where it can make a difference in the world around you.

I could try to fill the last few seconds of the podcast with how awesome Kiki was, but you'll know when you hear her. Look at Kiki's show notes page and look up, her Youtube channel "KIKIvsIT", her website, and the other things we put there. For more on girls in technical fields listen to our interview on the Table Top Inventing podcast with Julia Fallon.

Make a difference. Don't just tell the girls in your life they are awesome. Give them opportunities to prove it.

Original Episode Date: March 11, 2016

Category: Innovative Educators

Direct download: 080_-_Powerful_Girls_with_Kiki_Prottsman.mp3
Category:Technology Educators -- posted at: 9:48pm PDT

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