Electronics Exploration Camp Recap

Our first attempt at taking our Electronics Exploration camp offsite was a success! Last month, Kramden partnered with the City of Raleigh Parks and Recreation to offer an exciting week of camp for middle schoolers at the Chavis Center. Throughout the week campers learned about Ohm’s Law and general electrical engineering principles and were given the opportunity to build and modify multiple circuits. Students opened up some toy instruments to modify sounds and even permanently soldered together a project. At the end of the week, campers took home all of the parts for their circuit kits and all of their schematics.

Campers circuit bend a music toy to cause sounds and behavior not intended by the manufacturer.
Campers test their “dark detector” nightlight circuits.  
A student borrows two additional kits to create a super-circuit.

Kramden offers a wide range of classes and camps for individuals interested in gaining valuable hands-on technology experience. Visit https://kramden.org/education/ to learn more!

Ned Dibner’s Conception Builds Brighter, Higher-Tech Futures

By: Al Daniel – Reposted from the Montessori Community School Blog

Read the original here.

Sometimes the Montessori Community School’s greatest effects come to fruition on other campuses.

Ned Dibner was merely 13, and one year removed from graduating the Upper Elementary program, when he witnessed what is commonly called “the digital divide” as it relates to American education.

During Dibner’s time at MCS in the 1990s and early 2000s, computer usage in schools was a fairly primordial practice. As is the case even today at his first alma mater, plenty of learning happened away from a screen.

With that said, MCS has long made the most of its allotted technology. Dibner, for one, says he has “fond memories of teambuilding while playing the early computer game, The Oregon Trail, as a group” around the classroom computer.

Elsewhere, however, other schools have struggled to keep up with technological evolution. That reality dawned on Dibner after he aged out of MCS and finished middle school in the Durham public system.With the help of his father, Mark, he sought a solution. The result is a nonprofit known as Kramden, a backward-spelled compound of the co-founders’ first names.

Kramden repurposes and refines whole or parts of used computers, giving them a second life as tools for underprivileged students. When the digital divide occurred to them, the number and the academic standing of those students in need startled and motivated both Dibners.

“The juxtaposition of going from an affluent private school to a lower-income public school was stark, to say the least,” said Ned. “I had learned unrealistic standards of fairness and equality, which became the driving catalyst for Kramden. Seeing others unable to get the same grades because they lacked access to a computer seemed unjust.”

As Mark recalls, the charity angle came out of the blue when the Dibners finished a father-son computer rebuilding project. He had purchased a motherboard on eBay, despite admittedly not knowing what a motherboard was, and acquired the other requisite parts from a North Carolina State University engineering student.

With everything in place, he and Ned would construct the latter’s own computer, splitting all of the fees via the dad’s salary and the son’s wages from his part-time jobs.

After the project proved surprisingly easy and not-so-surprisingly satisfying, they craved a means of doing it again and again for others.

“Ned turned to me,” Mark remembers, “and said, ‘Dad, that was fun, but there are many kids in my middle school who do not have computers in their homes…Let’s build some more to give to them.’

“I was touched by Ned’s caring words.”

The new incentive resurrected a brand name the Dibners had coined while Ned was still at MCS and Mark was teaching entrepreneurship at the Duke University Fuqua School of Business. The household’s resident student wanted to learn from the master how to launch a company. In response, as an incredible simulation more than an enterprise with real-world intentions, the two joined forces to conceive Kramden Innovations.

Complete with its own Internet domain, Kramden lay dormant for two years before Ned acquired his new construction skill and philanthropic desire. Mark sought more information from Ned’s middle-school principal, and the Dibners took action to make their brand a benefactor.

At its launch in June 2003, the charity started by catering to the honors program at the school. It produced 42 devices, one for every honor-roll student who lacked a computer to call their own at home.

So far in its first 16 years, the Kramden Institute has reported more than 34,000 donated machines, a number Mark expects to rise to 37,000 by the end of 2019. In 2018, the organization enlisted 3,437 individual volunteers and recycled 223,680 pounds worth of E-waste.

Kramden has served school districts in the vast majority of North Carolina’s counties plus pockets of other states and countries. In addition, its current executive director, Michael Abensour, sits on the board of the Alliance for Technology Refurbishing and Reuse, which Mark notes is “the largest group” in this mission.

Ned remained formally involved in his foundation until 2009, at which point he was a freshman at Elon University. During that six-year stretch, he served in a range of capacities while the team proliferated.

“I learned about managing volunteers (this is very different than managing employees),” he said. “One summer I was in charge of warehouse and storage of equipment. Another summer I helped run a summer camp for kids who needed computers where we taught them to refurbish computers themselves.”

As the infectious grasp on the technology spread, so did the desire to help. Besides nearly 4,000 volunteers, Kramden’s present-day roster credits 13 staffers, 13 volunteer leaders, 42 “super geeks,” two champions, three advisors, and the 12-member board Mark still chairs.

The crux of Kramden’s mission remains the still glaring need across North Carolina, where Mark says nearly one out of every five households still lacks a computer. But it has also partnered with the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club to supply technology to communities in Kentucky and, internationally, in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

“We expand our reach every year,” said Mark, and the same goes for the organization’s involvement with its beneficiaries.

Since 2014, beyond refurbishing the equipment for students, Kramden has also offered cyber-education classes and workshops to novice users of all ages. This initiative has taken one of Ned’s old duties, which involved imparting the computer construction skills he himself had learned from his father as a forerunner to the charity, off his hands. In turn, it has allowed him to pursue other passions and deploy other talents of his elsewhere.

While Ned naturally stays in the loop on his co-foundation, he puts his professional energy into utilizing the fine arts degree he earned at Elon. Currently employed as a craftsman at Eidolon Designs in Raleigh, he got an early start in displaying his proficiency on the heels of graduation. As one of his earliest career achievements, his submission for a woodworking contest was among those displayed at the Smithsonian in the fall of 2012.

Besides the accolades and the offers, Ned had an easier time relinquishing his direct involvement with Kramden because of its accrued quantity and quality of full-time and volunteer workers.

“This is a personal decision after handing over the reins to far more capable hands,” he said. “I believed it was my time to move on to other things.

“I had a large part in creating something on a grassroots level, but it has become so much more.”

While the statistics and geographic range confirm that second point, Kramden keeps itself moving on its premise. It is there to make computers as commonplace across the educational scene and other workplaces as they were at Ned’s first school. The one active holdover from its founding still poses the question his son did after his eye-opening exit from MCS.

“Can you imagine being a student (or adult) in today’s world and not having access to a computer and the Internet in today’s world?” Mark said.

Geek of the Week – Alex Puerto

Alex Puerto is Geek of the Week! After first joining Kramden in 2018 Panther Creek High School student Alex quickly became a leader in the warehouse. A regular at our Wednesday Work Nights, Alex was recently acknowledged for all of his hard work by being promoted to “Super Geek.” Thank you, Alex, for your consistent positive attitude and willingness to help!

Favorite Geek Books: Redwall

Favorite TV Show: Person of Interest (In my opinion, the best action drama ever created)

Favorite Geek Movie:  Wall-E, always a great one to rewatch

Favorite Website: Discord.gg

What is your favorite thing about volunteering with Kramden?  The people. Everyone is very welcoming, ready to help, and knowing that we’re all working to help those in need is a terrific feeling.

Best Kramden Moment?  After a lot of tinkering and guessing, I managed to get a desktop that was going to be discarded working fully, and running Endless OS. That moment taught me that with perseverance and help, nothing is impossible.

When you are not volunteering at Kramden, what do you do?  Aside from Kramden, I work at the YMCA teaching kids to swim better, and practice guitar.

Local Students Conclude Tech Trailblazers Mini-Camp

For many students, increased access to technology and training can provide a real sense of empowerment. Last week, eleven Tech Trailblazers participants learned the skills necessary to put together their own computer to take home.

At the conclusion of camp, one local 9th grader reflected on how he planned to use his computer and his favorite parts of the program.

Kramden’s Tech Trailblazers program offers students in grades 6-9 hands-on experience working with computer hardware, software, and networking. Students learn IT skills and explore technology careers as they work in Kramden’s refurbishing warehouse to build their own computer.

Visit https://kramden.org/education/ to learn more about Kramden’s classes and camps.


Kramden Partners with STEM West

Partnerships with organizations across the state allow Kramden to expand its impact beyond the Triangle. This spring, Kramden Institute teamed up with STEM West to distribute 240 computers to deserving students in Caldwell and Alexander Counties.

Computers ready for distribution at
Granite Falls Middle School in Caldwell County

STEM West was created in 2013 to “have a positive influence on STEM education and ultimately the workforce and economic development of western NC.” STEM West’s mission is to advocate and support the alignment of educational and occupational objectives through the regional workforce and community partnerships.

Each school district in Caldwell and Alexander county set aside a day last month to train students and their families and distribute desktop computers. Along with a demonstration of the computer’s many preinstalled programs, families were also provided information on how to access more affordable internet.

I wanted to thank you for the desktop. It has already been of great help to me, I know that the school could have used these for the new school and instead you gave them to students who don’t have a computer so they can work on projects at home. I think that is so generous and have never heard of a school caring about their students to do this.

Email excerpt from Granite Falls Middle School student

Kramden plans to continue its partnership with STEM West to expand its reach to more students in the western part of the state. To read more about STEM West, visit http://www.wpcog.org/stem-west.

Durham Residents Complete Computer Training and Receive Desktops

Recent Kramden Digital Literacy graduate and Durham Housing Authority resident Theresa was looking for a way to “jump-start a new chapter in her life” when she signed up for computer classes at McDougald Terrace’s TA Grady Center this April. She said she hoped to brush up on her skills and get a computer to use for school.

Kramden’s basic computer classes explore a variety of topics from simply learning the fundamentals of using a mouse and keyboard, to creating and editing documents, and navigating social media sites.  Upon completion, class participants receive a computer system for home use. To date, nearly 2,000 individuals have participated in Kramden’s Digital Literacy program since 2014.

Class participants follow along as instructor Bill Koeb discusses Office programs.

For Theresa, finishing the class meant not only acquiring a computer to practice her recently acquired skills, but also a boost in self-confidence.

“I’m so thankful to be completing this class. It helped me to believe in myself again. I’m going to register for classes at Durham Tech this summer, and because of this class, I now have the equipment and the self-confidence I need.”

Theresa W, Digital Literacy Class Participant

Last week, at the conclusion of the fourth course, Theresa and 17 other Durham Housing residents received their desktop computers to take home. The computers, along with eight hours of free computer training, were provided by Kramden Institute and made possible with grant funding received from Google Fiber.

The Homework Gap in North Carolina


Many students find themselves unable to complete routine homework assignments because of their lack of technology access. As a leading digital inclusion organization in NC, Kramden helped to gather data for a pilot study to better understand the homework gap in the state. Earlier this month the NC DIT’s Broadband Infrastructure Office released the report.

State Broadband Office publishes Homework Gap Report

Maggie Bizzell, MPA, MSC
Read original here.


Raleigh, N.C. – Eric Boyette, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Information Technology (DIT) and State Chief Information Officer, announced today the release of the “The Homework Gap in North Carolina,” a report that provides communities with strategies to bridge the homework gap that occurs when students are assigned homework that requires internet access but lack an internet connection at home.

N.C. DIT’s Broadband Infrastructure Office developed the homework gap report in partnership with The William & Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University. This report contributes to a growing body of research and strategic policy recommendations designed to equip state and local policymakers, educators, and other key stakeholders with information to understand the homework gap and strategies to address it.

“We know we have many children in our state that are victims of this digital divide,” Secretary Boyette said. “Understanding the nature and scope of this problem is key to closing the homework gap.”

Governor Roy Cooper’s budget proposal makes closing the homework gap a significant priority. Governor Cooper proposes a $5 million fund to support schools that need internet hot spots for students and Wi-Fi technology for school buses. 

“Too often I hear of students doing homework in the parking lots of fast food restaurants or driving long distances to use free Wi-Fi at churches and friends’ homes,” Governor Cooper said. “This is unacceptable in this day and age and it creates inequity in our educational system.” 

Governor Cooper also signed Executive Order 91, which establishes a new Governor’s Task Force on Connecting North Carolina and directs state government leaders to identify and remove barriers to facilitate private-sector deployment of last-mile infrastructure, eliminate the homework gap, and support the adoption of affordable, high-speed internet access.

N.C. DIT has already begun implementing the report’s recommendations, including the BIO’s continued effort to gather more and better data through surveys such as the Speak Up survey. Speak Up is an annual research project and a free service to all schools and was the first online research tool designed to help parents share their ideas directly with schools and national policymakers. BIO partnered with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to include homework gap specific questions in the 2018-2019 Speak Up survey. 

One way the state is currently working to combat the homework gap is through the State Library of North Carolina and N.C. DIT’s pilot program with the Robeson County Public Library and Public Schools of Robeson County. The pilot program is funded by a $250,000 two-year grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and will provide Robeson County Public Library with 35 Wi-Fi hotspot devices for up to 35 K-12 households.

To access the report, please visit The Homework Gap in North Carolina on the Broadband Infrastructure Office website. To take the Speak Up survey, please visit http://speakup.tomorrow.org.  

Volunteer Spotlight: The Goodnight Scholars

Take a peek into Kramden’s warehouse on any given day and you will find it bustling with volunteers of all ages and backgrounds. Kramden relies on volunteers daily to join in our mission to bridge the digital divide. Offering their experience, skills, and enthusiasm for working with technology, volunteers are one of Kramden’s most valuable assets.

Last fall, a group of NCSU students reached out with a special request. As part of the Goodnight Scholars Program’s mantra to “pay it forward,” the Goodnight Scholars Class of 2019 wanted to support a charitable organization as part of their senior class gift by both volunteering their time and raising funds for Kramden.

Founded in 2008 with a gift from Dr. Jim and Ann Goodnight, the Goodnight Scholars program was established with the goal of helping North Carolina students from low- and middle-income families become leaders in the STEM and educational fields.

The Goodnight Scholars have joined Kramden several times this school year to put their technical skills to work, troubleshooting newly refurbished computers and preparing them to be distributed to students. Visit https://goodnight.ncsu.edu/ to learn more about the program.

“Serving at Kramden was a blast! We loved taking apart the machines together and learned a lot about fixing computers in the process. Volunteers do not always see the end results of their labor, so I was excited to watch the finished computers leave the assembly ready to be distributed. My favorite part about volunteering here, however, was the direct impact of our assembled machines in making learning more enjoyable for North Carolina students, the future of STEM.”

Timothy Chen, Mechanical Engineering Student and Goodnight Scholar

Kramden is always looking for volunteers with a passion for our mission and willingness to help. We currently have a particular need for daytime volunteers on Monday and Tuesday afternoons, and Thursday and Friday mornings. Register for an upcoming volunteer event here.

Keith Ertel is Geek of the Year!

2018 was a big year for Kramden with more than 3,400 volunteers logging over 13,500 hours! This year, one of our top volunteers, Keith Ertel, has been selected as Kramden’s Geek of the Year. Keith contributed over 230 volunteer hours in 2018, bringing his total time at Kramden to over 600 hours!

 

We checked in with our Geek of the Year (and former Geek of the Week) to find out some of Keith’s favorite things about Kramden.

As one of our top volunteers in 2018, what was your favorite project or event you helped out with this year?

My favorite project was any one that involved a “Your update is downloading, please wait a few minutes” message and a spinning hourglass on the screen. Seriously, I have enjoyed all the activities I participated in this year. Working on-site gave me a chance to interact with some great people and learn new things, as did the offsite events. And helping out at the recycling events showed me I am not the only one who is reluctant to part with older technology.

You’ve been volunteering with Kramden for over 3 years now. What keeps you coming back?

I’ve been blessed throughout my life and I believe trying to give something back is important. Why Kramden? I like the fact that the mission is focused is on helping young people/students. They benefit, and technology that is still useful is kept out of the landfill. Another important consideration is the people. The staff is great, as are the many volunteers I’ve worked with. I like the spirit of camaraderie. And I like the nature of the work. I spent many an hour typing ‘peek’ and ‘poke’ statements to transcribe programs from a magazine onto my Commodore 64, and I’ve built most of the computers I’ve owned since then. Volunteering at Kramden helps me keep my inner geek alive.

A great big thanks to Keith and to all of the Kramden volunteers of 2018! Your work brings us one step closer to bridging the digital divide.

Program Impact

Kramden’s Community Education & Access program provides participants with eight hours of basic computer training and a computer upon completion. In the first 6 months of 2018, 230 participants completed the program. Recently, Kramden surveyed these participants to see how their newfound computer knowledge and device has impacted their lives. Results are shown below.