Course info

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:

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

Associate Porofessor 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

A 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 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

Hi 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 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 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!

Final project

The joint project for the two courses is a working prototype of a constructionist educational technology, to be displayed at the BB&A Expo, and an accompanying paper suitable for submission to IDC as a Demo Paper. Projects may be undertaken alone or in groups. In 2017, 6 papers from BB&A students and instructors were accepted to IDC. Final projects have also gone on to become commercial products. More about the final project.

Assignment Feedback

For the lecture, students will turn in each assignments on Canvas as links to Google Docs, and we will add feedback directly on the document. We spend a lot of time giving feedback; it is an important part of the course that gives us a way to address students’ misconceptions, point students in more productive directions, and suggest additional readings. We expect students to read our feedback and to be prepared to discuss it during the lecture.

We will use selections from your assignments in whole-class discussions each week. For each assignment, we have an initial round of in-class feedback on the first class after submission, and a second, more in-depth round of feedback after grading the assignments on the following Thursday.


You will find that motivation in this class comes from your own curiosity and playfulness, augmented by tools, media, and a supportive community of learners. This is a unique opportunity to experience constructionist learning, and motivating students with punitive grades would interfere with the dynamics which are the focus of the class. We have high expectations for students in BBA, and the class requires a lot of work, but if you show up, work hard, and open yourself to new experiences you will end up with a good grade in the class. If you are not meeting our expectations, we will let you know early and often, so that nobody is surprised at the end of the class. Students in prior cohorts have gone on to start companies, pursue new research trajectories, or reshape their own career goals through the class. Make these your goals, rather than an A.

You can expect regular personalized feedback on your work, in person and in writing. Assignments are evaluated using a simple scale:

If you are regularly getting evaluations of ✓ or above, you are on track for an A.

Other policies

Lab fee

Charging a lab fee is the typical policy in lab and studio courses. The lab fee ($100) will be used to buy shared materials for use during lab sessions, including basic maintenance. We will have a limited supply of acrylic, wood, 3D printer materials, sensors, motors, and robotics stuff. These materials will be stored in a special area of the lab—the lab fee does not give students the right to use all the materials in the lab. Also, the lab fee is not meant to support final projects, though student are welcome to use leftover materials from the appropriate bins. If students want to use materials that go above and beyond what the lab fee covers, they should be ordered directly, or reimbursed/replaced to the lab.


The College will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities: Students are encouraged to contact the Office of Access and Services for Individuals with Disabilities (OASID) for information about registration. You can reach OASID by email at, stop by 163 Thorndike Hall or call 212-678-3689. Services are available only to students who have registered and submit appropriate documentation. The instructors are happy to discuss specific needs with you as well. Please report any access-related concerns about instructional material to OASID and to your instructor.

Sexual harassment and violence reporting

Teachers College is committed to maintaining a safe environment for students. Because of this commitment and because of federal and state regulations, we must advise you that if you tell any of your instructors about sexual harassment or gender-based misconduct involving a member of the campus community, your instructor is required to report this information to the Title IX Coordinator, Janice Robinson. She will treat this information as private but will need to follow up with you and possibly look into the matter. The Ombuds officer for Gender-Based Misconduct is a confidential resource available for students, staff and faculty. Gender-based misconduct includes sexual assault, stalking, sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, and gender-based harassment.

TC Policies

This course follows TC policies on incomplete grades, responsibility for monitoring email, religious observance, and academic integrity.


This course is an accretion of many years of work from past and present members of the Transformative Learning Technologies Lab, including: