Bigshot: Hardware with Heart

When creative ideas are backed by an understanding of science and math concepts, inventiveness is a real possibility. This notion—that science, math, and the arts are a connected and necessary part of innovation—is at the heart of Bigshot. Developed by Columbia University’s Shree Nayar, Bigshot is both a digital camera and a learning experience. Nayar designed the kit, which includes elements like a handcrank power generator and electromagnetics, to pack in as many scientific concepts as possible; as a result, Bigshot delivers a broad range of science and engineering concepts. Additionally, the Bigshot website provides a variety of simple science projects, conceptual explanations and interactive demos, and lesson plans for teachers and self-directed learners alike.

Unlike other electronics and maker kits, assembling the Bigshot kit delivers a finished, fully functioning product: a digital camera. Because it is a digital camera, it’s even possible to design a one-day workshop around the kit that allows students to assemble the camera, take photographs, and share in each other’s creations immediately—a process that would take far longer, and present fewer scientific concepts, with something like a pinhole camera.

In one sense, the camera is just the hook to draw in users who are then exposed to a variety of science and engineering components. But the camera itself also enables other aspects of learning, such as creation and self-expression: users can explore their creative potential as photographers and experiment with panoramic and 3D photography, as well as more traditional elements of lighting and composition. Photography also offers the opportunity to document users’ own lives and communities—promoting cultural diversity is not just a side effect, but in fact a goal of the Bigshots for Good program targeting under-served communities. To this end, Bigshot is poised to bring STEAM to a wide range of learners.