Creativity and empowerment through STEAM for Schools program

Leighann Ness Wilson reflects on one of The Cube’s STEAM for Schools programs ‘Prototyping towards an age friendly city: LittleBits’

A few weeks ago we met RoboDog: a robotic companion whose tail lights up and sends a signal for medical attention if it senses its owner is unwell.  We also met the founders of ICU productions who make bionic eyes for the visually impaired and heard a design pitch for a tech-enabled water collection system.

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These were just three responses to the question: How might we prototype for an Age Friendly City? This was posed to a group of year 5 students from the Sunshine Coast region during our STEAM for Schools workshop at The Cube.

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Asking a class group of 11-year-olds to use empathy begins by examining a series of images and quotes from all over the world taken from The World Health Organization.  Students identify issues, themes and challenges before brainstorming possible solutions.  As per the rules of brainstorming developed by IDEO we encourage our students to practice active listening and collaborate as equals.  We build on the ideas of others; we defer judgement and encourage wild ideas – as they are usually the most fun!

Next we get busy working on prototypes to communicate our design ideas using craft materials and littleBits, interactive building blocks that allow students to create simple and complex circuits using sensors, light, sound and movement.

Recently I attended the Designing for Dementia Symposium hosted by the QUT Creative Industries Faculty.  The overriding message was how design can promote individuality, wellbeing and empowerment.

Cathy Treadaway from The LAUGH Project in Wales demonstrated research that indicates hand-held, playful objects might improve the wellbeing of those living with dementia. Gail Kenning from the University of Technology in Sydney discussed her approach of individualising design by way of considering particular people with particular needs.  This sentiment connected to another presentation on De Hogeweyk’s Village near Amsterdam; a dementia care facility designed with seven ‘house concepts’.  Residents live in purpose-designed houses that emulate and connect to their individual style, personality and lifestyle before dementia.  I’m looking forward to sharing some of these real-life examples with our students in our next Age Friendly City workshop on 9 May.

As a learning experience, Age Friendly City is much more than a bit of creative fun.  Through the process of empathising with and designing for others, I regularly observe our students also experiencing feelings of individuality and empowerment. As we encourage their ideas and applaud their creative problem-solving we are also providing opportunities to connect our students to their own sense of self-worth, the value of which cannot be underestimated.

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STEM Girl Power Camp at The Cube

The Cube and QUT’s Design Lab teamed up in March to host an exciting workshop program at QUT Gardens Point campus as part of the second annual STEM Girl Power Camp. The workshop coincided with annual World Science Festival (WSF) activities held in Brisbane.

Sixty regional high-achieving Year 10 girls and 10 teachers discovered the power of design in science, technology and enterprise innovation through workshops and presentations from STEAM leaders and experts in their field.

The STEM Girl Power Camp is an important initiative of Advancing education: An action plan for education in Queensland to address the lower participation rates of girls in STEM subjects and careers.

Program co-ordinators Natalie Wright (QUT Design Lab) and Jacina Leong (QUT The Cube) said they embraced the opportunity to provide such a diverse workshop program, revealing design’s critical role in STEM education. It also showcased the city campus and the varied opportunities available for regional girls to study at QUT.

The girls participated in three hands-on workshops exploring wearable technologies, STEAM Entrepreneurship and webcam-hacked microscopes with artist / scientist, Jaden Hastings, to create DIY microscopes.

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The first presentation was from Dana Winkworth, Systems Administrator from The Cube who talked about her experience working in Information Technology in a male-dominated field. Previously she worked for Maccquarie Group in London and Brisbane and is now enjoying great work/life balance managing the IT infrastructure in The Cube studio. Her tip for the girls was ‘do what you would do, if you knew you couldn’t fail’.

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The second presentation was from Svenja Kratz, a new media artist interested in the intersections between science and art. Svenja is currently Science Art Lab + theme leader within the Creative Exchange Institute and works as a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Creative Practice at University of Tasmania. She spoke about her BioSynethetic Systems exhibition which opened at Creative Industries Precinct on Saturday 25 March.

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The last presentation was from Jaden Hastings whose work focuses upon the intersection and interplay of art and science – from philosophy to praxis – merging scientific and artistic research, challenging the norms of both disciplines, and moving them into new spaces for exploration.

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‘Driving into the Future’ at QUT

This is a guest blog post by Jackie Child, Teacher Librarian from St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School. This post appeared first on tinkeringchild.com.

“Roboticists suggest that driverless cars could soon be driving on Australian roads if road legislations reform and technology matures. Developing systems to deal with inclement weather, improving sensing of pedestrians and bicycles, and less predictable elements are some of the issues that need to be addressed before we experience a driverless society.”

This was the preamble of the workshop our students attended at QUT. Here’s a video. It is part of the education program provided for schools. It is free and if you are in Brisbane ….it’s a must!! View workshop details.

Our girls proposed and programmed robotic solutions to develop driverless cars using a range of sensors and LEGO robotics. It was the first time for many girls. Leighann and Toby clearly and effectively guided the girls through coding and building their robots to move and use sensors …….. having heaps of fun while learning.

The girls had three challenges to complete with or without sensors. They soon worked out how to find the threshold value for the colour sensor and were able to program their robot to stay on dry land (pale green) to rescue the stranded vehicle.

Another challenge was using the ultrasonic sensor to read depth of light. The girls worked out how to stop the robot t the edge of the table first! Plenty of fun catching it before it fell off, take a look at this video 🙂

The communication tower at the top of Mt Coot-tha required fixing without falling off the mountain! The girls were so excited to see their robots toppling and dancing on the mountain!

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Throughout the day the girls enjoyed interacting with the Cube’s screen projects Dino Zoo, Chem World, Physics Observatory and The Arcade, I think the favourite was the Arcade which consisted of three retro inspired games including – Block Breakers, Parabola Pirates and Space Junk.

All girls agreed it was a FABULOUS day of fun and learning!

 

3, 2, 1, LEGO … !

On Saturday 19 November, The Cube played host once again to FIRST® LEGO® League, welcoming 360 students and their team coaches, parents, teachers and peers to QUT’s Science and Engineering Centre. The energy and enthusiasm of the participants was palpable and just one of the reasons FIRST® LEGO® League is a highlight of the year, transforming the Science and Engineering Centre into a hive of activity!

This year’s challenge was based on the theme: ANIMAL ALLIES. Teams of up to 10 students researched, programmed, and prepared from August through November ‘to think of people and animals as allies in the quest to make life better for everyone’. The tournament involved:

  • 360 students 
  • 220 parents, teachers, grandparents, peers, siblings … 
  • 108 (2.5 minute) robot game rounds 
  • 52 staff and volunteers 
  • 41 team coaches
  • 36 teams from 22 locations (see team map below)
  • 36 robots 
  • 12 award recipients
  • 6 robot game tables
  • 4 practice tables
  • 4 concurrent activities (Robot Game, Robot Design, Project, Core Values)
  • 4 national qualifiers 
  • And many LEGO pieces! 

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One of the team coaches, Jackie Child, captured the spirit of the tournament experience in her article, Our FIRST LEGO League Journey.

Twelve awards were presented this year to the following teams:

Champions Award – iCode 22
Robot Performance – OLA Cybermonkeys
Robot Design (Mechanical Design) – Robros
Robot Design (Programming) – RobotIGGS
Robot Design (Strategy and Innovation) – Lego Central
Project (Research) – MGH Robots 2
Project (Innovation) – iCode New Dawn
Project (Presentation) – Sharks
Core Values (Gracious Professionalism) – Lasiorhinus krefftii Mark II
Core Values (Teamwork) – Hillbrook Team 1
Core Values (Inspiration) – Omega Dragons
Judge Award – Padua College 1 

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Those selected for the Nationals at Macquarie University, Sydney, on 10 December, are: 

  • iCode 22
  • iCode New Dawn
  • Padua College 2
  • OLA Cybermonkeys 

Congratulations again to all participating teams – until next year!

Jacina Leong and Elise Wilkinson – Co–Directors, FIRST LEGO League, and Public Programs, The Cube

Learn about gravity in the Physics Observatory

I recently went to the doctors, (nothing serious, just a check-up but thanks for asking), the doctor weighed me, he then read out a number and entered it into his computer. The number was 70. What does 70 mean? 70 what? Well kilograms apparently; but what does that mean? I know it’s the same as 70 bags of sugar, but what is the bag of sugar equal to? What does weight actually mean?

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Weight, as we know it, could more accurately be called force, it is the force in which your body or mass is being pulled towards the scales by the gravity of the Earth (don’t try telling your wife it looks like she is putting on a little force, it’s still rude… apparently!). The number we call weight is the result of multiplying our mass by gravity, therefore, if we want our weight number to be less we can reduce our mass or the gravitational acceleration of the Earth, which is easier than you may think!

If I were in a plane flying at 35,000 feet, the gravitational effect of the Earth would be less and the scales I have strapped to my feet would show 69.72kg (yay, it’s working!). If I were to then jump from the plane the scales would read 0this is because the scales are also falling and have nothing to press against to make a reading so I’d still weigh 70kg (boo!). But when I hit the ground my weight would shoot up to 428 kg for a very brief time then cease to be an issue.

If I wanted to lose a little weight I could just move to Denver, Colorado. In Denver, I would only weigh 69.92 kg however in Helsinki I would bust the scales at 70.13 kg. This is due to the irregular surface of the Earth; altitude, local topography and geology all play a part in how gravity affects us and our weight.

If mass and gravity are the factors we calculate weight by, what happens if we crank up the numbers? The Sun, with its huge mass, has a gravitational pull 28 times higher than Earth’s so if I were to stand on the surface of the sun, I would weigh nearly 2 tonnes (wow!). Although my gargantuan weight would be the least of my issues!!!

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In the Physics Observatory, the new screen project at The Cube, users can adjust the gravity of the room with the gravity board. Visitors can slide the gravity changer all the way from 0g to the same gravity as the Sun. All of the objects in the observatory are affected by the gravity change, even the water flowing from the lion’s mouth and the swinging pendulum; it is lots of fun flinging hundreds of blocks around the room in 0g!

Come have fun with physics at the Physics Observatory. It’s officially opening on 17 September and there will be a physics-inspired holiday program in December/January Summer Holidays.

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Public Programs: the year that has been (so far)

Leighann Ness Wilson reflects on her role over the last six months, as The Cube’s first STEAM Education Officer.

My name is Leighann Ness Wilson and I’ve had the privilege of being The Cube’s very first STEAM Education Officer. With a Bachelor of Built Environment from QUT and over ten years’ experience in commercial Interior Design, it wasn’t until having my own children that I decided it was time to pursue my underlying goal to become an educator. My role at The Cube has allowed me to combine two of my passions: design and education. The practicums within my Graduate Diploma of Teaching and Learning, combined with my new role at QUT, have given me a profound sense of fulfilment. I find the combination of education and creativity both emotionally and professionally inspiring.

2016 so far

Training was first on the agenda for 2016 as we welcomed new and returning facilitators to our Public Programs Team at The Cube. (You can learn more about our methodology and team in the post, Hello 2016, Hello STEAM). Over multiple training sessions, our team were introduced to new technologies and toolsets and discussed how these might be used within the framework of STEAM education to deliver dynamic and interactive educational programs for our Education and Holiday workshops.

A highlight has been the diversity within the Public Programs team itself. I am fortunate each week to work alongside fellow-students and graduates from various QUT degrees across Engineering, Interactive Design, Education and Creative Industries. We bring our unique knowledge and approach to the workshops, which benefit not only our students, but also each other as we develop our skills as facilitators. In addition to onsite staff training, our team spent time with senior software developer and creator of Makkit, Anna Gerber at The Edge, SLQ to learn the basics of Arduino. In April, Brian O’Connell, PhD Student and Research Assistant at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach, Tufts University, Boston, taught our team the fundamentals of the Rube Goldberg challenge and introduced us to the wonderful world of capacitive sensors.

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An interactive firefly created by students at the K8 Symposium
Our Education program

A personal highlight occurs every Tuesday morning, when we welcome a new school group to The Cube. Once a week, during terms 2, 3 and & 4, The Cube hosts a day long STEAM Education workshop for students from grades 5 – 9. It’s great to see the students’ smiling faces as they make their way towards the Science and Engineering Centre to meet us. Students learn about The Cube as a digital interface, and enjoy hearing about the technology behind the screens, and how The Cube studio team research, develop, test and launch projects, whilst interacting with the projects.

Makerspace Professional Development Workshop at The Cube
Makerspace Professional Development Workshop at The Cube

From a facilitator’s perspective, within our STEAM workshops, I have been amazed by the students’ ability to collaborate, learn new skills and stay focused. Throughout the term, we have met technically savvy students and seen some truly creative solutions for robotic emergency response vehicles, inspiring interactive artworks and compelling ideas on how to make Brisbane a more age-friendly city.

Professional development & community outreach

The Cube regularly hosts professional development programs utilising design thinking and STEAM toolsets. This term, we have welcomed teachers from all over the state as part of the Education Queensland Makerspace Trial and recently ran an interactive design booth as part of the K8 Symposium in conjunction with the State Library of Queensland’s Asia Pacific Design Library for the Out of the Box Festival. At K8, we introduced the basics of circuity to a remarkable group of 8 year olds, as they reimagined the city of Brisbane for the year 2036.

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Leighann and Yu at K8

As well as working with the students, I delivered a Professional Development session for primary school educators on using STEAM toolsets within the classroom. I’ve also had the recent opportunity of facilitating a hands-on workshop, for teachers at the Queensland Art Teachers Association conference, which focused on the possibilities of using littleBits in a visual arts classroom.

LittleBits Professional Development with QATA
LittleBits Professional Development with QATA

Reflecting on the past six months, I have realised the broader implications of my learning journey. While I have always been passionate about creativity and education, I am proud to say I have gone above and beyond my comfort zone–from creating touch responsive circuits using a bread board to designing and coding my own wearable technology Halloween costume. Learning through STEAM education has showcased the absolute benefits of learning from and alongside the students.

The levels of engagement in our workshops are testament to the vision and open source approach of The Cube’s Public Programs team. Together we share a passion and belief in the value of creativity in education. We work within a broader community full of like-minded professionals and regularly engage with experts to enhance our approach to ensure we are responding to the needs of 21st Century learners…and it’s also lots of fun!

 

The Physics Observatory (aka Physics Playroom 2.0)

The Cube team have been hard at work this year re-developing The Physics Playroom, one of The Cube’s first screen projects. This new iteration The Physics Observatory, is due to be released sometime in the next six months. In this series of blog posts The Cube’s Digital Interactive Designer, Simon Harrison, will share with us some of the teams’ learnings about physics.

When we decided to update this project to make it even more relevant to high school students, I stumbled upon some interesting facts and became fascinated by tales of physicists, great thinkers and even watchmakers of times gone by.

The original Physics Playroom featured an interesting rotating mechanical solar system. I discovered this device is called an orrery – a clockwork representation of the orbits of the planets that make our solar system. Using only cogs and gears it was possible to accurately simulate the motions of distant planetary bodies, incredibly this was achieved over 300 years ago!

 

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The orrery from the original Physics Playroom

The first orrery was created by a pair of very talented watchmakers from London called George Graham and Thomas Tompion, It was presented to Charles Boyle, 4th Earl of Orrery in 1704.

Our orrery has been lovingly crafted using the latest in 3D simulation software and up to the minute data from NASA, however, it looks almost identical to an Orrery from the past. I bet George and Thomas would love to come to The Cube and have a play with ours!

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The new orrery during construction

The new orrery features all the planets (including Pluto, we can’t let it go!) and a selection of planetary moons, all rotating around the sun. If the planets were to rotate at real-time speed, it would take 90,560 days for Pluto to make a single complete orbit, that is almost 250 years! So we have included a speed control to help accelerate and visualise the orbits.

As always we strive to lace our interactives with STEM related curriculum links and the orrery is no exception, our team of STEM teachers and researchers will be creating school workshops and programs linking the orrery to elements included in both the Science and Mathematics learning areas of the Australian National Curriculum. More details about school/holiday programs coming soon.

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The final orrery in the observatory

And next time we’ll discuss how we managed gravity and how much an elephant may weigh on the surface of the Sun.

Big ideas abound at FIRST LEGO League 2015

On Saturday 21 November, over 500 children descended on The Cube to compete in this year’s FIRST® LEGO® League ‘Trash Trek’ challenge.

The Cube was abuzz with the excitement and passion of 31 school teams about to embark on the final leg of their Trash Trek challenge, the culmination of months of research, preparation and hard work.

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Our ‘Trash Trekkers’ were joined in spirit by over 233,000 children across 80 countries who were also participating in this year’s FIRST® LEGO® League Trash Trek challenge.

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We were lucky enough to have the Minister for Science and Innovation, Hon Leeanne Enoch, join us on the day to check out all the young innovators in action.

A big congratulations to the five teams who qualified for the national competition in Sydney: ATC Green Robros, iCode 22, Tech Wizards, Waskally Wilston Twash Twekers, and BSHS Cerise. Check out all winning teams below.

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No matter the outcome, all teams showed tremendous spirit, enthusiasm and tenacity, and all have a lot to be proud of. We hope to see many familiar faces back for the 2016 FIRST® LEGO® League.

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Thank you to everyone involved – our  volunteers, team coaches, parents and participants – your hard work, enthusiasm and gracious professionalism made the day one to remember!

The Cube would like to acknowledge the support of the QUT Faculty of Education, QUT Caboolture and Grace Lutheran College.

Want to see more? Find out what it’s really like to compete in FIRST® LEGO® League thanks to Nick Houghton, Leader of Pedagogy at Holy Family Primary School in Skennars Head, and his two 2015 FIRST® LEGO® League Grant-winning teams, iCode 21 and iCode 22. Following the teams’ journey from in-school preparation and training, to participating at QUT The Cube on the day, the video is a must-see for any schools or community groups considering becoming a part of FIRST® LEGO® League in 2016.

Holy Family Primary Schools’ FIRST® LEGO® League video can be viewed here.

Images by Kate O’Sullivan.

Off the Shelf: Reimagining libraries with Watson Road State School students

Earlier this year, The Cube’s public program team undertook the Off The Shelf program, part one of which involved engaging with students from Watson Road State School in a series of workshops centred around the idea of the changing role of libraries as social and educational hubs. Students engaged with these ideas through hands-on STEAM activities using littleBits as prototyping tools.

Watson Road State School Principal Cathy Forbes shares her experience of the project:

Cathy: The littleBits project at Watson Road State School has provided students with the opportunity to work collaboratively and think differently. The open-ended nature of the task meant that students felt confident to try out new ideas, knowing that there were no right or wrong answers.

Students were given a challenge: to design a library of the future. They saw this as a real-life and authentic task, which encouraged self-directed learning and the application of knowledge and learning by experience.

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This project stepped way from traditional classroom learning and introduced 21st century problem solving skills to students in an engaging way. Students were motivated and enthusiastic about their participation in the challenge.

The cross-curricular connections in the project are very strong. Students were required to collect data and research, and were asked to apply the information to plan their prototypes and conceptualise their design. The design-and-make nature of the project, as well as links to science and engineering, met requirements in the key learning area of technology, in which students use design thinking and technologies to generate and produce designed solutions for authentic needs and opportunities.

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Students were encouraged to collaboratively apply their knowledge and practical skills and processes when using technologies to create innovative solutions that meet current and future needs. The practical nature of the project engaged students in critical and creative thinking, including understanding interrelationships in systems when solving complex problems. A systematic approach to experimentation, problem solving, prototyping and evaluation instilled the value of planning and reviewing processes to realise ideas.

Links to English were reinforced with students interpreting descriptions and research. They were required to read and give instructions, generate and explore ideas with others, write design briefs and specifications, and participate in group discussions. Students communicated their ideas and proposals to an audience. By learning the literacy of technologies, students understand that language varies according to context and they increase their ability to use language flexibly.

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Technologies vocabulary is often technical and includes specific terms for concepts, processes and production. Students learn to understand that much technological information is presented in the form of drawings, diagrams, flow charts, models, tables and graphs. They also learn the importance of listening, talking and discussing in technologies processes, especially in articulating, questioning and evaluating ideas.

The project provided students with an opportunity that they would not ordinarily have had. QUT and Brisbane City Council Library staff facilitated self-directed learning whilst providing expert guidance to students and staff. The project was a wonderful success.

Image Credit: Kate O’Sullivan