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.

Echo reverberates across The Cube

“Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.” Mohsin Hamid

Here we are, the final Echo reverberates across The Cube in hybrid glitch form.

The photo booth is installed, the virtual mirror throbs in anticipation and the Echo character maps across the space. She navigates us, “Come closer”  she says, you are now part of something bigger”.

The last month has seen many creative and technical developments, including the integration of the narratives. They began as fiction and ended as readymades. Real intimate stories from real people. Through the mirror our storytellers confide in you, the user, revealing moments of their lives where they have suffered or overcome hardship. As their narrative unfolds the features of your face slowly morph into their face. They operate you with their expressions and leave you placed firmly in their shoes. This intimate experience forces us to relate and connect with those outside of our normal social sphere. Narrative has long been a tool for empathy, awareness and social change, Echo intends to push this further still by immersing the viewer visually as well as through the imagination.

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“Storytelling is both the seductive siren and the safe haven that encourages the connection with the feared “other.” How we relate to stories and storytelling can be seen as an acid-test for empathy.” PJ Manney 2008

As I sit in The Cube and watch people interact I’m seeing the experiment unfold in so many different ways, working for a range of ages and tendencies. Within five minutes these animated experiences jump from the intimate booth to the large screens above and a new digital family begins to breed. The aim of the project is to break down prejudices and connect people through shared identity and expression. Check out this taster video

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“Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” Brecht

As the world becomes more complex and digitally connected the role of empathy becomes more and more important as we become more isolated. In the future Echo will continue to build a culturally diverse archive of stories and identities with the intention of finding a new personalised, emotive tool to connect people and tackle the epidemic of loneliness of our digital age.

Echo will be screening at The Cube until Friday 28 April.

 

‘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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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.