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Exploration Place space lets kids tinker, explore, create (VIDEO)

Independent School third-grader Anish Scharya works on a project at Exploration Place’s new CreatorSpace, a place that encourages visitors, particularly children, to tinker, create and make stuff. (Dec. 19, 2014)
Independent School third-grader Anish Scharya works on a project at Exploration Place’s new CreatorSpace, a place that encourages visitors, particularly children, to tinker, create and make stuff. (Dec. 19, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

With a little cardboard, craft foam, hot glue and wooden skewers, 9-year-old Eli Aziere learned the engineering principles behind cams and shafts.

Then he quickly got to work on his own miniature merry-go-round.

A classmate, Grayson Jensen, decided his machine would be shaped like a helmet.

“Nobody showed me,” Grayson said. “I just thought it up in my head.”

That’s the idea behind CreatorSpace, a new room at Exploration Place that encourages visitors – particularly youngsters – to tinker, create, explore and think in innovative ways.

The room, which opened Friday, is a children’s “maker space” like those that have opened in Wichita and across the country in recent years. Based on the international maker movement, the idea is to blend science, technology and art and to get people creating and building instead of just consuming.

“Kids are more connected today than they’ve ever been before,” said Jason Cox, chief technical officer for Cox Machine in Wichita and vice chairman of the museum’s board of directors.

“But as technology has marched forward, we’ve lost that connection to the physical world,” he said. “Kids are sitting behind a screen, and they’re spending more time creating in the virtual space and less time building with their hands.”

CreatorSpace, a brightly colored room inside the museum’s Exploring Flight & Design pavilion, will be staffed with Exploration Place educators and stocked with supplies. On Friday, third-graders from the Independent School in Wichita spent about an hour designing and building mechanical toys after getting just a few minutes of instruction.

“We want them to invent on their own, but most people need a little bit of a spark to see how things work,” said Laurel Zhang, a museum educator.

“This is just a simple machine that turns … so maybe they’ll make a merry-go-round, or maybe they’ll make a dog chasing his tail, or whatever their imagination can come up with.”

A bit of trickery on behalf of the instructors – cardboard boxes that weren’t reinforced, so they easily collapsed in one direction or the other – taught the students about corner reinforcement and structural integrity, Zhang said. The kids also learned, through repeated trials and errors, that insulating the wooden skewer reduced friction and allowed it to turn more easily.

“There’s some mechanical ingenuity, but it’s really a combination of art and engineering,” she said.

The room is sponsored by the Yard, a Wichita supply store that Exploration Place president Jan Luth called “a maker space on steroids.”

Cox said the museum space is the latest version of maker spaces like MakeICT or Wichita State University’s proposed innovation campus, whose vision includes a $43 million “experiential engineering” building that would connect business partners with WSU students and researchers.

“We throw things away that don’t work instead of fixing them with our toolboxes like our grandparents did,” he said.

“The maker movement is a worldwide, grassroots campaign to bring technology, art and science back together and help us remember how to tinker and explore, to fail and repair, to create gadgets great and small, and to make things with our hands.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

If you go

CreatorSpace

What: A new room at Exploration Place that encourages visitors to tinker, create and build.

When: Opened Friday.

Where: 300 N. McLean Blvd.

How much: Included with regular museum admission: adults, $9.50; seniors, $8; children 3-11, $6; 2 and under, free.

Information: For more information, visit www.exploration.org.

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