Physicist and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke once famously said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” If that’s the case, there’s no reason why science can’t be made as entertaining as a magic show. Especially if you include robots and lasers.
That’s the theory behind STEAM Carnival, a traveling circus designed to introduce kids to the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math — plus the arts. (Put the initials together to spell STEAM, get it?) Some 40 different high-tech games and demonstrations will educate and inspire kids by blinding them with science.
STEAM Carnival started as a joint idea dreamed up by Brent Bushnell (whose dad is Nolan Bushnell, the inventor of Pong) and Eric Gradman, professional roboticists who made their reputations turning science into art. If you caught OK Go’s famous Rube Goldberg machine music video, you’ve seen their work. In fact, they said that video prompted the idea for the carnival. Steam Carnival's board includes the elder Bushnell, game industry luminary Brian Fargo, and Mythbuster Grant Imahara.
“Some of the most compelling feedback we got from that video was from parents and teachers coming to us, saying ‘We don’t know what our kids learned from that, but they were so excited about engineering when they saw it,’” said Gradman.
Gradman explained that the goal of the carnival is not only to introduce kids to the potential of engineering, but to show them just how capable they are of picking it up themselves.
Simple Components Create Complex Machines
For example, he described one attraction — a robot that responds when kids stand in front of it and make gestures. On a table nearby sit all the components that make up the robot, and kids are encouraged to play with them and assemble the parts. Basically, it lets them see that even the most complex electronics are made up of simple pieces.
"It's like going to a magic show and then as you exit through the gift shop, realizing not only how all the magic tricks worked, but how to do them yourself,” Gradman said.
STEAM Carnival Is Looking For Funding
Bushnell and Gradman have built the attractions themselves, but now they need the public’s help funding the project. Their Kickstarter campaign, with an initial aim of getting STEAM Carnival to Los Angeles and San Francisco, is already halfway to its $100,000 goal with nearly a month to go.
Until it’s funded, the duo is drumming up interest by presenting a prototype to test audiences of lucky middle school and high school kids in Los Angeles.
Bushnell said educators are always surprised to see how quickly kids become interested in science once lasers are involved.
“We’re not up there describing dry principles,” he said. “We’re doing demonstrations. It’s a complete left turn for them from traditional education.”
Bushnell and Gradman hope to expand to many cities beyond Los Angeles and San Francisco, but they’ll need STEM educators’ and mentors’ help to do it. If you’re interested in bringing the STEAM Carnival to your city, cast your ballot here.
All images courtesy of STEAM Carnival.