Exploring light during National Science Week

Light Maker s Curtin 026-001

With its focus on the “Year of Light”,  this year’s National Science Week provided Curtin Makers with the perfect opportunity to develop our maker community by celebrating the relationship between science and art through hands on activities based around the theme of light.

With our interest in fostering a cross-disciplinary approach to the development of the makerspace, we wanted to put the emphasis on providing a STE[a]M (science, technology, engineering, art and math) experience to both the Curtin and wider community.

Planning

After obtaining welcome funding for the event by successfully applying for a National Science Week Small Grant, and drawing on our previous experience with the Festival of learning Pop-Up Makerspace, we planned a week long event which consisted of workshops, events and school visits.

From the outset the event was a collaborative enterprise as we partnered with Enkel, a Fremantle based community collective which facilitates and hosts the discovery, development and implementation of innovative ideas, and Thornlie Public Library.   Within Curtin University itself, we worked with Curtin Teaching and LearningCurtin Science and Engineering Outreach and Curtin AHEAD.

Planning the event through collaborating and brainstorming ideas was a heap of fun and very exciting (get a room full of maker enthusiasts together and the atmosphere will be positively abuzz!) and it was great to get such valuable input about ideas for appropriate activities, the logistics of running the activities, and advice and suggestions to assist in decisions.

After the fun of planning, the hard work of preparing for the event was intensive and often complex, involving researching and designing the activities, prototyping the ‘products’, purchasing a large range of required equipment and materials, doing pre-preparation work (eg soldering, making circuit boards), and making up kits, instructional material and resources. We also worked hard to promote the event and recruit volunteer help as well as provide instruction and training for workshop facilitators.

Light makers

All in all, over the five days of National Science Week, 17 – 21 September, we facilitated nine hands-on maker workshops, three events, and two school visits, involving over 40 Curtin staff volunteers and over 300 participants. The workshops included creating illuminated origami flowers, inventing with Makey Makeys, exploring sewable electronics, virtual reality (with Google Cardboard) light painting with mobile apps, and lighting images with paper circuitry. We had workshops on Arduino using neo-pixel shields, a soldering/craft workshop making ‘bright bunnies’; and a mini-hack exploring the Trove API.  For a more detailed description of the workshops, see this post.

Our events included an “Ideas Clash”, facilitated by Enkel, where people presented innovative ideas around lighting collaborative spaces followed by the group brainstorming and discussing innovative ideas. We also had a visit from students and staff from Curtin’s Department of Information Studies to discuss the role of makerspaces in libraries and their contribution to STEM learning and awareness. Finally, we facilitated a two-hour drop-in session, enabling the Curtin community to tinker and engage with the range of activities we had covered in the workshops.

The school visits included Hamilton Hill High School, (through the AHEAD program), and an excursion from St Michael’s School. The students loved engaging with a range of maker activities, including makey makeys, making a hologram viewer, creating spiders with eyes that lit up, illuminated origami, and augmented reality.

Needless to say, we were exhausted by the end of the week!

Our participants were representative of a large range of age groups and areas of the community, from school age children to older adults, and from both the general community and Curtin community. All the activities were well attended, with the more popular workshops being those that involved electronics. The home school community was well represented in our workshops, due to the promotion on the National Science Week website (and from there through the home-school network) occurring prior to the promotion to the Curtin community.

Outcomes

A significant outcome of the event was making steps towards establishing the makerspace as a permanent space. We were able to acquire some materials and tools as resources to equip the library makerspace. More importantly, we have gained valuable experience and have developed some great activities, which will adapt and use in our regular makerspace workshops.

Planning and running the event provided wonderful opportunities for the Library to engage with the general community around science-related makerspace activities. Not only did we make strong connections with our external partners, but with other cultural institutions like the WA Museum and Scitech. One of the most rewarding and unexpected outcomes was connecting with the home school community, who attended many of our workshops. The event also provided an opportunity for engagement with a whole range of people and groups within the Curtin community from students, teaching staff, researchers and general staff.  Many opportunities for future engagement have also emerged from the event.

We were heartened by the very positive feedback that the participants provided on their evaluation forms. A word cloud generated from the keywords provided in the feedback shows “fun, interesting, awesome, amazing, exciting, cool and challenging” to be the most common descriptive words used.

word cloud NtScWk

Additional comments provided on the feedback form were also very positive. A selection of them are provided below.

• “What a fantastic workshop. Thank you so very much. The facilitators and mentors were lovely and patient and made the experience even more amazing”.
• “Every month even would be great, sometimes I have classes during the event so I’d have to wait for next year for the next one”
• “I had great fun and hope other students gets to experience what I experienced”
• “Had fun doing activities, they were challenging and made you think, which is what I liked about the activities”
• “I had an awesome day, it was so cool”
• “The students from Year 5 and 6 spoke positively and enthusiastically about the excursion all day. They were motivated and engaged from start to finish, which as a teacher is great to see. The staff were very kind, helpful and accommodating. Their enthusiasm for the tasks and creative ideas really encouraged the students. The activities were at an appropriate ability level for the students, which again kept them engaged. We would recommend this to anyone!”
• “Thank you so much, again for the great week we had. Teak has been telling everyone that he is going to go to Curtin University because it is “the most epic university on earth!”

The evaluation form also asked for suggestions for future activities.  Some of the more popular suggestions for future activities were Minecraft, robotics, electronics, chemistry, biology, coding and programming, using the Makey Makey and hologram viewer, and more app related activities. More general suggestions were “anything I don’t know about”, “anything interactive”, and “more of the same!”

Light Makers @ the Library was a wonderful opportunity for engagement and collaboration, for making connections, having great conversations and identifying potential projects and future activities. We had heaps of fun, and at the same time learnt so much from taking these small steps into the unknown. While it was a lot of hard work, and a bit scary and overwhelming at times, ultimately we recognised that there was nothing to lose from giving it a go, and only much to gain.

Photo Credit:  Featured image taken by Lindey Andrews.