Ars Electronica Center:
Kids’ Research Lab Is for Experimentation, Play and Amazement
(Linz, February 24, 2015) Exploring, gaining insights and comprehension by means of game playing is the basic concept behind the Kids’ Research Lab that opened at the Ars Electronica Center in January 2015. Now, this experimental realm for 4-6-year-olds has been reconfigured and didactically linked up to the “Spaceship Earth” exhibition that’s located immediately adjacent to it.
Research? It’s Child’s Play!
Play as the most important form of self-determined, fun-oriented learning is an established element of the Educational Framework Plan for elementary schools as well as the guiding principle of the Kids’ Research Lab. A total of 11 stations—including a laser-incised fold-out model of the Ars Electronica Center, a programmable robot bee and a reflected-light microscope—furnish opportunities to tinker, play music, draw, program and experiment. What they all have in common is enabling youngsters to take a playful approach to encounters with analog and digital technology and, while they’re at it, to develop their motor, cognitive and social skills. The Kids’ Research Lab is didactically linked up to the “Spaceship Earth” exhibition located immediately adjacent to it. Whereas the Kids’ Research Lab is based on the hands-on principle and oriented on grasping—in the truest sense of the word—via active exploration, the exhibition about satellite-supported observation of our planet calls for a different strategy. Inspired by colorful, jumbo-format satellite images, youngsters initially work together with the Infotrainers stationed on site to develop their own thoughts about the wide variety of human habitats, natural resources and how humankind uses them. The next phase entails kids getting together as a group and sharing their respective views.
Kids’ Research Lab
The Kids’ Research Lab opened in January 2015, and has now been readapted based on the experiences gained to date. The concept of the Kids’ Research Lab is a collaborative effort of the Ars Electronica Center staff, experts on the faculties of the Johannes Kepler University and regional teacher colleges, OTELO (Open Technology Laboratory) and the City of Linz’s Department of Children and Youth Services.
Early Educational Support in Linz Kindergartens
Linz kindergartens are educational facilities that aim to support and nurture children’s motivation to learn. Thus, more than 70% of all municipal kindergartens work according to the learning workshop principle. This progressive concept emphasizes child-centered working whereby, instead of breaking up into strictly defined groups, the children can take advantage of the offerings in accordance with their own interests, and their immediate surroundings thus become a domain in which to directly experience the natural sciences. In order to prepare all children as well as possible to meet the demands of elementary school and to ensure equal educational opportunity for all, the teaching plan takes gender aspects into consideration and also offers up to 540 hours of language instruction over the three kindergarten years, a program that is one-of-a-kind in Austria. Encounters with natural sciences and technology are meant to create equal opportunities on the part of girls and boys in their future educational and occupational careers. The continuation of the KET – Kids Experience Technology program ensures early educational enrichment in the natural sciences and provides offerings designed to nurture the scientists of tomorrow.
11 Experimentation Stations: The New Kids’ Research Lab
3-D Printer. Most people associate 3-D with fantastic filmmaking, but it also refers to the printing technology of the future. The Kids’ Research Lab’s analog 3-D printer demonstrates how this piece of equipment works.
Scratch Jr. The point of this app is to provide kids with a simple, playful way to get their first taste of computer programming. They can create their own interactive stories and games on the computer by combining graphical programming blocks that get their virtual action figures jumping, dancing and singing.
Freqtric Drums. This installation turns kids’ own bodies into musical instruments. When you’re holding the device in your hands, whenever anyone touches you—even the slightest skin contact—it sounds like a drum beat!
Discover Ship. With colorful sheets of paper and the shape of the Ars Electronica Center fresh from the laser cutter as their raw materials, any child can fold his/her own Discoverer Ship and then form and decorate it however they like.
TeilBar. The TeilBar concept—sharing—is based on the plot and motifs from “Lollo,” a classic children’s book by Mira Lobe. A stuffed animal that a child no longer wants can be brought to the TeilBar, where it’s made available to another child who’d be glad to give it a new home. The TeilBar at Kids’ Research Lab also provides stuffed animals with repairs or any other sort of tender loving care they need.
Reflected-Light Microscope. Since a specimen examined under a reflected-light microscope is illuminated from above, it doesn’t have to be extremely thin. Whether that object is a thread from the user’s sweater or his/her own hair or skin, anything—without advance preparation—can be examined at 50x enlargement.
Otamatone. This extraordinary musical instrument designed by Maywa Denki, a Japanese artists’ collective, sounds like a theremin, an electronic musical instrument invented in 1919. Kids can produce a variety of sounds with the Otamatone by stroking or pressing on the instrument’s neck.
LightPlayBox. Every youngster is fascinated by the interplay of light and shadow—and lots of grown-ups are too. With the Magic Shifter, a magical lantern, kids in the LightPlayBox glow and can transform themselves into colorful shadows in all sizes.
BeeBot. These cute little black-and-yellow robot bees have tiny wheels on their underside and four directional push-buttons on their back. Depending on which button is pushed and how many times, the robot moves a certain distance in a particular direction—forward, left or right. On the floor of the Kids’ Research Lab is a stylized meadow full of flowers with a path leading through it; the object of this installation is for the BeeBot to navigate the path as precisely as possible. In order for kids to issue the corresponding commands to the BeeBot, they first have to grasp space and estimate distances.
Sticker Modeller. This digital drawing board lets kids design perfectly symmetrical stickers. They draw half the sticker and their rendering is mirrored. The resulting figure is then automatically cut out of a sheet of plastic foil, which makes for a nice souvenir kids can take home with them.
Makey Makey. A spoon or a plant, a piece of fruit or a human being—simply touching them with your hands produces sounds and tones. Once an electrical circuit is established, Makey Makey transforms anything that conducts current into the keys of a musical instrument.