Monday, November 17, 2014

Full STEAM Ahead! The Adler Planetarium’s 2nd Annual Girls do Hack Day


Choo choo! I am full STEAM ahead on the STEM + art/design train. This past Saturday, at our 2nd annual Girls do Hack Day at the Adler Planetarium, I saw first-hand how well it works to use the creativity and fun of art/design to hook girls into STEM. 

Eighty Chicago Public High School girls, partnered with forty women in STEM mentors, did hands-on activities throughout the day. Everything from robot obstacle courses to making chocolate to programming mobile phone apps to doing their own biotech experiments

Our WorldWide Telescope STEAM workshop was held in the Adler Space Visualization Lab, which, if you haven’t visited, is like being a kid in a candy store. A dozen interactive screens, some in 3D, giving you a feast for the eyes of all the most beautiful astronomical visualizations you can think of. The room showcases those essential STEM careers that are about communicating science to the public; taking our data, our results, our discoveries and translating them so that the public can share in the excitement and the learning.

After an icebreaker to facilitate finding out what creative pursuits the girls and mentors are into, in small groups they explored WorldWide Telescope and its beautiful imagery. The mission was to create a product inspired by the imagery and pitch it to the rest of the group. 

Most important for me was that the girls were clearly having fun and actively engaging with each other and their mentors. My favorite creations from the day were:
  • an astronomy themed clothing line
  • a skit about a voyage through space
  • a children’s story
  • a constellation game
  • a human simulation of Kepler 7-b 
Each group (of four girls + two mentors) was paired with an astronomer for content expertise. I loved how rich the conversation was, full of questions and answers about everything from exoplanets to Pluto’s demotion to what those weird streamers are coming out of M82. Throughout the ~45 minutes of brainstorming and ‘product development’, the room was abuzz. In the past when we haven’t taken the art/design approach, the science conversation wasn’t as rich and the girls weren’t as engaged. Having the starting point be their creative interests and then coupling this with a lot of freedom and room for creativity/exploration helped the girls feel more comfortable asking questions and contributing ideas. 

Always a good sign when, as a workshop facilitator, you come away feeling energized and inspired. Can't wait to do this again!