05/5/14

Interactive Art and Science

by Phoenix della Mare

 

I’ve always found it interesting watching children play, particularly the ways they move and manipulate the world to understand it. A few years ago, I worked at a children’s museum that would teach science through interactive exhibits. I loved seeing their faces light up as they would spend hours playing with the various exhibits. I worked at a smaller museum, but there are museums that do the same thing on a larger scale. The best example that I know of is the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Spending a day in this museum, you can see children of all ages delight and learn through manipulation. More importantly this is about how interactive art, and specifically the Mars Rover Art Car, can engage children and excite them in STEM disciplines.

It’s hard to get most children excited about abstract concepts. It’s something that children don’t necessarily understand at a young age. Children start learning the ability to understand abstracts between the ages of 7-12, most falling in the median age of 9.5. Before that, most children start to understand the world through manipulation. How can they move this or touch that.

It’s during these early years that interactive art with a STEM bent can stoke a young child’s imagination. They’re capable of seeing concepts that you learn about in the hard sciences. Dropping a ball down the stairs, for instance, then doing the same with balls of two different sizes, to start teaching a rudimentary understanding of gravity. Playing with a Rube Goldberg machine at an interactive science museum… these are things that can engage younger children.

If a child can go up to something and see it, play with it, it can go a long way in getting a child to understand the hard sciences. It starts a child’s brain to begin to understand the physical principles that govern the world. In an era where some people still believe we live in a geocentric universe, making science more digestible to children is an ideal way to get them interested.

So, where do pieces like the Mars Rover Art Car come in?

It can easily act as an intermediary to showing children what engineering and science can create. They can appreciate in a real and physical sense what the hard sciences have to teach them. It’s part of what museums like the Exploratorium have done for many years.

The more that we create interactive art with a science bent, the more we can get children enthused about science.