Thinkspace is as close to a Creativity Museum as we get

Scratchlego5-220x90I was lucky enough to spend yesterday sitting in on a holiday workshop offered by Thinkspace at the Powerhouse Museum and it has once again driven home to me how fortunate we are to have Thinkspace in Sydney.

The two-day course on game making with Unity 3D was engaging, pushed the kids just far enough and gave them a real start in creating games with Unity – and it’s just the sort of thing you can’t find anywhere else. Led by the wonderful James, the kids learnt how to create and manipulate virtual worlds, and got a smattering of exposure to Javascript while they were at it. I especially liked the approach of giving the kids pre-packaged code and then teaching them how to recognise and manipulate it – thus mostly avoiding the dreaded typing errors and giving them vary quick gratification for their efforts. James’ obvious enthusiasm and skill really pulled the kids on through even the more complicated parts of the programming process; and he adroitly steered the kids away from the inevitable desire to weaponise the games – an achievement that shows real skill in my view.

Every time I see Thinkspace in action it reminds me what a jewel it is in the otherwise tarnished crown that is the Powerhouse. I’d love to see Thinkspace expanded into on-going activities like the way the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco operates: You can walk in and any day have access to cool activities and learning. The beauty of an approach that centers on teaching and interaction is that the limiting factor is staff and it’s an area where far greater use can be made of volunteers and interns. As an example, one of the great things at the Creativity Museum is the Innovation Lab, basically a room full of piles of cast off items – egg cartons, cardboard rolls, bits of cloth, and so on. Kids can pull a task out of a hat and create a solution to the problem or idea presented using the things in the room: Like a Maker Space for kids without the dangerous bits. All you need to do that is a room, some imagination, a pile of recycled stuff, and one volunteer to watch over the thing and tell the kids how well they have done. That sort of though ought to be right up the Powerhouse’s street and Thinkspace is already leading the way albeit sporadically and virtually.

We really need the Thinkspace activities, and more like them, to be available outside of relatively expensive holiday courses. You can’t teach Unity on the fly; but basic circuitry, clever Minecraft stuff, creative use of materials can all be done in the context of walk-in activities. How much more fulfilling would it be to have kids (and adults) build a basic brush bot than having them stare in confusion at the Powerhouse’s broken robotics exhibits?

Anyway, the point is that Thinkspace is the closest we come to getting access to opportunities for that sort of innovation and creativity in Sydney. They’ve got wonderful things going on – from the courses with real bite to them through to the huge muti-wall screen for kids to create Minecraft worlds on. We just need more, lots more of this goodness.

Image: Powerhouse Museum.

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