Demystify code at the Institute of Imagination’s first ever ‘Lab Live – Recode’ exhibition
In this technological age of iPads and Smartphones, it is becoming increasingly difficult to engage our modern child with wooden building blocks or even pen and paper. While I still think the classic art of handwriting and physically turning the pages on a real book still has a large place in our current curriculum, I am noticing that to beat the system, you must join it. Schools are turning to handheld technical devices to create art and protractors are becoming a thing of the past. And, yes, I do believe that we parents should roll with the times, however, I do not think that we should say goodbye to the tools of yesteryear. Surely, the most important factor that we should all be concentrating on is engaging the child’s supersonic sponge of a mind through imagination and creativity, no matter whether they use electricity or core motor skills. So, when I heard about The Institute of Imagination, the world’s first hub for imagination, I was both thrilled and curious as to what this kind of event really meant. The Imagination Lab, which opened on 11th February 2017 was a cross between a community centre, a laboratory, a gallery, a science centre and a museum. Recode, its first ever exhibition, which offered an exhilarating day of dance, movement, crafting, engineering, numbers, language and demystifying code by asking children to recode, was truly one of a kind. Although, brand new in its innovative approach, the Institute of Imagination received dedicated support from a range of partners, including the Royal Academy of Dance, Makercart and Maths Explorers. Children from 5 – 12 years old were immersed in numerous opportunities to engage in a vast array of activities and really stretch their imagination to the max. Adults and children tested their words, symbols, sketching skills, movement and sound to rework, mix and share ideas on what code is and how it can be used.
The boys and I truly witnessed an amazing fusion of computer coding and dance, as well as coded languages through Morse code and finding our zen in the calm room. Here are just a few of the activities that we managed to immerse ourselves in at the Imagination Lab’s ‘Lab Live – Recode’ family festival on Saturday 11th February:
Design your own Denster
A Kickstarter project, launching on November 1st, Densters are a set of flexible toy monsters that attach onto furniture and allow children to build their own forts at home, unleashing their creativity through play. Each Denster is a character that also serves as a function in the house, for example, a bookmark, a door stopper, or a phone holder, but once they connect, they assemble to make a magical hideaway.
Each Denster has a unique method of grabbing onto furniture.
- Cheekabook clamps on shelves and chairs
- Hoopsta hooks around curtains and knobs
- Snella sucks onto windows and walls
- Wizetta curls around handles and rods
- Grumpo tucks underneath doors or wardrobes
- Zigzies clips onto bed sheets and blankets
Check out Densters in action and support their project here:
The boys were introduced to the Densters at the Imagination Lab, by working on a fun activity of combining inanimate objects and animals to bring them to life. The boys were handed two piles of cards, one containing animals (domestic and wild) and the other containing everyday objects.
Aidan chose a tape measure as an object and snake as the animal and his Denster was called ‘SnakeTape”. Aron chose a computer mouse and a crocodile and he created ‘CrocSnakeMouse’.
Product designers are taught to treat objects like they are alive and this activity encouraged the children to stretch their imagination and treat the objects as if they were animals. It was great to see the boys thinking outside of the box and I do believe these kinds of projects should motivate children to treat their belongings with more care and creativity.
On the left-hand side of the entrance, we could see a bunch of pens bundled together in a tripod-like stance, circling around a long piece of paper and creating pretty circular designs. The boys were quite intrigued and wanted to take a closer look. They couldn’t quite work out how the pens were moving because they knew that pens generally are inanimate and can only be used for colouring. Upon closer inspection, the pens were attached with a rubber band to a little battery-powered hexbug to create the ‘draw-bot’ (by Okido). The vibration of the hexbug moved the drawbot and if you spaced the pens differently, the drawbot could draw straight lines too!
If you want to try making this at home, follow the instructions below to make your own Draw-bot.
What you will need
- Three pens
- Elastic band
- A big piece of paper
- A hexbug
- Squeeze the pens onto the blu-tack to make a tripod
- Use the elastic band to hold them together
- Attach the hexbug with a small piece of blu-tack, and turn it on!
Okido is a bi-monthly Arts & Science Magazine for children aged 3 to 8 years old that includes stories, games, doodles, recipes and poems.
Aidan saw a tiny little light moving on a table nearby and was intrigued as to what this light could be. These little glowing and moving lights were, in fact, tiny little robots called Ozobots, which were travelling around on what looked like little road maps with blue, red and green squares. These roadmaps were coded little pathways for the Ozobots to travel around. I had no idea how these little roads worked, but the boys were shown how to calibrate these circuits either via a smartphone or a tablet. So, a representative handed them some pens and off they went drawing circuits for their little Ozobots.
Ozobots are programmed little robots which follow a circuit that you draw with a black marker pen on a piece of paper. The fun part is that you can control the Ozobot by adding additional coding, which would be represented by the different colours, i.e. green, blue or red. You can find out more here http://ozobot.com/ or via their Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or Instagram pages.
The Restart Project
Aidan is a huge fan of fixing things. He’s not fussy as to what thing he is fixing, as long as he gets to use a screwdriver. So, when we happened upon the Restart Project’s table, where their ultimate objective is to encourage people to fix electronics rather than throw them away when they break down, Aidan was very interested in learning more. Thankfully, a representative had a broken computer DVD drive that needed fixing and Aidan got to work straight away, spending an age unscrewing all the tiny screws and prying the top open. He was given a brief overview of everything inside the DVD drive, including how each part works and what was wrong with it (although, I wasn’t too sure what that reason was). After the overview, Aidan proceeded to screw everything back on with patience and a certain calmness that I can only be proud of. My dad (a self-employed design engineer and consultant) has always said that Aidan has the patience of an engineer, so I will be watching this space very closely from now on!
The Restart Code’s aim is to encourage people to fix their relationship with electronics and make devices last longer. If you’d like to learn more, they regularly hold meetings, which you can find out more about here or you can visit their website to learn more.
“Don’t’ despair, just repair!” #RestartParty
Maths Dance and the Royal Academy of Dance
We got to witness some interactive dance workshops and movement games with the Royal Academy of Dance and Maths Dance, where children were encouraged to draw what they were feeling when they watched the dance in front of them.
I thought this was a great idea to tap into your inner creativity and draw what comes from the heart when you’re seeing beautiful dance in motion. However, the boys were less interested in watching the dance and more into what they were drawing in front of them. Aron did draw a beautiful tree, but I am not too sure whether this tree was dance-inspired…
The Calm Room
Just before heading off to lunch, Aron and I spotted a little yellow den called The Calm Room and, as we’re both generally quite calm people (ish), we thought we’d find our zen a bit before finding something to eat. I was half expecting Aron to jump up and down, not sit still or tell me that he was bored. But, in fact, he did quite the opposite.
A curly haired woman sat cross-legged and very still, as she placed a finger to her lips to signify that no one speaks in the Calm Room. She motioned for Aron and two other children to sit in the same way, i.e. cross-legged, and close their eyes, which they all faithfully did very well. The lady picked up some chimes and clanged them together to make a resounding sound which lingered in the air. I decided to join in as she passed the chimes around so that each could reproduce that same echo sound. Again, Aron repeated her movements with concentration. She went on to ring the bell behind her and then glide an instrument around a bowl which made the softest sound. She motioned for the children to do the same. She put all the instruments away and sat very still and quiet as we stared at her, listening to the soft meditation sounds coming from the nearby speaker. I was watching Aron closing his eyes and sitting as still as the lady and I was blown away by his inner zen. He, indeed, had bundles of zen and when the lady reopened her eyes, she smiled at Aron and ran a very affectionate hand through his hair. I think she was as impressed as me that he had sat so still, repeating all the calming motions so well. This prompted me to start thinking about a zen corner for Aron at home because I think that this calm would make all the difference to his frequent troubles with getting to sleep at night, due to his over-active imagination. To say I was proud, was an understatement. After about ten minutes, we quietly left the room and we were calm.
All that fun work of coding, designing, moving and sketching had worked up a huge appetite, so we found a place to sit at the back of the large hall, whilst I grabbed some much-needed coffees for hubby and me, and juice for the boys. We also bagged some pretty delicious looking crepes from a very hard-working and lovely man called Kaz from Heavenly Crepes, who worked tirelessly to provide us (and 600 other visitors!) with delicious crepes (I was very tempted to buy the fruit version or the Nutella crepes, but, as we still had quite a bit of the exhibition to see, I didn’t want the boys to suffer from a sugar crash and then get tired and irritable. The cheese and tomato crepes were just as good, though.
While hubby and I were catching our breaths back after a mentally exhausting and exhilarating morning of learning all about code, the boys were working off their crepes in the corner of the room, with a very engaging SEN activity, which was simply aiming a ball at the interchangeable lights on a custom-made wall. I overheard that this particular activity is used for children with special needs because it supports their learning. This ball to light activity was unanimously the boys’ favourite game at the exhibition.
Fuelled up after lunch and eager to learn more, we headed over to a rather large section of the exhibition that was dedicated to maths. Both of my boys like numbers and I’m pretty sure that they would choose numbers over letters if they had the chance. So, I was very interested in learning more about Maths Explorers, where the club encourages children to learn all about maths through inventing dance/movement and number coding. Aron took a particular interest to this, as he caught on quite quickly to the idea of using a square that was numbered with, ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’ and ‘4’ in each corner, to work out addition and subtraction problems. A very bright and energetic Maths Explorer representative asked Aron to make ‘6’ using 2 of the numbers on the square and then make the same number using 3 and then 4 of the numbers. After about 5 minutes, Aron had all hands and feet sprawled on the floor in an attempt to use all his limbs to make a total of ’10’.
Hubby was even roped into also creating numbers, this time through dance and movement, and both boys really enjoyed seeing him prancing around and forming numbers with his body.
I think the idea of using movement to understand basic math is a brilliant idea to encourage children who may not be as interested in maths and tap into their creative side to understand the basic rules of addition and subtraction. As the boys already enjoy maths anyway, these extra ideas were just bonus points into working on what they already love doing. However, I can totally understand how Maths Explorers can bring out those maybe less confident to give it a shot and understand maths in a much more creative way. If you’d like to find out more, you can email Maths Explorers at email@example.com and schools can also register their interest in using Maths Explorers in addition to the current maths curriculum.
We didn’t manage to attend the several workshop areas that the Code Club were hosting, for example, their Lost in Space project, which offered children the chance to learn how to program their own animation using Scratch software and create a spaceship which they could control, as well as include additional galaxy components, like the earth and stars. However, the boys did get to spend quite a bit of time on the ‘Synchronised Aliens Dancing’ project by the Code Club, where they created aliens out of play-doh and Plasticine and used them as controllers to code the alien to perform a dance routine on the computer.
How it works:
- You make 5 mini aliens out of play-doh or Plasticine to use as the controller
- Connect the computer using a program called Makey. Connect each alien to Up, Down, Right, Left, and Space.
- Write Scratch write code to perform a synchronised dance routine. You can code the alien to draw colourful patterns. For the finishing touch, you can add music too.
- Finally, watch the alien clones as they perform their colourful synchronised dancing routine
The Code Club is a nationwide network of volunteer-led after-school coding clubs for children aged 9 to 11 years old. For more information, please visit their website www.codeclub.org.uk, or get in touch with the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Apart from the lunchtime ball-to-wall SEN activity, the boys spent most of their time in the Hackadoodle section, created by a brilliantly quirky man, Sam Cox, A.K.A. ‘The Doodle Man’, who encourages you to ‘hack’ doodles with your own ideas. The Hackadoodle workshop area was covered by black and white doodle designs, inviting adults and children to come along and hack his doodles with some colour, by creating characters, giving them eyes and teeth, filling in empty windows and cars, designing smaller doodle worlds, and literally bringing art to life. I noticed a lot of adults were joining in too and there was something very therapeutic about sitting down and creating doodle art. If you want to learn more about The Doodle Man, he has an awesome documentary on his website, which contains a fantastic story about being kicked out of this world due to his doodles and landing in his own world, Doodle Land. His evil brother fought The Doodle Man and kicked him out and so he is now trying to find a way to get back to Doodle Land.
The Doodle Man’s designs are so intricate and wonderful that I will definitely be looking into hiring Sam Cox to create a Doodle Wall in my children’s bedroom very soon!
Shattered Glass to Chandelier – Poetry Bucket
Just before finishing up, we noticed a poetry area, which was all about picking 1 word from the 4 words provided on the table (‘code’, ‘data’, ‘game’ and ‘play’) and finding 3 rhyming words to make a poem. We had learned so much about numbers and maths at this exhibition that I thought it would make a nice change to get creative with words too. The Poetry Bucket, by Shattered Glass to Chandelier, is not just a play on words, but its sole purpose is to eliminate discrimination and challenge negative ‘Attitudes and Values,’ ‘Recycling and Educating’, and ‘Equipping and Empowering’, with what the founder, Meshack Pond, calls Communication ‘Survival-Skills’. Meshack’s communication survival-skills have helped him navigate his own countless challenges and his aim now is to demonstrate how to translate those negatives into positives through Shattered Glass to Chandelier (beautiful name). Watch this space, as I will be looking to work more with him to help spread the support via Motherhood Diaries too.
Vivid Matcha green tea – make your own juice
Our very last activity was spotted by accident when we were sat at the HackaDoodle table. We gazing through a nearby window, where we saw a young woman combining juice from 3 cartons to create one super juice. I was interested in learning more about what was going on at her table, so I took the boys over and she beckoned for them both to sit down. The aim of this activity was to create your own Vivid Drink. This juice project, hosted by VIVID Matcha Green Tea, was all about creating a juice that encourages your mind to be focused and full of energy but, also, to take it one step further and think about its packaging and brand name. So, this activity got the boys thinking about the marketing and design process around the juice brand that they were creating and not just about how it tasted. It was a very basic introduction into the world of manufacturing and marketing and so I was 100% on board, as these areas are most likely going to grow exponentially, as we delve further into the technological and digital side of marketing.
How it works:
Part 1: Flavour design
Start with a base flavour – 125ml
Choose a juice or water that would work with a lot of flavours and acts as a good base
- Sparkling Water
Add your main flavour – 75ml
Choose your main flavour of juice. Think about what will stand out and work well with your base flavour
Put a flavour twist on your drink – 25ml
Give your drink an interesting twist
- Pink Grapefruit
Part 2: Branding
Decide on a brand name and design your packaging. Use coloured pens and design a logo for your bottle.
Aron’s juice drink combined mango, grape and apple to make his new brand of juice, ‘Relax Fruit’.
Aidan’s final drink contained mango, grape and apple (which was a little different to the instructions that were set out) and he named his drink ‘AppleFlash’.
After downing their bottles of juice, the boys and I decided that it was time to go home. It was nearing around 4 pm and we were all shattered. We had used our brains so much that we could not fit in anymore. There was so much to see at the Imagination lab that we didn’t even make our way around all the workshops.
All children were invited to vote for their favourite art concept for the new interactive installation that the Institute of Imagination has commissioned in partnership with ICF International Charitable Foundation. The three shortlisted creators were Shawn Brown, the art group from London Brain Project and Jim Bond.
What we had seen at this exhibition was truly mind blowing. I had learned so much myself about coding and just how important it is to get the children to think about their methods and explore other ways of getting to their solutions. My favourite part of the exhibition was the Calm Room because I got to see a totally different side of Aron, one I had never seen before. Since that day, we have been playing yoga and meditation music to help Aron to get to sleep and it has worked simply wonders on him.
The Institute of Imagination constantly update their website with new events, so please make sure you keep an eye out for these. To find out more about the Institute of Imagination and to attend one of their events, make sure to visit their website here and follow them closely via Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Events generally take place in a dedicated Imagination Lab space over a morning or an afternoon.
The Institute of Imagination’s next event is on 1 May and the next theme is ‘reality’. The event is promising to be filled with lots of virtual and augmented reality activities, so I thoroughly recommend that you and your family attend.
You can find some other great related events, which you can find out about and book here.
We are the ones holding the keys to our children’s future, so let our forthcoming generation be filled with imagination, creativity and education, for I believe these three very important factors are what puts us back on track to making the world a better, smarter and more inspirational place for the generation of our future.
*Disclaimer: Motherhood Diaries and family were gifted tickets to attend probably one of the greatest events we have ever witnessed for the children. All views are 100% my own and if I could write 3,000 more words about the Institute of Imagination, I would! *
*Photos by Preston Perfect Photography (hubby!) *