Full STEAM ahead for US youngsters learning the art of science

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LOS ANGELES, June 24, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – In a room at the Marciano Art
Foundation in Los Angeles, beyond a vast space where paintings and sculptures
are displayed, around a dozen students gather at small tables.

Henry, 15, is hard at work developing a musical pedestrian crossing, using
an innovative little device called MESH that attaches to household objects
and turns them into switches for various connected devices.

Henry and his classmates are taking part in STEAM learning — science,
technology, engineering, art and math — an innovative artistic twist on the
more traditional STEM education.

The pupils from south LA — a relatively deprived part of the city — are
spending the morning in this hothouse of learning, a partnership with
education organization Genesis to combat inequalities in arts and science
education.

The youngsters have been given a whistlestop tour of the tools in the
cutting edge lab — from the industrial grade laser cutter and 3D printer
pens to the 11-foot (3.35 meter) interactive touch wall.

They are tasked with dreaming up inventions that will make everyday life
more convenient and fun, inspired by such innovations as the playable musical
staircases seen occasionally at metro stations.

“You have seven minutes,” Lauren Rodrigues, Genesis’s director of
education, instructs the group, and the urgent murmur of focused teenagers
spreads across the room as they rush to develop the next revolutionary
recycling system, garbage collection robot or some other neat innovation.

– ‘Start-up incubator’ –

“We want to function as a start-up incubator. Go very quickly and
collaborate, that’s the future,” says Sheri Schlesinger, who founded Genesis
five years ago.

The non-profit aims to demystify the sciences by making them fun for
children, including those from privileged backgrounds, would normally feel
intimidated by the idea of Bunsen burners and complicated equations.

“Seventy percent of the jobs of the future, we haven’t invented yet, and
STEAM is a critical component of innovative thinking,” says Schlesinger.

As automation increasingly does away with the need for unskilled human
labor, Schlesinger warns that the days of washing dishes in a cafe or
performing other menial chores to earn a living will soon be over.

Over the last 15 years the US has been jolted out of its complacency on
science education, with its youngsters falling far below the academic
standards of Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Finnish and Polish students.

The American system has been playing catch-up, introducing federally-
funded programs while private schools across the board have been equipping
themselves with workshops boasting industrial machinery and the latest in
robotic gadgetry.

Around 500,000 children in the greater Los Angeles area live near or below
the poverty line. “One hundred percent of underserved kids have no access to
a robust STEAM education. The opportunity this will provide for future jobs
is staggering,” says Schlesinger.

– The next big thing –

The Marciano Art Foundation (MAF) was started up in 2012 by the Guess
clothing company brothers Maurice and Paul Marciano.

Paul recently stepped down from the fashion brand without admitting any
wrongdoing after settling with five sexual misconduct accusers.

Maurice took over the executive chairman role at Guess and it is he who
runs MAF, the organization says, with Paul’s only role being as co-founder.

“We see so many artists today working with technology and science and sort
of intermingling the two,” MAF deputy director Jamie Manne told AFP.

“We really feel that’s the next sort of movement in art. So bringing up
the science and mixing it with the art, I think you really get a better
understanding of each subject by knowing more about the other.”

Genesis has given more than 4,000 children a grounding in computer coding,
virtual reality and electrical engineering, in museums, private schools,
after-class clubs — and even in a mobile lab.

More than 800 children have been through the Marciano foundation lab since
the collaboration was launched six months ago.

Clea, watching her programable mini robot make its way along a line drawn
by marker pen, is in her creative zone.

“I’ve had a lot of ideas like this before, like a crosswalk that would
flash different colors, or street light that would give more light when
someone walks by,” she enthuses.

“It would be really useful at night when you’re a woman walking alone in
the street.”

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