The Tinkerlab is colorful and broken up into different stations. Two tables in the middle of the room have building blocks and puzzle pieces laid out. In one corner there is a bean bag and several books; in the other is a color wheel that helps teach children about primary and secondary colors. Another station allows children to examine themselves in a mirror while drawing a self-portrait.
Designed to bring back ideas from the Renaissance era — an era in which science, art and mathematics were not three different branches of study but were considered one and the same — the University of Arizona Museum of Art presents Tinkerlabs to promote the idea of tinkering to build, draw and experiment.
One objective for the Tinkerlabs is to get young children excited about science, math and art and to teach them about the connections between the three fields.
“We were inspired by the tinkering makerspace movement in general. It’s the idea of having an educational space where there are materials available that attracts different groups of people so they can share skills and knowledge that they have and learn to create, make or experiment,” said Willa Ahlschwede, program coordinator for the museum.
Vivid Renaissance-era artwork decorates some of the stations, while a board alongside the wall allows visitors to play with buckets of Legos by sticking the pieces to the board. Another station allows each visitor to tie a bead to a piece of thread and hang it on the display, showing how many people have come to the Tinkerlab. Ahlschwede explained how the threaded beads accumulate over the course of the summer and chuckled while explaining how overflowed this station became last session.
UAMA has several sessions throughout the summer, each to promote an environment that fosters experimentation, invention, problem-solving and creativity, according to Ahlschwede.
From 3-D modeling to virtual reality to e-textiles to music technologies, the labs run from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursdays, for all ages.
“With robotics and augmented reality, people can be more craft- and art- focused,” Ahlschwede said. “The labs are all kind of different, but they exist in schools, libraries and museums.”
While Ahlschwede helps run the Tinkerlabs, the idea for the project came from Chelsea Farrar, a curator for the museum who specializes in community engagement.
The upcoming summer events include E-Textile Robots on June 28 and July 26, which will show children how to build their own light-up robot figurine. A 3-D printing workshop on July 19 will teach youth all about 3D scanning and printing by playing with a 3-D mini race car model. XR (Cross Reality) Tech on July 5 and August 9 will teach about virtual reality games. Music and Tech on July 12 and August 2 will focus on the connection between technology and music and teach children how to code music — and at this Tinkerlab, a giant floor piano will be featured, according to Ahlschwede.
Tinkerlabs will be open to the public for a general admission cost of $8 and free for UA students with ID, June 21 through August 16 during regular business hours. Regular hours for the museum are Tuesday through Thursday 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Sunday 12 p.m. until 5 p.m.
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