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Art, science blend at ACMA open house

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The event celebrates National Teen Tech Week and International Women's Day.

STAFF PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Stoecheia [ELEMENTS] is a glowing, 12-sided sculpture created by Lumina Lab's Lilli Szafranski and Jesse Banks, on display inside ACMA's Performing Arts Center.It looks familiar. Children are busily drawing lines on paper with colored marking pens. But they're inside the Future Bus, parked at Beaverton's Arts and Communication Magnet Academy (ACMA) and tiny robots, roughly the size and shape of Ping Pong balls, are gliding, jumping, and spinning, as they follow the lines, turning themselves into glowing rainbow colors in the process. They're Ozobots and the children have used color codes to direct them.

"They think they're playing, but they're actually learning to program," explains Doug Bundy, Innovation Strategist with the Beaverton School District

What's going on here is the March 9 Maker Open House hosted by the ACMA Makers Club and sponsored by Beaverton's Lumina Lab and the Intel Innovators Program. The event celebrates National Teen Tech Week and International Women's Day.

It's also the Opening Reception for Stoecheia [ELEMENTS], a glowing, 12-sided glowing sculpture created by Lumina Lab's Lilli Szafranski and Jesse Banks, on display inside ACMA's Performing Arts Center. Each side is brilliantly colored stained-glass and depicts the iconography of one of the 12 major deities of the Greek pantheon.

The whole is one of the elemental shapes mentioned by Plato and further described in Euclid's "Elements." (Stoecheia is the Greek word for elements.) Inside the object, coming from a world the Ancient Greeks couldn't have imagined, more than 2000 LED lights continuously change the colors shining shining through the glass, never repeating the same combination twice.

"Welcome to the future!" said Bundy, greeting another bus visitor to the brightly painted bus where offerings are spaced to allow children to move around.

To his right, an oscilloscope makes the ambient sounds visible. To his left, a scale-model drawing of a turtle is slowly being turned into a solid object with the help of a 3-D printer.

Inside the Performing Arts Center, where Stoecheia [ELEMENTS] is suspended from the ceiling, a series of tables invite more STEM-related (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) hands-on exploration.

"Is it OK to make a red one?" asks pre-schooler Sergio Correa, who is calmly assembling a working flashlight at a table covered with popsicle sticks, tape and brass brads, the sort that can be inserted into the stacks of hole-punched papers and bent to hold them together. The less familiar objects are coin-shaped batteries and tiny LED lights that can emit various colors.

Volunteer Ken Garner explains that the LED light has two metal legs, one longer than the other, to identify the connections to the battery's negative and positive poles. Sergio nods in a way that suggests he already knows that. For just a moment, though, he looks over at the flashlight being assembled by Kayla Curl, who is already in elementary school. Then he turns on his creation and, sure enough, it lights up red.

At other tables, children attach sharpened toothpicks or skewers to Sphiro SPRK robots about the size and shape of tennis balls, transparent to show their inner workings, and program them to go forth and pop balloons.

Bryan Martin of Lumina Lab helps children wire sensors to create microcontrollers. One, for example, turns off its light — its electricity — if it's tilted to one side, a small demonstration of the kind of safety controls used in many plug-in heaters.

On the floor between the tables, Dash robots live up to their names, looking a bit like scurrying household pets with bodies made of a single ball with one round "eye," mounted on three more balls, all the same size.

Katie White, of the school district's Future Ready Team, offers children — and adults — the chance to make the virtual creatures speak. When not stepping aside for zooming, talking robots, she and her teammates check in with teachers to recommend the appropriate technology for their curricula. The Future Bus, which travels from school to school, she says, is "like our billboard."

In a quiet section of the hallway, young Mayu Garner follows the Stoecheia example in blending technology with visual art, showing where she placed the battery and translucent drape to make the end of her garland of flowers glow with purple and white light. She says the LED lights she used were left over from a previous event — and she knew just what to do with them.

Like the other children present, she can play with electricity and technology the way an older generation once played with scissors and paste.

Bundy put it all together in a recent TED Talk: "When kids ask us, 'When are we ever going to use this?' We can say to them, 'Tomorrow'."