New West expanding kids’ lab

Amazon donation will give boost to art and tech program


Reported by Kelsea Franzke

generous donation from Amazon will propel new media programs for kids at an unusual gallery in New Westminster that combines innovation and technology through a unique, artistic approach.

Staff at the New Media Gallery in New Westminster, which showcases international works of art that focus on innovation and technology, said that the $10,000 donation will allow them to further develop children’s programs to stimulate the connection between art and technology.

Sarah Joyce, the director and curator of the New Media Gallery, said the donation will allow the learning lab, a designated maker-space where kids exercise their creativity using new media, to be equipped with new technologies, such as various types of cameras and teaching technologies.

“We’re looking at what we can do with what we’ve got, and in combination with this donation, we’ll develop some really great new programs for kids,” Joyce said.

She also said the donation came as a big surprise, and they didn’t know who the donor was until the very last minute.

“It wasn’t until right near the end of the donation process that we learned how much [the donation] was and who it was from. Then it was really tangible and fantastic,” Joyce said.

The learning lab bridges the gap between art and technology through various media such as 3D modelling, robotics and computer programming. The $10,000 donation from Amazon will support the programming in the gallery’s learning lab, which develops workshops using a a combination of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, referred to in shorthand as STEAM.

“We find that this kind of artistic approach that is embedded with a traditional STEM learning really helps make a program sing. It really helps children make connections that maybe they wouldn’t have with a more traditional educational pathway.”

– Shevaun Brown, Amazon spokesperson

Programmer Chris Jung said the lab is very different from other technology-based programs because it takes an artistic teaching approach.

“We create art programs using new media and technology,” Jung said. “Where in other areas they might use teaching technologies called Little Bits to create little robots and machine model creations, but all with the idea of using this as an artistic studio.”

Last week, the lab put on an animation class where the students made a stop-motion collage.

“We weren’t asking them to do a narrative or any traditional type of filmmaking,” Jung said. “It was more experimenting with what they could do with stop-motion. More outside the box. We try very hard to program outside the box.”

The STEAM approach to learning

Amazon spokesperson Shevaun Brown said that a large factor in choosing the New Media Gallery for the donation was the unique approach to educational programming.

“We find that this kind of artistic approach that is embedded with a traditional STEM learning really helps make a program sing,” Brown said. “It really helps children make connections that maybe they wouldn’t have with a more traditional educational pathway.”

The STEAM approach that New Media Gallery ascribes to was first introduced in 2012 by the Rhode Island School of Design. STEM learning (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) has been around since 2001 and has been used in many educational programs worldwide.

Joyce said that although STEM is great in creating a well-rounded education for children, including art in education is just as important, as it stimulates imagination and problem solving that is sometimes lacking in STEM.

“There are problems in the world that are not going to be solved by kids just learning patterns,” Joyce said. “They have to start thinking in new ways, and STEAM encourages imagination and a different sort of thought process. It promotes problem solving.”

Before opening the learning lab last spring, the team at the New Media Gallery did research to make sure their programs were in sync with what modern education looked like for school-age children.

“We studied the new curriculum in schools, looked at what’s going on around the world in terms of learning labs and maker-spaces, and decided this was just the best way to go,” said Gordon Duggan, executive director at the New Media Gallery.

Bridging the gap between art and technology

Ashish Syal, whose five-year-old daughter Devina attends the “little inventors” program at the Learning Lab, said that thinking critically about technology is a crucial skill to learn at a young age.

“I think the creativity part is so important. For this generation, 20 years from now, technology will be almost like a language,” Syal said. “Programming and technology will be like the English we all speak. I think it’s incredibly important for kids to learn these things now.”

Julie Lo, whose seven-year-old son Brayden also attends programs at the Learning Lab, said that while learning about technology is important, connecting art and technology is key in a well-rounded education.

“I think it’s good that they’re able to bridge art and technology together, and it’s not just one or the other,” Lo said. “I enjoy that [Brayden] is learning both, and getting a good sense of how the two relate together.”

Amazon has a warehouse in New Westminster, which, according to Brown, played a role in choosing to donate to the New Media Gallery.

“Because the location of our associate population is really key, we knew that the New Media Gallery was really well respected in the community, and is something that our associates can engage with,” Brown said.

“We like to take a holistic approach that betters the community, and we like to be a good corporate neighbour, anywhere we place a fulfillment centre. So that, in addition to their programming, was why investing in the New Media Gallery and in New Westminster was so important to us.”

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