Thursday, March 28, 2013

Digital Playground/School in Toronto

The educational benefits of digital and interactive media are well established. Even considering this, I am surprised how seldom my young daughter has had the chance to use educational technology. Her schools have made spartan and prosaic use of computers. Even with me working in digital media, I haven't exposed my kid to that much tech beyond online and console games.

So when I got an invitation to visit TIFF's digital and creative media playground,digiPlaySpace, with my daughter, we were both excited.

For those unfamiliar with TIFF, it's the Toronto International Film Festival. Since moving into their new downtown building, the Bell Lightbox, in 2010, TIFF operates year-round with events, screenings, and exhibits about cinema and new media. I was last at TIFF for a locative media conference, but I used to be on the site regularly as I shortcutted through the parking lot that used to occupy the site to get to my first Internet-industry job.

So I know a thing or two about this field, but whenever I try to talk to my kid about this (or anything educational) she instantly tunes out. (Is it just mine or are other kids like this?) Anyway, it's great to have places like digiPlaySpace for parents to interact with their kids in a fun and educational environment.

An international group of artists and developers created apps and installations. TIFF lists all the activities there, but our highlights are below. Photos are by me and the captions are by my daughter.

Making a dramatic entrance is important, so it's great that the first activity is Body Paint. It uses a huge screen and sensors to respond to kids' movements to enable them to create dynamic performance art.
"It's really cool because you're making a painting with your own body.
I loves how it changes colour and splashes!" 
Each station has facilitators and the staff were incredible - very friendly, knowledgeable, and accessible to children. A facilitator turned my kid into a stop-motion film at "The Puppet Powered Mega-Pixilation Dream Engine" below.

"I've done claymation before, but I've never done human-mation! It's really fun!"
They also had a section for tech making and DIY, Touch Circuits and Micro Makers' Space.

"It's really cool with the potatoes that just by connecting these wires
it plays music by tapping the potato while holding the controller."

We had a lot of fun with green-screens at Be In the Scene, including having my daughter become King Kong's next victim.

"It's really cool how green screens work. They take away all the green and then you can put the image of something on top of another. I learned that a lot of movies use green screens for special effects."

Another green screen activity is Weather Worlds. This one enables kids to interact and change an on-screen world, as my kid describes, "The Weather one is my favourite because you make tornadoes, mountains, sandstorms, snowballs, and umbrellas by doing specials actions on a green screen. It was really fun to control the world's weather!"

They also have an Appcade, with a variety of educational apps and tablets. We loved Pitch Painter, Bloom HD, and Gesundheit. We don't have a tablet, so it was the first time we encountered such touch-based, interactive apps. My kid wants a tablet now. (Santa are you listening?) She also got to make her own animation using the software Scratch. I was surprised how easy it was to use (and that it's free thanks to MIT), so that kids can create games or animations without having to master complicated coding. One of the professors from my faculty helped choose the apps. TIFF has posted online their favourite apps and online resources.

Overall, the exhibit helped my daughter (and me) learn about how movies are created, motion sensors, composing music, circuits, robotics, and 3D printing - not to mention how to use various digital media.

As if all this wasn't enough of a geek fest for me, we finished our day by checking out TIFF's free exhibit, X-Men Master: Gordon Smith. The exhibit includes incredible displays of the make-up and prosthetics from the X-Men movies. Mystique's body coverings and Wolverines claws are a fanboy's holy grail, but sadly one can view these relics only until this Sunday.

The exhibit combined really well with digiPlaySpace as my daughter is really into performing arts. So she got to see and practice first hand how the real and virtual and old and new tech combine to make movies possible.

digiPlaySpace is open until April 21, 2013. Their target age is 3-13, but parents were having as much fun as the kids. Admission is $8.

It's the second year for digiPlaySpace, but I wish it was a permanent. It's a great idea for school field trips, but I would love for technology and environment like this to be incorporated into all Ontario curriculum.  As Ontario strives to transition to a knowledge and creative economy, it's essential to get kids interested and experienced in this. As my daughter put it, "I love how you learn while you play. It's a great way to learn about technology."

No comments: