Truck, Oak Park library spark creativity
Spark Truck staff member Eugene Korsunskiy helps Adele Henning, 11, hang her drawing of her robot, a combination bird and narwhal, on the roof of the truck. The Oak Park Public Library hosted a visit Saturday by the Spark Truck, an educational build-mobi
Updated: September 17, 2012 12:45PM
OAK PARK — How do you nurture the creative spark?
That’s what Stanford University design students are tackling this summer as they tour the country — encouraging creativity.
In a truck packed with rapid-prototyping tools such as a laser-cutter and 3D printers, the college students made a stop Saturday at the Oak Park Public Library, where they gave younger students access to new, literally cutting-edge technologies they may not have access to in schools.
First, a little background. The Spark Truck project (described as a “bookmobile for makers”) began when Stanford student Jason Chua was brainstorming with his colleagues about a way to put the latest in design technology in front of kids around the country.
The original idea was to raise $25,000 via a Kickstarter.com fundraising campaign (basically enough to cover a truck rental for the summer and a few necessities), but the idea was so popular that they raised $300,000 — enough for the truck and everything needed to turn it into a mobile prototyping laboratory. That means high-tech equipment including a laser-cutter (which literally turns design plans into real-world prototypes), two 3D printers, a vinyl cutter, sewing machines and a clay oven as well as low-tech tools such as hammers, scissors, hot-glue guns and assorted craft supplies.
The truck had already begun its learning-adventure road trip and were on their way to Chicago when the students happened to read an article praising the Oak Park library (along with the Westport Library in Connecticut) for its innovation in creating a “maker-space” for patrons.
In Oak Park’s case, that meant designating a 9-foot-by-13-foot room as a glass-enclosed Idea Box, with year-round interactive opportunities including a write-your-own-poem exhibit featuring a wall full of magnetized words, a working studio with painters and sculptors demonstrating their art and a create-your-own-constellation exhibit allowing visitors to make new constellations out of hundreds of LED touch lights on the wall.
“So, they called and asked if we’d like them to stop by and present a workshop,” said librarian/customer service manager Monica Harris, who supervised Saturday’s Spark Truck event. “Of course we immediately said, ‘Yes, please.’ It was such an exciting opportunity.”
An exciting opportunity for area kids and an exciting opportunity for the library to draw attention to its maker-space initiative.
“We’re very interested in involving kids in do-it-yourself learning projects and giving them the chance to learn something different from what they’re taught in school,” Harris said. “We like to expose kids to new technology, but we also think it’s important to bring in experts from various fields to talk about what they do .”
Students who signed up for the 2 p.m. workshop on the library plaza found themselves designing imaginary hybrid creatures that crossed land animals with sea animals, then transforming their designs into laser-cut parts for working models, almost instantly. Then they decorated their prototypes with craft supplies, incorporated a motor, and watched their creations move around on a table.
“They were pretty simple robots, but the idea was to demonstrate how they could turn their ideas into reality, quickly and fairly easily,” Harris added. “That was obviously a revelation for them and for everyone who observed this new technology in action.”