This is a guest post from our summer intern Lucy!
Happy Moon Landing! This past Saturday marked the official 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission’s “giant leap for mankind,” and, in tribute, we here at the Exploratorium are taking equally monumental steps towards greatness. In the form of Light Play.
This past week’s moon themed iteration of the activity featured inspiring developments in our approach--from materials to set up to facilitation--and a surprising number of cows. While we took a momentary step back from the early childhood lense we’ve adopted recently, deciding to focus on the moon automatically made our preparation for LP feel more deliberate and thoughtful. First of all, though we’d already thought of LP out of the literal (shadow) box, we got to mix it up even further. For example, we toyed with different spherical projection screens as a way to emulate the moon (aka that giant spherical projection screen up in the sky). We first hung white, styrofoam spheres from the ceiling, but since they also proved to be effective wrecking balls we moved them onto grounded stands. Nonetheless, they ended up casting a beautiful moon-like shadow that really put kids in the head space of all things lunar.
Our other innovative projection surface was a giant white balloon. As projection screens go, it was sort of difficult to manage since getting a shadow high enough up to project onto the balloon was a real challenge. But since we already had to use bigger tables to account for the space of our new materials, this gave the kids more room to move their materials and light sources around the room. Ultimately, this forced really interesting explorations of space: both the finite space on the floor and the infinite space of outer space. The kids had to really tinker with their placement of the light and shadow source, so they also began to project on wider surfaces like the walls and ceiling as well. This enabled them to think even more carefully about where the light was coming from and how to get the shadow they wanted.
And, ultimately, what made Moon Play so fun was the shadow stories the kids ended up projecting. These stories were augmented by two major things. The first were a collection of colored and clear acrylic pieces that yours truly cut and etched out on the laser cutter. Sticking to the moon theme, the acrylic had some classics like an astronaut and a shooting star, but to encourage more creative designs I also chose a witch flying on a broomstick, a howling wolf and a cow. The etchings from the laser cutter cast rather beautiful shadows that made each piece all that more fun and dynamic. The kids on the floor really took to them because of the detail, and because of the second change we made to promote stories: telling them to make one. This facilitation technique came naturally from the cutouts, because they all practically begged to be remixed into an interesting take on a classic story. It was also a really successful way to get the kids to engage with the materials, create a vision and attempt to execute it. With the bigger table space, they tended to work together to move objects, cover lights, turn lights off and add new objects into the space to manifest their collective vision.
Moon Play is not over: we’ve still got a few more weeks of July to play with it and tweak the activity. Overall, quite like Apollo 11, our mission was a holistically successful, collaborative exploration into the unknown. I, for one, am excited to see our Apollo 12.