iDA Labs on Wheels in June 2016
An initiative across the public and private sector, the iDA Labs on Wheels are roaming the streets of Singapore since 2014 with the idea to introduce every child to making. I had a chance to tour two types of busses during the ICLS 2016 conference at the National Institute of Education (NIE). One of the Labs on Wheels is conceptualized for secondary school students and includes a 3D scanner, 3D printer, laser cutter, and other high-tech demos, such as a virtual reality rollercoaster. The other lab is for elementary school students and features comfortable collaborative sitting space for tinkering sessions with high-tech toolkits from Shape Tracer, a robot kit that can be programmed with block-based programming languages, to Cubelets, a tangible manipulative with sensors. Among other events and programs, the Labs on Wheels travel to 1-2 schools a week to facilitate 1 hour long tinkering sessions to as many classrooms as possible. During sessions on the elementary school bus, for example, classes of 35-40 students is invited to two busses to explore the high-tech tools.
The Labs on Wheels are addressing some unique challenges in that they need to consider in their spatial material design. These include the need to stably and securely mount equipment and to store toolkits in locked cabinets to avoid shifting when the busses are moving, which restricts the extent of internal flexibility and mobility of furniture arrangements or kinds of crafting materials that can be offered. Due to the limited session times, the Labs on Wheels need to balance exposing youth to new and surprising materials with the possibility for youth to continue exploring after their visit. While the tangible tool-kits can be expensive to purchase, the staff aim to offer free and browser-based software, such as Tinkercad so youth could continue to develop their 3D models at home and print them in 3D print labs that offer free or affordable printing services.