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New lab at Discovery Children’s Museum encourages kids to 3D print, code

Ron Hammett needed two toothbrushes to display with his new toothbrush holder at the Children’s Discovery Museum.

He’d meant to buy them, but forgot. So he did the next best thing and made them himself.

The toothbrushes aren’t as ergonomic as the store-bought ones. And the bristles are about 10 times too wide. But they demonstrate a thought process that the museum’s new Discovery Lab intends to teach: You can solve a problem by creating the solution.

The new makerspace at the Las Vegas museum invites children to make and design using 3D printers, laser-cutting, pottery, coding and robotics.

“This is about teaching kids skills like problem-solving, tinkering and that it’s OK to fail,” museum CEO Melissa Kaiser says.

The lab, which will open Saturday and is in the former It’s Your Choice area, is divided into an open-making area for self-guided play and a work-space for guided activities.

Guided workshops

Families can reserve spots for children to participate in three-hour workshops such as 3D printing.

Computers feature a program called Tinkercad, which allows young users to design shapes in three dimensions.

Throughout the program, kids will work together to design objects — like a toothbrush holder — and then print the final product.

“They select an object, like a cylinder,” says Hammett, IT director for Children’s Discovery. “And they have to figure out how to add a negative space, think about how wide it needs to be, if it will fit on the counter, if it needs extra spaces for family members’ toothbrushes. And they get to use it and look at it every day.”

Hammett hopes that using their creations daily has a second effect. “Hopefully they look at it and think ‘I could have done this or added words or made it taller so it doesn’t tip over.’ Then they come back and try again.”

Kids can also participate in guided workshops where they design wooden shapes using a laser-cutter.

“You can make so many things with this,” Kaiser says. “They can create puzzles or work together to make a board game where they then 3D print their game pieces.”

The lab also has a kiln so kids can fire their creations at the end of pottery workshops.

And engineering-minded little ones can experiment with Makey Makey, a science kit that allows users to connect circuits to everyday objects and, for example, turn bananas into a playable piano.

They can work together to program a bright teal robot called Dash to move around the room and complete simple tasks.

“What we were hearing from guests was that they wanted to see more tech and more things to keep older kids engaged,” Kaiser says. “This accomplishes what the rest of the museum does and exposes and prepares children for career opportunities.”

Open makerspace

When guided workshops aren’t being hosted, staff will host demos of the equipment in the self-guided area. Bins of materials line the wall behind a long table.

Kids can access craft materials such as pipe cleaners are rubber bands or cooperative toys such as like K’nex (thrill-ride building sets) and wooden blocks.

“There will be a staff or volunteer here helping kids invent,” says Kaiser. “We want them to work together. There will always be group activities here or kids can do their own project.”

A 6-foot-tall motorized K’nex Ferris wheel serves as inspiration.

While guided workshops will be available on weekends, the open play area will be available daily to visitors. Kids can use materials for architecture design, making jewelry, costume design, origami and sculpture.

At Saturday’s opening, kids can create galaxy jars with layered cotton balls, paint and glitter.

“The goal is collaboration,” says Laura Christian, director of learning experiences. “It’s about using raw materials with the design thinking process — so thinking about: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test.”

The lab will feature regular speakers including local artists, designers and engineers.

“People don’t see it, but Las Vegas is a community of makers,” Kaiser says. “This lets kids practice those skills.”

Contact Janna Karel at jkarel@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jannainprogress on Twitter.

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