Spreading the Joy of Science in Java, Indonesia

For over a decade, Sam Gibbs has been showing kids in Southeast Asia why science rocks

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Java, Indonesia

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While riding in an old taxicab on an unkempt road amid Indonesia’s palm trees and paddy fields, Sam Gibbs gazed out the window contemplating where he would stop next. Gibbs, an education consultant who builds public outreach programs around STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in Southeast Asia and Australia, had just finished engaging kids in science at a school in Jakarta, Indonesia, and was heading for his next teaching adventure.

“I thought I’d hop on a bus and see how far I got,” Gibb says.

After a long night of traveling, he decided to stop in a small fishing village in West Java, Indonesia, near the city of Sukabumi. It was the most remote community he had ever been to.

Gibbs arrived early in the morning and strolled the yellow sand beach. At a coffee stand, he started chatting with a man who was sipping his first coffee of the day.

As fate would have it, the man was one of the parents at a small school that was losing a teacher to an overseas move. The parents were looking for a temporary replacement and were hoping to find someone whose strengths were in science and math.

“It was a very hand-fitting-the-glove moment,” Gibbs says.

For about a month, Gibbs taught small groups of young children in the seaside community.

He enters every new school or learning environment with a goal: to make science so fascinating that his students can’t help but know more about it by the time he leaves. “I think a lot of people feel quite frightened by science and I’ve watched many students get very bored by it as well. So my idea is to make it interesting, make it engaging, and make it fun.”

One of the ways he did this in Sukabumi was by introducing students to the Global Cardboard Challenge.

When Gibbs saw Caine’s Arcade two years earlier, it struck a cord with him, one he “hadn’t felt for a very long time.”

As a kid, Gibbs used to cut up cardboard boxes to make robot costumes. “I’d wander around the streets when I was eight years old, saying, ‘I am a robot.’ ”

“The Global Cardboard Challenge,” he says, “also resonated hugely with me and is exactly the sort of thing that is easy to do and very, very important. A lot of young people in Southeast Asia don’t really get hands-on learning opportunities.”

In his experience as an educator in Southeast Asia over the last decade, he’s found that teaching there tends to be very theoretical. Most of the educating, he says, happens from textbooks, and it’s rare for boys and girls to get their hands dirty by creating with cardboard and experimenting with science.

“I’m trying to fill that very empty gap of creative learning and hands-on activity, and Caine’s Arcade clearly connects with engineering and science in a very subtle but very important way,” Gibbs says.

To kick off the Global Cardboard Challenge at the school, Gibbs showed the students Caine’s Arcade.

Students watch 'Caine's Arcade' to get ideas for their cardboard creations. (Photo c/o Sam Gibbs)

Students are enamored with Caine’s Arcade as they get ideas for their cardboard creations. (Photo c/o Sam Gibbs)

“I showed the core group the video, and it was interesting how they went away and actually discussed it amongst themselves.”

Throughout the day, the group developed a sense of purpose, which became more and more focused as the hours went by. The kids made a cardboard crane, a big cardboard boat, and water rockets made out of recycled plastic soda bottles and other simple materials. Gibbs tied the creation of the rockets into their lesson on Newton’s Laws of Motion.

The rockets, he says, “provide an excellent platform for teaching physics and motion…They embrace so many aspects of science and engineering while utilizing recycled plastic bottles.”

What was interesting, Gibbs says, is how the kids took ideas from the film and re-created them in their own special ways.

A little boy named Zane, for example, loved the part in the video where Caine makes tickets, so he took on that role during the Challenge. “He was busy for an hour cutting bits and pieces out of cardboard boxes and created the ticket-dispensing machine,” Gibbs says.

The actual event took place with the small group of kids who attend that school, but as students’ creations began to take shape, kids from other schools in the community came to see what was happening.

The local kids were shy and watched through the fence, but after Gibbs and the other moms and dads left, they descended on the school and began to create and build all the things they could imagine.

As he did in Sukabumi, Gibbs has shown about 150,000 kids at public schools, top international private schools, museums, and remote villages in Malaysia, India, Indonesia, and all across Southeast Asia how fun and engaging science actually is. He’s shown kids of all ages how to launch a hot air balloon, create and fire off a miniature rocket, and even build a telescope out of cardboard tubes and a lens to gaze at the stars.

“Boys and girls are actually really interested in science if they are given the right opportunity. It’s my job to open their minds a bit and give them that one moment in time, that catalyst point, and say ‘Well, this is science, and isn’t it just incredible?’ ” Gibbs says.

Seeing their eyes light up after witnessing the magic of science, he adds, is “absolutely priceless.”


Join the 2014 Global Cardboard Challenge!

This fall, we invite kids all over the world to build something amazing out of cardboard, recycled materials and imagination. Inspired by the short film, Caine’s Arcade, the Global Cardboard Challenge (GCC) is an annual event presented by the Imagination Foundation that celebrates child creativity and the role communities can play in fostering it. This September, kids of all ages are invited to build anything they can dream up using cardboard, recycled materials and imagination. Then on Saturday, October 11, 2014, communities will come together to play!

Register your participation in the 2014 Global Cardboard Challenge at www.cardboardchallenge.com.


This story was written by Jenny Inglee, the Imagination Foundation’s Imagination Curator and The Storybook Editor. The first collection of stories in The Storybook focus on the work of inspiring individuals, schools, and organizations that participated in the 2013 Global Cardboard Challenge.

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Learn More!

If you're looking for ways to make science fun for kids in the classroom, and at home, check out these helpful resources. We've included a link to a [1] fantastic STEAM Pinterest board full of ideas and activities to try in the classroom, and a link [2]to tutorials that will help you and your students (or children) build simple or complex water rockets.

In addition, we would like to recommend getting involved in this year's [3] Global Cardboard Challenge (GCC) on October 11 and using the event as a tool to help kids learn science in fun and creative ways. By joining the GCC, you will also be able to Skype in the classroom and connect with other GCC participants from around the world about how they are combining cardboard, imagination and science into a creative and amazing day.


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