STEAM Carnival: Amazing Science at the Modern Circus

By Phill Powell

Carnival games—and learning—with a twist.

Think of it as a cross between Cirque du Soleil and Maker’s Fair—an event where the attractions have a cool, scientific edge. Sound like fun? We thought so, too. The STEAM Carnival comes to San Francisco and Los Angeles next spring.

The science-based carnival is put on by Two Bit Circus and centered around STEM-based learning. Science, technology, engineering and math are all covered but now an “A” has been added to represent “Art.”

Lasers, Robots and Fire!
At the STEAM Carnival you’re going to see things you won’t see anywhere else: hammer-swinging “strong man” contests that trigger wild voltage displays; exploding ring toss games; mazes made out of laser beams. The organizers are on track to provide a show that engages young minds. As one of the creators put it, “When you say ‘engineering’ to most kids they zone out. But when you say ‘lasers, robots and fire,’ you have their undivided attention.”

The point is to get kids thinking about science in fun and practical ways. Plus, organizers are offering STEAM Carnival kits for sale to those who want to make their own displays and show them off at the STEAM Carnival.

Bold Ideas
The idea behind the Carnival comes from Brent Bushnell, an engineer and self-styled entrepreneur. Bushnell started Two Bit Circus with partner Eric Gradman—whose colorful background includes stints as a circus performer, professional whistler, roboticist and inventor.

The younger Bushnell takes after his father and follows in footsteps. (Nolan Bushnell was the founder of Atari and has been considered the father of video games. The senior Bushnell serves on the advisory board of Two Bit Circus.)

Could you get through this laser maze?

The Greatest Show on Earth?
There’s been no hotter topic in education recently than the rising importance of STEM (and STEAM)-based learning.

This summer, kids and teens at Digital Media Academy’s tech camps in the U.S. and Canada get hands-on experience in STEM topics like robotics, digital filmmaking, game design, programming, music production, animation, Web design, digital photography and app development.

No matter what a leading circus claims, when you attend a tech camp and everybody starts watching a cool movie that you made that week—now that’s the greatest show on earth.