Circuses and STEAM carnivals: Brent Bushnell

Brent Bushnell is the CEO of Two Bit Circus, a Los Angeles-based experiential entertainment company. Most recently the team launched STEAM Carnival, high-tech entertainment combined with hands-on projects to inspire kids about science, technology, engineering, art and math. Previously he was the on-camera inventor for the ABC TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. He was a founding member of Syyn Labs, a creative collective creating stunts for brands like Google and Disney and responsible for the viral hit Rube Goldberg music video for OK Go that garnered 45 million views. Brent enjoys mentoring teens in entrepreneurship and publishes at @brentbushnell

What is Two Bit Circus and why is it important?
Two Bit Circus is an experiential entertainment company focused on creating the future of fun. We believe that out-of-home entertainment hasn’t changed significantly in decades at a time when consumer appetites are trending towards novel, immersive entertainment, and key technologies like sensors and computer vision are much more accessible and economical now than at any time in history. As a big band of nerds who love what we do, we saw an opportunity to share with the world our love for science and engineering and help rebrand what it means to be a nerd.  To that end, we launched an event called STEAM Carnival, focused on hooking kids with fun and then exposing them to our methods in hopes of inspiring them to become inventors.

Like moths to a flame, a fiery display at the STEAM carnival in San Francisco draws a big crowd.

How can we enhance our understanding of STEAM education and design in K-12 education?
We believe that STEM has a branding problem. This is rooted in the fact that engineering and science used to be very difficult so it was relegated to a select few super smart individuals that often had anti-social tendencies. These early nerds created incredible advancements for humanity and their contribution cannot be undervalued.  Nowadays, the bar for experimenting with science and engineering is lower than it’s ever been. The tools that used to require a PhD to operate, are now easy enough to use that your 6 year old can play on an iPad.  One way to enhance understanding of STEM is to make it desirable so that kids want to pick up the tools and explore.  This is why we’re excited about the addition of art to create STEAM.  Art brings a level of creativity, design and accessibility that turns STEM activities into desirable projects.

Even young superheroes today have access to the tools to operate robots and engage with STEAM.

What do you think is the best way for schools to teach STEAM education and design?
The best way for schools to teach STEAM is through projects. Our education system evolved a very siloed approach to learning, moving students from one subject to another.  Projects integrate skills from a variety of subjects with a very tangible goal. A student working on a project that they enjoy will mow down problems to get to the solutions in a way you rarely see in rote memorization. 

How are you using design thinking in your own design process and in Two Bit Circus STEAM outreach?
Design thinking is a solution-focused approach that involves analysis, imagination and experimentation.  All of our projects involve some sort of design thinking to enable us to arrive at a creation that consumers appreciate.  We start with an opportunity, like a new game or entertainment experience.  We then gather as much information as we can about that domain including similar existing solutions, trends, and consumer observations.  From there we try to question assumptions, re-frame observations and explore new approaches.  At this point we start to heavily iterate, rapidly prototyping potential solutions, putting them to use and modifying aspects that don’t work.  The iteration is key.  Often you don’t know a priori what will work or not until you build a prototype to test. 


STEAM_2246.JPG, by autodeskadmin

How can teachers integrate STEAM into K-12 subject areas?

There are a few approaches to incorporating STEAM into K-12 subjects. A simple one is awareness of STEAM fields and selecting content that includes one or more of them.  As an example, the Ken Follett book Pillars of the Earth is a historical novel about church building in twelfth-century England. A history teacher might include it in their syllabus and take time to discuss the engineering advances that made Gothic architecture possible.  They could go one step further and task the students with building their own churches using the engineering principles employed during that time period.  

What do you think is the future of STEAM education?
I’m very optimistic about the future of STEAM education.  I believe we’re in the middle of a perfect storm for technology and learning.  Finally the devices are inexpensive enough for scale distribution, the content creation tools are easy enough to use that minimal computer skills are required and most students have been raised with deep technology familiarity.  There’s also a lot of experimentation happening and a willingness to dismantle the traditional approaches to learning.  Some of my favorites include flipped classrooms, apprenticeships, gamification, and home schooling. 

The future for STEAM education looks bright, as students today are increasingly being raised in a technological world with easy access to powerful computing devices.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t wait. Start building the future. The tools are better than they’ve ever been and you only learn by starting and failing. Embrace failure. You don’t need to know what you want to be when you grow up.  What interests you now? Whatever it is, go do more of it. Learn everything you can about it. And then go do something else.  I wish I’d read this as a 10 year old: Specialization, Polymaths And The Pareto Principle In A Convergence Economy