Coding, robots, biochemistry — these aren’t concepts most of us are comfortable with, no matter what age.
But when coding means keeping score in a basketball game, robots make you pancakes and a wedge of lime tastes as sweet as candy, it suddenly seems a whole lot less intimidating.
That’s the point of Sue’s Tech Kitchen, a kid-focused but also adult-friendly (including 21-and-older nights) pop-up experience opening weekends from Dec. 2 through Jan. 1, 2018, at the brand new Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island.
With more than 20 activities suitable for ages 6 to anyone curious about technology, the interactive playground introduces STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) concepts through “a big old science party in the kitchen,” says Randi Zuckerberg, who left Silicon Valley after 10 years for New York City to figure out a way to get more women and diverse candidates into the tech giants’ boardrooms.
“Our goal is to introduce you in a way that’s so delightful that you realize, ‘Oh wow, I actually do have what it takes to learn how to program a robot,’” she says. “‘There’s a 4-year-old programming a robot, I can sit with my kid and learn how to do that.’”
Fun with food
“All kids love snacks and cooking” was the starting point for Sue’s Tech Kitchen.
From there, a team of engineers, scientists and programmers brought the world of Sue, a girl who loves science and cooking, to real life.
In her kitchen, it’s less about cooking and more about “recipes for science,” as Zuckerberg puts it. There’s a station where you can mix liquid nitrogen with cereal and look like a fire-breathing dragon when you eat it while learning about states of matter. Or a chemical reaction that takes place right on your tongue with “dry soda” while learning about acids and bases.
And of course, there are the robots. In addition to making pancakes, the big hit is a customizable s’mores machine will 3D-print a chocolate design onto graham crackers.
Nearly all of the experiments are done with common ingredients that can be found on grocery shelves. “We want people to carry their love of science and tech from here to home and research on blogs 100 more things they can do with things from their own kitchen,” says Zuckerberg.
Old games gone high tech
The other half of Sue’s Tech Kitchen takes old games and puts a high-tech twist on them.
Ever wanted to face off against your favorite basketball players? You can try your best jump shot inside the NBA’s VR-cade.
How about racing cars? Even the youngest kids can learn to place special chips in a pattern inside a special control panel to guide small box cars along a track.
For the bigger kids, there’s even a station to build their own circuit board. (Little ones can also make a simple circuit using Play-Doh.)
The best part may be that since this is likely new to parents and their kids, who are learning together, and activities are structured so that kids (and adults) can try them alone or get help from guides at each station.
Oh, and amid all this hands-on learning? There’s barely a single screen in sight.
“As a mom, I’m always looking for ways to introduce kids to tech that don’t involve screens because I think immediately your brain kind of goes to handing kids an iPad,” she says. “But there are hundreds of ways to introduce kids to tech that don’t involve screens.”
It’s for adults, too
In Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Zuckerberg first launched a much smaller version of the Tech Kitchen over the summer, she got some unexpected guests.
“We had a lot of adults without children show up in Chattanooga,” she says. When asked what drew them to an event intended for families, “they would say things like, ‘We just lost our jobs at the automotive plant and we know we need to learn about technology but we don’t know how, and this seemed like a really accessible way to do it.’”
Maybe it’s because Sue’s Tech Kitchen feels very much like the last classroom where most of us can imagine enjoying learning, but this reporter found herself asking “stupid” questions and dusting off knowledge that was surprisingly still hanging around from sixth grade life sciences.
For the fully grown tech-curious, Friday nights are now dedicated to the 21-and-over crowd, with cocktails and tweaked experiments geared toward older audiences.
“You can come through and feel like you can learn about 3D printing and robots and everything in a really fun way with some cocktails.”
Sue’s Tech Kitchen is open Saturdays and Sundays from Dec. 2 through Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. Admission is $5. Friday night Sue's Soirées take place on select nights in. Tickets are $45 and include two cocktails.