Champlain College's EMC Sandbox Team Works With ECHO to Build a STEM Learning Environment

Kids VT October issue

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain's newest exhibit, "Innovation Playground" celebrates lifelong play and its role in sparking technological, social, and artistic innovation in the community. Through January, visitors of all ages will be able to unleash their imaginations, build life-size worlds out of giant blue blocks, explore virtual galaxies in a cardboard spaceship, and bring inventions to life in the Burlington Waterfront science center's fully-equipped makerspace.

"‘Innovation Playground' is ECHO's first in-house exhibit, and it was developed through partnerships with Champlain College's Emergent Media Center (EMC), Generator and its maker members, and the creators of the graphic novel ‘Will & Whit'," said Nina Ridhibhinyo, ECHO's Director of Programs and Exhibits.

"To prepare today's students to be tomorrow's workforce, we must develop their grit and STEM skills including creative thinking, problem solving and belief that they can do it," said Phelan Fretz, Executive Director of ECHO. "Innovation Playground is the first in a series of exhibits that launch ECHO's STEM programming -- all designed to teach the fundamentals of science and engineering process through prototyping and testing -- mimicking the interactive process inherent in today's knowledge economy."

Champlain College's role in the project was led by the Sandbox Team, which is a group of students, faculty, and staff exploring and creating new and novel human-computer interface designs at the Emergent Media Center's MakerLab.

Three of the team's works are on display at ECHO's EMC Arcade:

  • Spacebox, a game that is played while seated inside an interactive cardboard box is meant to bring childhood wonder to life, as the player goes on a video game space adventure. (Spacebox [patent pending], was also featured at 2017's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco and will soon be on exhibit at the Chicago Design Museum with other acclaimed game developers.) 
  • Graffiniti, a motion-sensing artistic experience that allows the user to paint the screen with a swipe of the hands in air
  • Variance, a multi-player game where up to three players at a time work together towards a common goal using alternative controllers - bongos, a captain's wheel, and rocking horse. 

"The EMC is all about collaboration, iteration, and experiential learning. By exploring new forms of technology and how humans interact with it, our students are aiming to create innovative and meaningful solutions to tough problems - and play is a hugely important piece in that. This exhibit embodies all of these principles and we're thrilled to partner with ECHO in sharing these prototypes with the community," says Sarah Jerger, EMC's Director of Operations and Communications.

"It's incredibly satisfying to have been part of a collaboration whose product is as inspiring as its process. I've never passed so many midnights surrounded by community partners, all with a hammer or soldering iron in hand, to accomplish a shared goal. This exhibit is not only about our community and by our community, it extends the invitation to play and create to all who visit," added Ridhibhinyo.

The "Innovation Playground" exhibit is sponsored by Hickok and Boardman Insurance Group. It runs through Jan. 15, 2018 and is included with ECHO admission.

Read a review of the Innovation Playground in the current KidsVT.

About the Emergent Media Center at Champlain College
The Emergent Media Center (EMC) at Champlain College is an award-winning center of innovation whose mission is to educate and inspire next-generation media creators and leaders. Through a collaborative, iterative design cycle, the center supports the talent and creativity of students in the design and production of games, mobile apps, physical prototypes, video, virtual reality, and other mediated experiences. Guided by experienced faculty and staff, EMC students create solutions to challenging problems through processes that include stakeholders-from local to global. The shared goal is to positively impact arenas that include business, communications, learning, equity, environment, financial sustainability, health, and social good.

About ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain
ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain is an innovative science and nature center located on Burlington, Vermont's Waterfront. ECHO currently welcomes more than 150,000 visitors annually, leveraging its unique setting to inspire and engage with more than 100 interactive exhibits; 60 species of fish, reptiles, and amphibians; major changing exhibits; and a 2,500-square foot early learning interactive space. ECHO encourages visitors to view the natural environment as part of their neighborhood and to explore, learn about, and consider opportunities for stewardship. This work is delivered by a dedicated team of 27 staff, 175 volunteers and interns who serve more than 16,000 volunteer hours per year, and 40 community partners. ECHO is home to a consortium of organizations working for public and academic engagement in science: the Lake Champlain Basin Program; the University of Vermont's Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory and research vessel; US Sea Grant Watershed Alliance; and the Lake Champlain Navy Memorial located in Hoehl Park.

Founded in 1878, Champlain College is a small, not-for-profit, private college in Burlington, Vermont, with additional campuses in Montreal, Canada, and Dublin, Ireland. Champlain offers a traditional undergraduate experience from its beautiful campus overlooking Lake Champlain and over 90 residential undergraduate and online undergraduate and graduate degree programs and certificates. Champlain's distinctive career-driven approach to higher education embodies the notion that true learning occurs when information and experience come together to create knowledge. Champlain College is included in the Princeton Review's The Best 384 Colleges: 2019 Edition. For the fourth year in a row, Champlain was named a "Most Innovative School" in the North by U.S. News & World Report's 2019 "America's Best Colleges,” and a “Best Value School” and is ranked in the top 100 “Regional Universities of the North” and in the top 25 for “Best Undergraduate Teaching.” Champlain is also featured in the Fiske Guide to Colleges for 2019 as one of the "best and most interesting schools" in the United States, Canada and Great Britain and is a 2019 College of Distinction. For more information, visit