Playful Learning Lab student Kristina Harmann, right, talks with OK GO Sandbox Art in Space winner Alexandra Slabakis in the create [space] in the Anderson Student Center in St. Paul.

OK Go Sandbox Art in Space Winners Visit, Develop Project St. Thomas

One of the winning student teams of the OK Go Sandbox Art in Space contest came to St. Thomas on Sept. 12-13 for two full days of project development work, exposure to what it looks like to be a college engineering student, and work with Playful Learning Lab projects and students.

An extension of the Playful Learning Lab’s ongoing partnership, OK Go Sandbox, with rock band OK Go, the Art in Space contest allows students to create their own art and experiments that can be sent into actual space onboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft.

"Our time with the team went incredibly well. It was great for the girls to have the chance to work on their payload and suggest ideas to us that they had once they saw it in person," sophomore PLL engineering student Elise Rodich. "We enjoyed having the chance to interact with such a smart team and to show them how the Playful Learning Lab works. They got to see how we interact with campus, and we introduced them to some of our other projects that we are working on so they could understand the full scope of what we do. They were also able to build their own components of the final piece that will be sent into space, and they said that they appreciated the chance to work with the actual product before it goes up."

"I'm just so proud of our St. Thomas students. From the beginning of this partnership, Playful Learning Lab students have been involved in every aspect of the Art in Space project," said PLL director and School of Engineering and Schulze School of Entrepreneurship professor AnnMarie Thomas. "Education students have helped design the application process, engineering students have discussed payload specifications with Blue Origin, and marketing/entrepreneurship students have worked on the campaign to promote the project."

The winning teams are working in collaboration with Playful Learning Lab engineers to develop their art projects and prepare to send them as a payload on a Blue Origin spacecraft. Blue Origin’s New Shepard is a reusable spacecraft designed to take payloads -- and soon people -- into suborbital space.

OK Go is known for its audaciously experimental music videos, including Upside Down and Inside Out, in which the band members choreographed an entire performance while floating in microgravity in a plane. Now, the band wants to help K-12 students see their ideas come to life by sending student art projects up in an actual spacecraft.

“Creativity is really the joy of experimentation. When we made our video in microgravity, we were just experimenting - pushing our ideas and our understanding further and further through trial and error and play,” said OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash. “We’ve made music videos by performing all sorts of art experiments that overlap with math, and science, and engineering.  Now we want students to dream up their own experiments, and we will help them get their art in space.”

The  nonprofit venture OK Go Sandbox helps teachers use OK Go videos in the classroom. Founded in 2018, OK Go Sandbox showcases new videos, challenges, and activities, based on the band’s music videos. Led by Kulash and Thomas, OK Go Sandbox has worked closely with educators from around the world to develop new ways to help kids experience the joy and wonder of learning.

“This is about bringing STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) concepts to life for students and inspiring engineers, mathematicians, makers, scientists, artists, thinkers and more,” Thomas said. “This contest will give students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see their ideas floating in space.”