There are many things that childhood friends Teo Jin Hui and Sheena Moh want to achieve with homegrown startup Atom and the Dot. But one message stands out: that science and art are more intertwined than most people realise, and that learning can be fun.
Connecting the dots has never been a strong focal point of our education system. Many concepts taught at school remain mere abstractions that exist only within the pages of a textbook. Could there be a more dreary way to represent the wonders around us?
In combining science and creativity, Atom and the Dot, Malaysia’s first science box subscription service for children, introduces the amazing “hows, whats and whys” of the world through carefully curated activities and experiments.
This is Teo and Moh’s mission to make learning fun for children.
“We want children to see and appreciate the real wonders of the world around them, that there is more than life than the world inside their digital screens. With more engaging, relevant and highly experiential content, we believe that we can ignite their interest in both science and art, and help them realise that these two subjects are very much interconnected. You do not need to choose the study of one over the other,” says Teo.
Since its inception in April last year, Atom and the Dot has sent out some 2,000 science boxes to 500 families around Malaysia.
A lot of thought goes into the curation of these boxes: Each box revolves around a theme, they are fun and have an element of surprise, so the children will find it intriguing; they are practical and convenient for parents; and the ingredients are safe.
“We also consider whether these activities are able to illustrate the science concepts to the kids in such a way that they can easily visualise and grasp these potentially advanced concepts. This will allow children to connect the activities they do to the things they learn in school – maybe even leading them to experience an ‘aha!’ moment when they encounter the same concepts again,” she says.
This year, Atom And The Dot ventured into something new: Art Science inspired workshops, held at Ilham Gallery in Kuala Lumpur. The workshops are designed for children between ages four to 12.
The current session runs till Dec 30, and includes nature-themed workshops in December.
Earlier workshops have included experimenting with paper circuits in the making of festive cards, colour filters and 3D glasses making, and getting acquainted with magnets in creating Jackson Pollock-inspired art.
“These workshops are a good way for us to demonstrate how science and art go together, more so than people realise. For instance, the smartphone is a perfect embodiment of the two. The design of the device takes into account what is aesthetically pleasing, its usability and the technology required to make that happen. With science alone, you might end up with a clunky piece of machinery that no one wants to use. The simplification of the phone keypad to a single button is a perfect example of the use of abstraction, a concept often used in art,” says Teo.
These workshops do away with the prescriptive format we are used to in school, and it offers room for children to learn through hands-on play, and to be inquisitive and creative.
“When learning is fun, you are more likely to remember it and be curious to find out more. Curiosity is after all the mother of all discovery,” she adds.
Moh comments that they are encouraged by the good response they have received for both the boxes and workshops, and see it as an indication that the children’s educational market in Malaysia is maturing.
“We don’t offer our science in a box service simply to teach children interesting facts. We want our boxes to inspire curiosity, creative thinking and to draw out the joy of discovery in kids,” she says.
It is their hope that each experiment will lead to new questions and the development of analytical skills as children learn to read instructions, develop hypotheses and test them.
“Today, in an era where we are consumed by digital gadgets and games, it is important to get children to appreciate the wonders of the natural world around them,” says Moh.
Through Atom and the Dot’s projects, the two founders hope to change the way parents and educators think of education and learning. Besides injecting fun and relevance to the experience, they hope to demonstrate how science and art, when approached together, can make learning better.
In the longer term, Atom and the Dot hopes to explore the world of publishing with both physical and digital learning material.
“We also have a secret dream to have our own Atom and the Dot club in every school, where kids come together to innovate. This will be our own version of science fairs and competitions to cultivate creativity and innovation,” she concludes.