The first family friendly Canberra Women of Science and Art webinar was held on Saturday morning, August 15, and participants enjoyed a range of thoughtful activities from a trio of speakers, writes Rob Thomas.

Firstly Julia Landford, founder of NatureArt Lab talked about the presence of maths in the form of patterns in nature, and then used a special guest, Sticky the Giant Prickly Stick Insect as a model to draw; breaking her down into shapes to draw and then asking us to consider how her structure works, both as a body and in relation to her environment. Particularly, in this case, the camouflage nature of stick insects.

Julia encouraged the use of nature journaling and drawing what you can find in nature, and shared her personal nature journaling kit, which apart from watercolours and pens also included magnifying glass and ruler.

Megan Gilmour, the founder of the Missing Schools initiative spoke next. She showed off Jobes, the Omni robot used in the program to help sick kids in the hospital attend school and see their friends by telepresence.

In Australia 60,000 seriously sick kids miss school; the robots provided by the Missing School program can be life-changing in helping kids reconnect with their school and their friends, fighting social isolation during one of their most challenging times.

The Omni robot was given the name Jobes by Missing Schools but the kids using them give them their own names and in fact even dress them up.

Megan talked about how different types of robots are helping people and society. Such as Starship technologies, which delivers food and goods to people; and Zorabot, which conducts temperature testing, delivers medications, and monitors patients (all essential services in our times of social distancing).

We asked the question of the participants: What other problems could robots help with?

There were many fantastic ideas on how robots could further help us, including helping with home chores; reducing loneliness; assisting the disabled; telecommuting internationally; removing rubbish from the ocean, and cleaning public spaces. ACT Libraries also has a robot making kit suitable for families.

The final speaker was Nicole Godwin, founder of Tusk Books and author of children’s books that encourage young and old to think about animals and the environment. Nicole showed a few parts of her books:

  • Ella, the story of a child elephant who escapes her job entertaining tourists to find her mother.
  • Billie, a dolphin looking for the biggest wave. In her adventures, Billie discovers other Dolphins in a water park, drift nets, and ocean garbage.
  • Jelly-Boy, the story of a jellyfish who falls in love with a plastic bag. The book contains information/science on soft plastic and recycling.

Nicole then shared an activity, which is available in the Activity and Resources Kit, of making a fully compostable jellyfish using a paper plate and cotton t-shirt. She also talked about her ‘Jump Starts’ writing activities. These activities, (shared in advance with registered attendees) are intended to warm up the mind or encourage different thinking and writing about topics. The ‘Jump Starts’ were:

  • Three words – involves writing a paragraph including three unrelated words. This usually triggers an idea that leads to a story. For example, a paragraph that includes the words “Unicorn”, “Venus” and “Skateboard”.
  • Leading words – these were sentences to begin a story with. For example; “I was so embarrassed when…”.

Nicole encouraged viewers to just get started writing. She still uses these techniques herself to start the creative process.

While attendees were brainstorming story ideas, Nicole talked about the development process of her books including storyboarding; so as to map out how the story flows when it is combined with planned illustrations, and how diverse and engaging the book looks overall.

In Q&A Nicole spoke to young budding authors about how to get published. She recommended persistence, entering competitions to earn recognition and connecting to existing resources, such as the ACT Writers Centre. Sharing your work is also important, to gain feedback and recognition, beyond writing resources and competitions Nicole mentioned that many writers publish blogs about their work which can gain followers.

Finally, all three speakers spoke about how they overcame challenges on their journey.

  • Nicole spoke of the importance of mentors in providing guidance and improving her work.
  • Megan spoke about “The Obstacle is the Way” and its lessons of how working with an obstacle can show new pathways to achieving goals, the mantra “courage before confidence” is a personal favourite of hers. Her second piece of advice was finding and working with stakeholders with mutual goals. This not only gives you more resources but can introduce you to new ideas to solve problems with.
  • Julia reiterated the importance of finding people with like-minded passions, and mentioned how kids’ reactions to show and tell of nature in the classroom inspires her.

For those who missed the webinar, a recording will be available online soon. But you don’t have to have seen the webinar to participate in the competition for Canberra Women of Science and Art. It is open until August 23. Entrants can submit an artwork inspired by the stories of our program of speakers. The format can be anything: drawing, sculpture, video, poems, etc. Categories are: under 8s, 8 to 12s, 13 to 18s, Family groups, and Wildcard/18+/interstate entrants (Note that Canberra refers to the Canberra region including the 10 bordering NSW Shires). Prizes include the Billie book from Nicole Godwin, a session with Julia Landford, Questacon passes, Careers with STEM magazines; hats, drink bottles, and books from Defence Science and Technology and National Science Week, and more.

The next session is aimed at teenagers (though again, all are welcome) and will feature two fantastic and inspirational speakers: Indigenous entrepreneur and Founder and CEO of Indigital, Mikaela Jade; and Executive Officer of SEE-Change and Founder of Trash Gather Maddie Diamond.

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