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Full STEAM ahead: Creating Tomorrowland today

MILES FROM TOMORROWLAND - Sascha Paladino, Series Creator and Executive Producer, "Miles from Tomorrowland." (DISNEY JUNIOR/Craig Sjodin)
Sascha Paladino, Series Creator and Executive Producer

STEAM programming (which includes science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) is fast becoming a core service in libraries across the country. From intermixing STEAM activities into family story hour to teen maker spaces and coding camps, public and school libraries provide engaging opportunities for kids of all ages to develop a passion for science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math. Curious to learn who else is experimenting with STEAM programs for kids? The article below comes from Sascha Paladino, who is the creator and executive producer of “Miles from Tomorrowland”, a Disney Junior animated series that weaves science, technology, engineering and mathematics concepts geared towards kids ages 2-7 into its storylines. Paladino will delve deeper into the topic at the 2016 American Library Association Annual Conference joined by others instrumental in getting Miles off the ground and kids into STEAM.

Six years ago, I came up with an idea for an animated series about a family on an adventure in outer space – from the kid’s perspective. I wanted to explore the universe through the eyes of a seven-year-old. I remembered how I saw outer space when I was young – as the greatest imaginable place for adventure – and I wanted to capture that feeling.

I pitched the idea to Disney, who liked it, and we began developing what would become MILES FROM TOMORROWLAND. Through the ups and downs that are part of any TV show’s journey to the screen, I tried to stay focused on my goals: tell entertaining stories, encourage kids to dream big and inspire viewers to explore STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).

Luckily, with the support of Disney, I was able to surround the MILES creative team with a group of genius scientists. Dr. Randii Wessen of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory came onboard as an advisor, as did NASA astronaut Dr. Yvonne Cagle, and Space Tourism Society founder John Spencer. They shared their deep knowledge and experience with us, and gave our show some serious scientific street cred.

Along the way, I got a crash course in outer space. I was able to immerse myself in the science of our universe, and learned all about exoplanets, tardigrades, and electromagnetic pulses, for starters. Then, I could sit down with my writing and design teams and figure out ways to work these science facts into engaging stories to share with our audience.

I realized that I was making the show I wished I had as a kid: An exciting adventure that incorporates real science in a way that appeals to viewers whether or not they gravitate towards science. I always loved science, but my career path took me into the arts. In making this show, I learned that the arts can be a route into the sciences – which is why I’m really glad that STEM has expanded to STEAM, to include the “A” for “arts.”

My hope is that by exposing all sorts of kids to concepts such as black holes, coronal mass ejections, and spaghettification (best word ever), they’re inspired to explore further and deeper once the television is turned off.

When we were researching the series, we met with scientists, techies, and space professionals from amazing places such as NASA, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Google. Over and over, we heard that they were inspired to go into their field because of science-fiction TV shows and movies that they saw as kids. Real-life innovations such as the first flip-phone were directly influenced by fantastical creations imagined on STAR TREK. Science fiction becomes science fact. It’s the circle of (sci-fi) life.

Now that MILES FROM TOMORROWLAND is on the air, I’ve been hearing from parents and kids that our vision of the future is giving the scientists of tomorrow some ideas. Nothing could make me happier. We’ve seen kids make their own creative versions of Miles’ tech and gear, such as cardboard spaceships and gadgets made from dried macaroni. As NASA’s Dr. Cagle told me recently, one of our goals should be to encourage kids to “engineer their dreams.” That sums it up perfectly.

I even heard from a kid who loves Miles’ Blastboard – his flying hoverboard – so much that he decided to sit down and design a real one. Whether it works or not is beside the point (although I’m quite sure that it does). What matters to me is that MILES FROM TOMORROWLAND set off a spark that, I hope, will continue to grow, multiply, and eventually inspire a future generation of scientists and innovators.

But mostly, I can’t wait to ride that Blastboard.

Join the “Coding in Tomorrowland: Inspiring Girls in STEM” session at the 2016 American Library Association Annual Conference in Orlando, which takes place on Sunday, June 26, 2016, from 1:00-2:30 p.m. (in the Orange County Convention Center, in room OCCC W303). Session speakers include “Miles from Tomorrowland” creator and executive producer, Sascha Paladino; series consultant and NASA astronaut, Dr. Yvonne Cagle; and Disney Junior executive, Diane Ikemiyashiro. The session will be moderated by Christopher Harris, fellow of the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy’s Youth & Technology Program.

Want to attend other policy sessions at the 2016 ALA Annual Conference? View all ALA Washington Office sessions

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Jazzy Wright

Jazzy Wright is a former press officer of the Washington Office.

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