Annual events foster learning through games
Two Bit Circus, which recently opened its second location in The Shops at Park Lane, does more than just house its “micro-amusement park.”
Its foundation puts on annual STEAM carnivals across the country, with a three-day event serving Dallas-Fort Worth each spring.
Two Bit Circus co-founders Brent Bushnell and Eric Gradman launched the STEAM carnivals in California as a Kickstarter in 2013.
After seeing success on the west coast, Rory Peacock, deputy executive director for the Region 11 Service Center in Fort Worth, approached the pair about bringing it to Dallas-Fort Worth.
“After Two Bit was a real company and we were doing tons of projects for big brands, we decided, let’s do something for ourselves,” Bushnell said. “We had done hundreds of events for other companies. We said, ‘Let’s do our own event,’ and the STEAM carnival was born.”
The Dallas-Fort Worth carnival, held annually at the Region 11 Service Center since 2016, brings an average of 3,500 people daily. The events feature Two Bit Circus games, outside companies such as Lockheed Martin coming in to teach youth about STEAM, and projects submitted by students who want to present and share their creations.
One activity Bushnell noted, a “Dunk Tank Flambé,” expands on the concept of a traditional dunk tank by launching the dunking “victim,” who wears a fire suit, into flames.
“We realized that the best games are the simplest games,” Gradman said. “One really powerful way to get kids inspired about what they can create is to pull back the curtain, open up the cabinets, let people look inside, and reveal the fact that under the most beautiful, complicated game is a simple set of components that anyone can work with.”
The carnival’s creators hope they can foster learning through each event.
“The STEAM carnival is a way of tricking people into using their creativity,” Gradman said. “As you’re playing a game that was created by your buddy at a STEAM carnival, you’re looking around going, ‘Wow, I know how all these games work now,’ because you’ve been through the thought process of creating one yourself.”
The carnival is open to anyone who purchases a ticket for $3, but the foundation sometimes gives free ones to area school districts to bring underserved students.
The 2023 Dallas-Fort Worth STEAM carnival will run from Feb. 27 through March 1.
“We had a first grader whose mom emailed me the week after the carnival and said, ‘My daughter has already started researching what her project will be for next year’s STEAM carnival,’” Peacock said.