(Photo by Mark Manning)
(2019 Kensington Derby gif by Mark Manning)
The Kensington Derby and Arts Festival was an impressive mix of spectacles this year as both hackerspaces and local artisans took up residence along the cobblestones of Trenton Avenue.
Nearby, kids constructed cardboard derby vehicles and crowds gathered for the infamous mud pit finish of the obstacle-filled 4.5 mile course for human-powered vehicles. This year, 20 teams participated in the derby, but two teams detoured around the mud pit, and the crowd was not shy about expressing its disappointment.
Some elements, like the mud pit, are old traditions, but this year’s iteration of the Derby and Festival featured a new set of collaborations. As previously reported, this year the Kensington Derby and Arts Festival was a part of Philly Tech Week’s 2019 lineup —a first for the festival. Micro-grants from Philly Tech Week and the Franklin Institute helped teams, including two schools, expand their vision for human-powered machines that attempted to tackle the seven obstacles they faced throughout the course.
According to event coordinator Ann Lastuvka, the event is a triple threat — supporting the neighborhood, helping local businesses interact with the community, and providing engaging ways for children and adults to explore STEM concepts.
“We’ve been trying to really emphasize the STEM part. Maybe I’m a little biased coming from an engineering background,” she said, “but this is the perfect opportunity, ’cause it is fantastical and whimsical to see all these structures, to get kids involved. This could be the first exposure some of these kids are getting to engineering.”
(All photos by Mark Manning)
The family-friendly festival had stations and booths — including booths from the Franklin Institute and Mutter Museum — set up for kids and adults to create and explore. Kids and teens also participated in the derby part of the festival and navigated the course along with adult participants.
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Obstacles along the course this year included “Bubble Trouble” (at Johnny Brenda’s) and the “Lego My Kego” zone (outside of Evil Genius), which most bikers navigated with ease.
The popular finale was the mud pit. Some people staked their claim early in the stands and the rest of the crowd spilled over the barricades to see teams like “Reverse Chariot” conquer the pit.
Others, such as the C.C.A. Baldi Middle School team, wiped out at the very end of the pit.
Luke Hostetter, Baldi Middle School principal and pilot of the bulldog-inspired machine, was undeterred by the wipe out and is already thinking about next year. “[There’s] room for a classroom project and design competition to put forth the best bike,” Hostetter said.
The Baldi team was one of four recipients of the Franklin Institute and Philly Tech Week micro-grants in advance of the derby. The school had already planned to participate but Gloria Cherny, the teacher who applied for the funding, said that the money helped the bike project grow bigger than they had originally intended.
The micro-grant-funded project benefitted from the school’s year-old (and grant-funded) Makerspace — a classroom that teaches design thinking. Two or more of Cherny’s eighth graders worked on features of this year’s vehicle, like the paper mache paws, at Makerspace.
“The design of the bike came from one of our science teachers, who studies the gait of a bulldog [and] spent many sleepless nights watching slow motion videos of dogs running,” Hostetter joked. For those interested in how the school’s team replicated the bulldog’s gait, an unfinished vehicle test run can be seen on Baldi’s Makerspace instagram page.
For the Baldi students and staff — as for the other Kensington Derby participants — the creative process of vehicle construction and the ingenuity required to ready them to tackle the obstacles and infamous mud pit are every bit as important as the finish line.
To stay tuned for information about next year’s festival, check out the Kensington Derby and Arts Festival website.
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