Summer, it’s over already??

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The leaves are changing colors, the weather is getting cooler which means Fall is just around the corner, But here at ExplorationWorks, summer is always on our mind!

This summer was one for the books here at your favorite science center. We had more camps than ever, we had more kids than ever and we had more fun than ever! This year we offered 61 camps for kids 4 years-old all the way to 15! With such a wide array of topics, everyone could find something they were interested in. Some of my favorites this summer were our new Superhero Science and Force Academy camps, along with our old favorites, Potions and Culinary Camp. We played with fireworks, (How do we get those colors in the sky?), built crazy things out of cardboard and duct tape, programmed robots, video games and microcomputers, and exploded a few watermelons (I think my total for the summer was 6!).

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I think my favorite thing about our summers here at ExplorationWorks is getting to see students really find their niche and truly blossom. Sometimes it’s the kid that loves to play video games so her parents signed her up for a tech camp where she learned that not only could she play video games, but she could create them too! Or maybe it’s the little guy who is always making concoctions in the kitchen so his parents signed him up for a chemistry camp so he could learn why those things were bubbling when they were mixed together and how to design a new experiment to test all his wonderfully creative ideas. Our hope is always that those students come away from our summer camps with a renewed sense of curiosity, a greater understanding of the world around us, a sense of belonging, and a sense of being understood and celebrated for who they are and what they love.

As I reflect on our busiest summer ever, I can’t help but think about what camps I would have wanted to sign up for as a 9 year-old girl. Would I have wanted to be a Tech Master or a 3D printing guru? Or would I have wanted to play with robots? Maybe I would have signed up for all of our chemistry and engineering camps, I’ve always loved to make a mess! (Just ask my Mom…) But no matter what 9 year-old Sara would have wanted to do, nearing-thirty Sara is already thinking ahead to next summer and remembering what she would have wanted to do as a budding young scientist, and making it bigger and better and brighter for all of the future scientists in Helena!

Digging Into Dogs: More Than Pets

By: Matt Jetty, Exhibit & Facility Manager

In May of 2018 I became the Exhibits and Facilities Manager here at ExplorationWorks.  Around that same time a truck left Louisville, Kentucky full of dog related fun. The new dog exhibit opened to the public on May 26th and it has been a hoot watching the kids interact with it.  There are beautiful statues of various breeds and realistic stuffed dogs for the young ones to take for a walk on a leash. There will be a live dog event every Saturday at 10:30AM at ExplorationWorks, but I’ve noticed that kids treat the stuffed dogs as if they are live animals anyway.  

There’s a ton of great dog information for the grownups as well.  Did you know that the early humans probably lived next to wolf packs on purpose so to scavenge their kills and to get fair warning of sneaky man-eating predators?  Thanks wolf pals.

You can also test out your sense of smell at several scent stations.  I got a D+. I eat bananas almost daily and could not guess the banana scent.  In my own defense - scents are a bit of brain trickery. Scents are not consistent from brain to brain as they are tied to specific memories.  I could easily pick out my grandma’s lemon meringue pie, but carnation is a bit more elusive for my brain to detect. But don’t worry, it’s not all flowers and spices - there’s also some putrid smells.  The answers are hidden so that you can watch the fantastic reactions of peoples faces as they take a big whiff of “decay”. It’s like feeding your toddler a lemon for the first time. Sure it’s a bit cruel, but totally worth the guilt when you see the reaction.

There’s an Adoption Center with a computer program that can match you up with a breed of dog that will be a good fit for your family.  Come find out what breed matches your ideal dog. Turns out that I should be walking around with a Tibetan Terrier by my side. There aren’t any live dogs at the adoption center so there’s no need to worry about anyone talking you into a new pooch, but there are several stuffed dogs for the kids to hang out with while they’re here.  The best part of the adoption center is an area where visitors can tell us about their own dogs (..or lack thereof) with a sticky note.

Whether you have a mutt or a Tibetan Terrier - there’s one truth to be learned at this exhibit: Humans need dogs and dogs need humans.  

This kid really nailed it:

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Dogs: More Than Pets will be on exhibit through September 16, 2018. For more information on this exhibit, click here.

Awakening Your Inner Scientist

By: Lauren Rivers, Education Director

 ExWorks Education Director, Lauren Rivers, with her brothers Joseph and Nicholas

ExWorks Education Director, Lauren Rivers, with her brothers Joseph and Nicholas

When I was six, my parents loaded my brothers and me into the family van and drove from Ohio to Maine for summer vacation. We kids were enrolled in something called "Science Camp", which sounded suspiciously like code for "Keep-the-kids-busy-Camp". We were pretty sure our parents were dumping us with college students posing as science teachers, while they escaped to bike the Maine coast.

When my parents returned to retrieve us that first day, they found a wide-eyed girl with a new zeal for investigating under rocks, mixing gooey concoctions and asking endless questions. Turns out, "Science Camp" is actually code for "Mind-blowing-skill-building-thought-provoking-crazy-fun". I couldn't wait to return the next day to find out what experiments awaited my newly awoken scientist.

Since then, I've always tried to approach learning as something that should be fun - not forced. When life brought me to ExplorationWorks, I felt transported to that long-ago summer, flipping rocks with magnifying lens in hand. Here was a place that understood kids' need to investigate, to experiment, to poke and prod and question. Here was a place where I could return the gift I received as a bored, homesick little girl. 

With every summer science camp I teach, I ask myself, "How would six-year-old me want to learn about this?" The results usually look a lot like this...

For more information on ExplorationWorks Summer Camps, visit www.explorationworks.org/summer-camps.

Northwestern Energy Gives $5,000 to ExplorationWorks

By: Amie Thompson, Northwestern Energy

A new hydro display that will teach kids about river flow, how dams work and environmental
stewardship at ExplorationWorks in Helena opened last month and has experienced constant kid traffic and increased membership for the science museum.

The display was partially made possible by a $5,000 donation by NorthWestern Energy.

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“We got within $5,000 of our goal and then Howard called,” said Kelly Posewitz, executive director of ExplorationWorks, the children’s museum situated in the Great Northern Town Center next to the Great Northern Carousel in Helena.

NWE’s Howard Skjervem, community relations manager for Helena, knew about what they would need to complete the project and called to offer the company’s assistance. Howard and Andy Welch, leader of hydro power license compliance, see an opportunity for future education of both children and their parents. Education ideas include how precipitation is routed through a watershed, how dams create water storage to supply water for later in the season and how water is aerated as it cascades over water falls that adds oxygen to the water to the benefit of fish and other aquatic life. The display also demonstrates to children how watersheds support multiple uses including hydropower, agriculture and recreation — all while supporting multiple fish and animals in its course.

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“Yeah, I could play with this for a while,” said Andy as he reconfigured eddies in the river stream of the display to allow a kayak to safely pass through.

Already kids have enjoyed learning about dams as the museum has seen record numbers in the past two weeks.

“And membership has gone through the roof,” Kelly said.

The display uses 280 gallons of water that is recirculated throughout the display that includes a model of Mount Helena. There are three filtration systems keeping the water clean.

“It’s been a really, really big hit. It’s been very popular,” said Kelly.

Idea to Invention

By: Kari Gagner, Marketing Director

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It all started in 2005. Sam Thompson was an 8th grader and had an idea to build a hang glider simulator. Sam’s love of all things flight inspired him to try his hand at building the simulator with help from his father, Bill. After some experimenting and tinkering, the hang glider simulator made its debut at ExplorationWorks in 2007 as part of the Explore the Air exhibit.

Fast forward to 2018. ExplorationWorks reached out to Sam, now a Rotating Equipment Engineer at an oil refinery in northwest Washington, to take a stab at revamping the hang glider in hopes of having it be a key piece in the current Take Flight exhibit. Sam accepted the challenge, travelled back to Helena, and spent a handful of days re-building and modifying the simulator he built over a decade ago.

The Take Flight debuted in February of 2018, with the Sam’s hang glider as crown jewel of the exhibit. Kids of all ages (yes, this means adults too!) line up to take their turn on the simulator. We recently sat down with Sam to learn more about what prompted him to build the simulator in the first place, as well as what he hopes the exhibit will mean to the families that visit ExplorationWorks.

What gave you the idea to build the simulator in the first place?
I've always been interested in flying and was attracted to the simplicity of hang gliding. It's such a simple way to get in the air, and hang gliders are very simple machines, I figured it wouldn't be too difficult to make a device to simulate one.

What has changed from the first version to the current?
There have been several revisions of the Hang Glider Simulator leading up to this one that is currently on the exhibit floor. Initially, the design consisted of various hardware store parts crudely assembled with duct tape and zip ties in the garage. The 'harness' was nothing more than a piece of canvas supported by rope, and the structure was a metal tripod used for lowering heavy items down wells. The second revision consisted of a purpose build support frame, and a combination of gate hinges, wooden brackets and hose clamps for the control gimbal, which at the time was quite the upgrade! At one point the exhibit featured wind that would blow in the occupant's face proportional to the speed of the glider in the simulator. The latest revision consists mostly of machined parts, a real hang glider harness, and the latest in flight simulation graphics, to name a few things.

What do you hope ExWorks visitors will take away from playing with this exhibit?
First and foremost I hope it provides a fun, unique experience. If it is able to pique an interest in flying then that would be an added bonus.

What do you recall when the simulator made its debut?
When the Hang Glider Simulator was first exhibited, I remember that it was a big hit, despite the crude construction. We took it around to many different events and the reception was very positive. It's good at drawing a crowd because people enjoy watching others fly (and crash) on the big screen.

What are you most excited about having this exhibit on display?
I'm looking forward to seeing how it holds up relative to previous versions, in order to gain insight on future improvements that could be made.

Does your love of flying play a part in what you like to do in your spare time?
On my days off I'm actually a pilot and fly charters around the San Juan Islands. In addition, my wife and I have a plane which we use for everything from exploring the backcountry of the North Cascades to flying to the San Juan Islands for lunch.

The Take Flight exhibit will be on display at ExplorationWorks through May 20, 2018. The hang glider simulator features a “flight of the day” with locations such as Mount Helena, the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, and Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.

ExplorationWorks: It's all about Community

By: Paige Terhune, Visitor Services Manager

ExplorationWorks is so much more than science. It really is all about community! And that community involvement is shown most recently in our fantastic new water table. Visitors and long time members alike are saying how much they love the new water table, and have thanked ExWorks for bringing it to Helena. But it is really the entire Helena community that has made this wonderful water table possible, one Make a Splash fish at a time. We will all be so excited to see the unveiling of the 'fish mural wall' this Spring, which will highlight just how many incredible families we have in Helena who have absolutely made the water table possible.

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Our community partnerships are another aspect of ExWorks that just shows how we all work together to make it possible for anyone to visit ExWorks. The libraries in Helena, East Helena, Boulder, and Clancy all now offer the Edventure Pass which can be checked out like a book for a family to visit ExWorks free of charge, whenever it is convenient for them and when their own schedule allows. 

We have an incredibly dedicated staff all working together to bring the best exhibits and programs to Helena that we possibly can. But it is you, the families of Helena, who truly make ExWorks a remarkable achievement in Montana!

Spotlight on SciGirls

By: Lauren Rivers, Education Director

It’s a fact: careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are seriously lacking the feminine factor. By 8th grade, girls tend to drift away from subjects like computer programming and chemistry. There are various reasons for this shift, from poor public perception (engineering really IS fun!!) to low visibility of women in STEM careers. Whatever the problem is, we at ExplorationWorks think we've found a solution: SciGirls!

SciGirls began as a PBS show with one mission: to get tween girls, ages 8 to 12, interested in STEM. Each episode follows a group of middle school girls who are eager to find answers to their questions while inspiring kids to explore the world around them and discover that science and technology are everywhere. The girls, with the help of scientific mentors, design their own investigations on topics ranging from the environment to engineering and nutrition. From the TV show, SciGirls clubs around the country have developed, including ExplorationWorks SciGirls afterschool clubs and summer camps.

ExplorationWorks has been a champion for SciGirls since early 2015, and we are now in our 10th season of SciGirls clubs and camps. In that time, we've met over 25 female science mentors and learned about their careers. We've talked to chemists, engineers, architects, wildlife biologists, budget analysts, dentists and veterinarians. We've visited chemistry and biology labs, performed dissections and illuminated DNA with lab-grade equipment. Through the SciGirls model, ExWorks' goal is to show young women that there are no limits to their options for STEM careers. If they can dream it, they can do it.

One such young woman has been dreaming and doing from the beginning. Aidan is now in 6th grade, and has been participating in SciGirls since she was 9 years old. Every session of SciGirls is different, so Aidan can return season after season and continue meeting new science mentors and pursuing new challenges. Over the years she has grown from a curious child to a young scientist who loves experimenting with technology, and is always happy to help other girls with projects. Recently, Aidan chatted with SciGirls instructor and ExWorks’ Education Director Lauren Rivers, about what being a SciGirls has meant to her.

L: What are some of your favorite SciGirls memories?
A:
When I was in 4th grade and we dissected owl pellets, I brought the bones in to show my afterschool program. The kindergarteners thought it was really cool, especially the skull.

   Micro-pipetting like a pro at Carroll College biology lab.

Micro-pipetting like a pro at Carroll College biology lab.

I really like all the dissections we do in SciGirls, I think they’re really interesting. We aren’t doing any dissections in 6th grade, I asked my teacher. So it’s cool that we do them in SciGirls.

I also liked making Rube Goldberg contraptions. I liked how different things reacted when other things occurred. As an only child, I’m used to being by myself, but making Rube Goldberg machines was one time I enjoyed working with a partner.

L: Who have you enjoyed meeting through SciGirls?
A:
The cloud scientist and the dog trainers. The cloud scientist because I thought it was interesting that there are so many things you can do to learn about clouds, like going up in a blimp to catch clouds in a jar. And the dog trainers because I learned that it takes a lot to train a dog to do what you want, and I want to be a vet.

L: Where do you see yourself in 15 years? What do you want to be doing?
A:
I want to go into the military and be a veterinarian in the Navy. I want to work with dogs and seals and maybe dolphins, to train them to help people in the Navy.

Exciting Exhibits

By: Bill Soth, Exhibits Director

We've officially got not only a new water table, but a new exhibit as well! The new water table was manufactured and installed by a company called Boss Display in Columbus, Ohio. They do water exhibits all over the world and we were pleased to partner with them on this project. The new water table is about three times as large as our previous one and has many interactive stations for visitors. There are local elements like the Fire Tower and the Sleeping Giant designed into the water table to connect Helena to the exhibit.

In addition to the water table, we also have a new video kiosk titled Montana H20 Discovery that will highlight videos that deal with water topics all around Montana, including a video from the students at East Valley Middle School!

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The new exhibit, Take Flight, is a hands-on exhibit that explores the science behind flight. There will be a number of different interactive exhibit stations including a Hang Glider Simulator, Vertical Wind Tunnel and Flying Cups, RC Flight Simulators, Bernoulli Blower and educational videos provided by our lead sponsor Boeing. 

Take Flight will be on display through Memorial Day. We hope you can come and check it out!

Science on Tap: The Wilderness Below

By: Sara Feilzer, Community Education and Outreach Director

Science. Beer. Learning new things. Does it get any better?

I didn’t think so.

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Science on Tap is our only program for adults, and adults only. It’s the perfect opportunity to come check out ExplorationWorks without having to awkwardly stand behind a 7 year-old while you’re waiting to take your turn at our new water table. Or worry about accidentally hitting a child in the face while you’re playing with the pin-impression board. (Don’t laugh, you know it’s happened before!) It’s a great time to come to ExWorks, explore, relax with a beer (or wine, or water. We’re not picky.) and learn about some pretty neat science that is being done in and around our community by our neighbors and friends.

This month’s Science on Tap is focused around caves and the wilderness below. Our presenter, Amanda Hagerty is the Education and Outreach Manager for the Montana Wilderness Association. She is really excited to share her passion for caves, and the science being done in and around them, with the people of Helena. I recently sat down with her and had the chance to ask her a few questions about what makes her passionate about science, wilderness, and the awesomeness that is Montana.

What is your favorite part about working for the Montana Wilderness Association?
I appreciate the collaborative approach MWA takes to land management and public land processes. MWA does not just talk the talk, we walk the walk, by putting people on the ground and stewarding the landscapes.

Where is your favorite cave to explore?
My favorite cave to explore? That's a good question, and also quite difficult. Each cave is so unique and offers excitement in its own way. As far as a tour cave, my heart will always belong to Lewis and Clark Caverns, as it's where I got my start with caves and where I learned to go caving. As far as cave exploration, my favorite place would actually be out of state at Wind Cave National Park. Many miles (possibly hundreds) have yet to be explored and while surveying cave there you are certainly in another world, filled with rare delicate cave formations and winding passageways.

If you didn't work for MWA, what do you think you would be doing?
If I weren't working for MWA I would be advocating for Montana's state parks in some full-time capacity. It's easy to appreciate places like Yellowstone and Glacier but it's another thing to truly explore Montana's amazing parks and find what makes them each so unique and wonderful.

Do you have anything that you want people to know about caves before the talk on tonight?
If you have seen one cave, I cannot emphasize that you have NOT seen all caves. I have heard many times before you've seen one cave, you've seen them all - that couldn't be further from the truth. As mentioned before each cave is so diverse and that is one of the things that makes them so amazing and worth exploring.

Thanks Amanda, and we’ll see you all tonight!

Science on Tap: The Wilderness Below begins at 6:00 p.m. tonight (Wednesday, Feb. 21) at ExplorationWorks. For more information on this program, visit www.explorationworks.org/science-on-tap.

Director's Lab: Welcome to our blog!

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By: Kelly Posewitz, Executive Director

Hello fellow science lovers! We are so excited to launch ExplorationWorks' first blog. It's going to be a fun way for us to share stories about the work we do everyday to inspire kids and adults of all ages.

It only takes one memorable experience to have a lasting impact on a child's life. For me, it was Mrs. Gatski and my seventh grade summer science camp. As a young kid I always liked science and was fascinated with animals and their habitats. One of my earliest memories was when I was 3 years old and I tried to feed an injured baby bird a long, stringy piece of shredded coconut as a substitute for a worm (my family still calls me Kelly Coconut).  So when my beloved 7th grade science teacher launched a summer science camp all about owls I just had to go! Our first assignment was to dissect an owl pellet and try to reassemble the many bones inside into the skeleton of a mouse. My mind was BLOWN! It was at that moment that my enjoyment for science turned into a LOVE. Mrs. Gatski was a truly gifted teacher and continued to feed my love for science for many years to come.  She encouraged me to ask questions, be curious, and never stop learning. I will forever be grateful for her.  While I didn't go on to pursue a degree in science, I still love science and will never stop asking questions, being curious, and learning new things everyday.  

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Fast forward to today, I am proud to be the mother of two young daughters and hope that they have the same inspiring experiences in their lives. It is a big part of what drives me at ExWorks everyday. All kids needs to be surrounded by enriching educational opportunities and awesome teachers.  ExWorks has that in spades! Our staff is so dedicated and passionate about connecting with kids. I am so very proud to be a part of ExplorationWorks and look forward to the future. Thank you for following us and being a champion for kids and education!