Education

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!

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.

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.

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.