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Education Engineering Parenting

Two Great Interactive STEM Exhibits at the Smithsonian

If you are a parent in central Maryland and you’re reading this, odds are you’ll share the refrain I hear so often “The Smithsonian museums are so close to us, yet we only go if guests are in town.” It’s really sad when parents say this, because their kids are missing out on so much great stuff.

I’d like to recommend two relatively new exhibits at the Smithsonian that are truly outstanding. They are especially good because they are interactive and unusual, not to mention fun. The exhibits in question are at the National Museum of American History and at the Smithsonian Institution Museum of Natural History.

Spark!Lab: Become an inventor at the National Museum of American History. This exhibit is great for young people to be creative while learning STEM concepts. There are several stations they have created that mostly coincide with the current theme. For example, when we visited, the theme was “things that roll”, so there were several stations dedicated to wheels, pulleys, etc. My kids had a great time inventing a skateboard that they made out of cardboard and then got to test on a miniature skateboard ramp. They also had to use pulleys and wheels to create something that would roll along a “high wire”.

[Looking for gift ideas for your child’s birthday? See my list of educational presents for kids of all ages!]


There was also a station where the kids have to invent a controller for a video game. This was our favorite. The kids are shown a video game and given a controller box along with some “parts”…they can plug things into to the controller box and learn to control the characters on the screen with their invention. There was a staff member at the station to help guide them as they worked through what worked and what didn’t. We spent about 25 minutes at this station and the kids loved every minute of it.

We can’t wait to go back when they change the theme to see what else they can learn there. The museum is open every day but Christmas day (December 25), but note that the exhibit isn’t open on Tuesdays and that this exhibit’s operating hours are 10am-4pm.

Q?rius (pronounced “curious”): This exhibit found in the basement of the Natural History Museum is fantastic for kids of all ages. They have powerful microscopes and thousands of samples for visitors to explore including, birds, fish, bones, insects, sand, rocks and more. To say it’s “cool” is an understatement. They also have quite a few preset activities and the kids can sign up to get a badge and an account to track their investigations.  Bring your kids and check it out for yourself. The exhibit hours vary quite a bit depending on day of the week and time of the year. You can see the hours here, but mainly note that the exhibit is closed on Mondays.

As a bonus, you’ll want to check out the WONDER exhibit at the Renwick art gallery, complete with wallpaper made up of thousands of insects arranged in interesting shapes.

Want to know more about what’s going on at the Smithsonians. They have a calendar of events that I find very helpful.

Categories
Education Engineering gifted and talented Science

Getting Girls Interested in Science and Engineering

roominate engineering toys for girls
This is a wonderful toy for girls!

The US needs to produce more scientists and as most people know, one of the problems is that there isn’t enough interest from girls. Of course girls can become great scientists who can improve our world, we really need to work hard on all levels to make sure girls know it.  A secondary reason is true of boys and girls alike: Public education has to do more to emphasize science and math.  Kids need to know that doctors, researchers, mathematicians and engineers are heros.  They need to know that science is still wide open and we have lots of things that still need to be investigated and discovered.

There are definitely things that parents can do to help their girls along.  Top of the list is encouragement–parents need to talk up science and math.  Second is to get girls science and engineering presents.  Look past the pink aisle in Target and Walmart and realize that many of those toys only teach girls certain important, but limiting skills.  take them places that will help them learn science beyond what they are exposed to in school–Many times these are things that the whole family can enjoy together.  For instance museums, zoos, planetariums, etc are all fun outings for kids.  There are also scientific toys and gifts.  And educational TV shows that encourage science and math.

Today I saw this great product for helping to get girls (and boys) interested in science–in this case electricity and more.  Its a dollhouse that is fully wired and comes with modular pieces that turn into different kinds of furniture.

https://techcrunch.com/2012/05/20/new-project-roominate-offers-a-fully-wired-dollhouse-for-kids/

If your boys and girls are interested in Legos, consider investing in a NXT or Mindstorms robotics kit.  It is all kinds of cool and the things they learn from it will go a million miles in pushing them ahead of their peers. They aren’t cheap, but believe me, if you can get your kid working with them, they will learn all sorts of things about programming and engineering…and its just a really cool toy for all ages (probably age 6 or 7 and up, but I am really sure there are plenty of exceptions) Here is an example of a kit that walmart sells:

http://www.walmart.com/ip/11081183?adid=22222222227000050995&wmlspartner=wlpa&wl0=&wl1=g&wl2=&wl3=13222983430&wl4=&wl5=pla

There are many others at varying price points.  Many elementary schools and middle schools are now getting these kits and starting robotics clubs.  Seriously, don’t wait, get your boy or girl going on this today.  Also, see my post about the future of jobs in America

More Resources
My list of educational gifts for smart kids
TV shows that encourage science and math