Students huddled around a table with small coffee lids and wrappers that could be fashioned together using pipe cleaners. In the center of the table they placed their creations into the bottom of a large wind tunnel to try to propel the paper items into the air. Some flew high; others never quite got out of the tunnel.
The experience incited a whir of activity, learning and giggles. Moreso, though, it was a showcase of force and lift and the properties of physics needed for items to soar. During this past weekend’s STEM Symposium, held at the Nysmith School for the Gifted in Herndon, Va., leaders of the Children’s Science Center set up a room in which to hold demonstrations and exhibits like this to showcase the teaching activities it regularly does.
The center has been a mobile science teacher of sorts. According to the nonprofit’s data, Northern Virginia is the largest metropolitan area in the country without a science center dedicated to children. So it seeks to fill this gap by bringing interactive science exhibits and activities to schools and community centers.
That approach has become so popular that there’s a waiting list for the center to come to sites around the region. Board Chair Tanya La Force said each year 70 schools apply and, after a lottery just 40 get selected to receive.
“And that’s just the number of students who apply,” she said. “We want to be able to serve as many as possible.
It’s for this reason that leaders and board members of the center are working toward a five-year plan to open a 50,000 square foot physical location in which to bring in students and family and carry on the science learning in a more set museum atmosphere. That project will cost a grand sum of $35 million, and finding is being sought.
As this happens, there’s phase two of the project — locating a space one-tenth the size of the final goal. The 5,000-square foot temporary home for the science center will be in Northern Virginia although a specific deal is still being worked out, according to La Force.
The mini version of the center will feature demonstrations of physics and chemical reactions, hands-on math and ways to create innovative art.
Meanwhile, the full, 50,000-square foot version is still being envisioned. La Force said her organization, along with holding information sessions across Northern Virginia to let families know about the overall plans, is having brainstorming sessions with children and educators to get ideas for what they want to see in the final version. It’s crowdsourcing in every sense.
“We want to get everyone together and hear their ideas,” she said.
Already, a 6-year-old was the one who suggested that jetpacks be part of the science center.
To learn more, go to www.childsci.org.
The STEM Symposium’s presenting sponsor was Leidos and founding sponsor was Northrop Grumman Corporation.