Science Center of Iowa Blog

At the Science Center of Iowa, our goal is to be a quality community resource for informal science learning where children, families, school groups and individuals come to explore science and technology. To continue the learning outside our walls, we give you the SCI blog! Our knowledgeable staff, along with special guests and local scientists, will give you a behind-the-scenes look at SCI activities and in-depth information about science events.

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Making in the Metro: Ceramics is a language of creativity for local artist

Making in the Metro: Ceramics is a language of creativity for local artist

Art lived exclusively in books for Amanda Barr, as she studied Spanish literature. She explored Spanish theatre, fashion, pottery and more en route to a master’s degree but felt trapped in the classroom setting. Then, Barr realized she needed to work with her hands. She needed to Make things.

Today, Barr’s study of Spanish art and culture lives not in pages of books but in folds of clay, each custom ceramic piece part of her lifelong language of creativity and innovation. For Barr, Making is about more than the finished product. It’s about the lifelong process of scientific inquiry.

“I think it’s an essential part of art, being able to communicate beyond, ‘Look at what I did,’ but how I got there and the mental process behind it,” Barr said. “This is what I was thinking about. This is not just, ‘I made something pretty.’”

Barr launched her business, Amanda M Barr Ceramics, after taking a pottery class to occupy her days while she taught night classes at DMACC. Her hobby led to exhibitor space at the Des Moines Arts Festival, among other shows.

Aesthetics and analytics unite every day in Barr’s ceramics studio, where she creates, paints and glazes custom plates, bowls, mugs and more. Each finished piece is a feat of chemistry, math and physics.

When she mixes the glaze, she’s a chemist. When she molds the clay, she’s a mathematician. When she forms a strong, sturdy base, she’s a physicist. It all adds up to creativity.

“If you don’t have that creative function of the brain, how are you going to build, say, a better refrigerator or solve a problem on the space shuttle?” Barr said. “Creativity is problem-solving.”

For the language teacher turned artist, the final step in the Making process is, of course, writing about it. Barr maintains a blog and cites the importance of communicating the Maker mindset in words and work, whether she’s speaking Spanish or English.

“Writing is taking what you’ve made and telling people in words what you’ve just told them in object,” she said.

Category: Make@SCI


SCI's energy, special events motivate volunteer turned staff member

SCI's energy, special events motivate volunteer turned staff member

Playing-card tower expert: That was Taylor Kooker’s first title at the Science Center of Iowa. She encouraged participants to ask questions as they designed whimsical playing-card forts on her first day as a volunteer at the Des Moines Mini Maker Faire in September 2014.

“My favorite part was when I helped kids build cool, tall forts out of cards,” Kooker said. “It was fun to see what they created.”

Today, Kooker has a new title: sales associate. After volunteering at the Des Moines Mini Maker Faire and other special events, Kooker joined the SCI Box Office staff, a position she has held since June.

She initially got involved with SCI’s Volunteer Program to earn hours for her silver cord at Carlisle High School, where she graduated in May. One behind-the-scenes role led to another, giving Kooker, 17, a new perspective on all things SCI.

“When I volunteered here, I interacted with the kids in the exhibits,” Kooker said. “Now, I run group orientations, so it’s fun to see big groups of kids come in and help start their visit the right way.”

Whether she’s building the ultimate playing-card fortress or welcoming a group, Kooker said SCI’s high-energy work environment and community-focused events keep her coming back.

“Everyone is so friendly. It’s a cool place to work,” she said. “I think SCI’s events contribute a lot to the Des Moines metro.”


Sustainability is part of the innovation process for Makers, museums

Sustainability is part of the innovation process for Makers, museums

We explored sustainability solutions in museums, art and more at Tuesday’s Iowa Maker Tweet-Up, featuring all things green and eco-friendly in the innovation business. Here are a few highlights from the conversation:

First, we discussed nature’s important role as inspiration for Makers.

How do you incorporate nature/natural elements in your work as a Maker? #iamakerchat -@SCIOWA

The weather is a big influence on my work. Especially clouds. Also lots of plants and wildlife. Imagery. -@amandambarr, Amanda Barr, ceramics artist

We geeked out over unexpected eco-friendly features.

What’s the coolest sustainable Making project you’ve ever seen? #iamakerchat -@SCIOWA

Solar powered kilns! -@amandambarr

Naturally, sustainability practices in museums entered the conversation.

What are some ways you've seen museums work to build more sustainable infrastructures? #iamakerchat -SCIOWA

Solar panels, roof gardens come to mind. And building w/ found/recycled materials, using eco-friendly paints/finishes. #iamakerchat -@AAMers, American Alliance of Museums

Next #iamakerchat: Join us Tuesday, July 15, from 7:00-8:00 pm for a lively discussion on robotics and mechanics. Tweet #iamakerchat to join the conversation! 

Category: Make@SCI


Art informs Making process at every stage

Art informs Making process at every stage

Making encompasses everything from color-changing chemistry experiments to woodcarving to comics, and at our June 30 #iamakerchat, we highlighted the “A” in STEAM. Artistry in Making is about more than eye-catching projects — it’s about creating a positive user experience through visual elements that are equally beautiful and functional.

Educators, electronics enthusiasts, artists, gamers and more weighed in on the intersection of art and Making. Here are a few of our favorite tweets:

First, we explored the myriad applications of art in Making.

What does “STEAM” mean to you? -@SCIOWA

STEAM = PC video games #iamakerchat -@Fatman22, Eric Menke

So many interesting intersections of art/tech in making. Re-use of found/scrap materials into art, for example. #iamakerchat -@AAMers, American Alliance of Museums

How do art and technology intersect in Making?

Art comes up with the idea, technology makes it possible. So many things that were science fiction have become reality. #iamakerchat -@MichaelELandon

Art informs the Making process at every stage.

What role does art/artistic thinking play in your work as a Maker? #iamakerchat -@SCIOWA

From experience – function is not enough. Taking time to look good is perceived as taking time to make it work right. #iamakerchat -@MichaelELandon

When you’re starting a project, do you think about the technical functions before the aesthetic elements or simultaneously? #iamakerchat -@SCIOWA

I start with the functionality and then tweak it to look the best that it can. Sometimes it means backtracking a bit! #iamakerchat -@MichaelELandon

We learned that backtracking, problem-solving and laughter are important learning tools.

Making is all about being curious and inquisitive! How do you communicate to students that it’s OK to #MakeMistakes? #iamakerchat

As a teacher, I make and celebrate my mistakes with humor and humility and embrace students who show me they have different thinking -@tcgrn

Next #iamakerchat: Join us on Tuesday, July 14, from 7:00-8:00 pm for a fun, fast-paced discussion pf the intersection of nature and Making. Tweet #iamakerchat to join the conversation!

Category: Make@SCI


Making in the Metro: Ames teacher instills Maker mindset in students

Making in the Metro: Ames teacher instills Maker mindset in students

Make something that does something: That was the motto for Teresa Green’s fourth grade students, one she hopes to incorporate in every element of the classroom experience.

For Green, that motto means trading the traditional concept of a classroom for a “Makers Space,” where students own the learning experience through hands-on discovery and innovation.

Growing up, the Maker mindset was intertwined with Green’s everyday life in rural Iowa. With 10 brothers and two sisters, Green and her family upcycled and recycled everything.

“It’s all about learning to make do and thinking, ‘Well, what can we do with it before we throw it away? Can we turn it into something else?’ I think it comes from a creative mentality,” Green said.

With each round of hand-me-downs, jeans and overalls arrived at Green’s sewing station. She examined each pair’s holes and frays and designed a custom patch.

“It was my first engineering feat,” she said.

Sewing repairs led Green to custom furniture refurbishing, and in college, she studied the musical side of Making. Today, she is an instrumental band teacher turned librarian and instructional technology consultant at Ames Community Schools. And now, she has a newfound title for a lifelong mindset: Maker.

For Green, STEM learning is all about encouraging students to see ordinary objects in new, innovative ways.

Take Oral-B toothbrushes, for instance. At a recent Ames Maker Tech Camp, students transformed toothbrushes into whirring robots.

“They took Oral-B toothbrushes and made their own brush-bots. Then, some asked, ‘Oh, Mom, when you’re done with your toothbrush, can I have it?’ It’s that kind of project that makes them realize they don’t have to go and buy toys. They can make their own,” Green said.

Whether her students are asking Mom to borrow her toothbrush, or how to upcycle a beloved toy into a DIY lamp, Green is happy. Inspiring inquisitive, tech-minded Makers is her goal. 

“They realize technology is all around them, how sensors are used to open doors when you walk in or wash your hands, for example,” Green said. “Then they start to think, ‘Oh, what if I could Make this?’ That’s my favorite thing.”

Green invites students to explore Making through fun, DIY toys, but she’s quick to connect every hands-on activity with real-world STEM applications.

Take 3-D printing. Green hopes to give her students the opportunity to explore its practical potential through design and computer-aided drafting activities.

“I'm hoping to incorporate problem-solving challenges into students' thinking about what 3-D printing is and how to use it to its full potential rather than as a cool toy,” she said.

The same goes for educators. As she incorporates Making as an integral part of the entire learning experience, Green hopes to illustrate to educators that it’s not just about cool, high-tech toys. It’s about equipping the next generation of STEM professionals with the creative, resourceful Maker mindset.

“My challenge for the coming year is to learn to make it something that isn’t an extra or an add-on,” Green said. “Making is part of what we do.”

Category: Make@SCI