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.

Latest Posts

Aug
14

Campers explore genetics with Chubby the guinea pig

Campers explore genetics with Chubby the guinea pig

STEM learning can come from a variety of places. In this summer’s Vet Tech camps for third and fourth graders, it came from Chubby, a brown-and-white guinea pig who doubles as a cute, cuddly example of genetics in action.

“What do you think her parents might have looked like?” asked SCI Programs Coordinator Bridgett Harvey.

Using the guinea pig as an example, campers completed Punnett Squares for Chubby’s fur color, softness and more. In between exclamations of “Awwww!” and, “We love you, Chubby!” students explored phenotypes and genotypes, as well as proper pet care.

Harvey said Chubby exemplifies the hands-on experiences that are at the core of SCI Summer Camps.

“Chubby brings a real-life example of what campers are learning about with Punnett Squares in the Vet Tech camp,” she said. “They can see her different colors and fur types and relate those to dominant and recessive traits.”

In addition to helping teach genetics, the Vet Tech campers’ beloved pet also exemplifies real-life resilience.

Abandoned in a dumpster, Chubby was surrendered to a local Animal Rescue League for rehabilitation, where she was then adopted by Bridgett.

“Chubby has an incredible story and charming personality that campers love,” Harvey said. “She is also a good role model for responsibility with pet care, which is an important message to campers.”

Category: Camps

Jul
25

SCI Camps: Robot Rumble

SCI Camps: Robot Rumble

By: Anna McCleary, SCI Summer Camp Educator

What a better way to spend the hottest week of the summer so far than building and playing with robots at science camp! 

Last week, the 3rd and 4th grade SCI summer campers learned all about robots and electronics during Robot Rumble camp. Kids experimented with circuits, made robots and saw different types of robots that are used by professionals.

The Des Moines Bomb Squad brought in their robots and showed the kids how robots are used to keep them safe. Campers got a chance to get up close and personal with two of the bigger bomb squad bots. They loved watching the robots pass a water bottle and move their cameras, though their favorite was the toy robot that talked and danced. 

One of the coolest things we did was use robot arms. We challenged campers to write their name, draw a picture, pass blocks and build towers using the remote-controlled robots. Most pictures were random dots and lines, but some kids made legible writing! Campers used teamwork to pass a block from robot arm to robot arm without dropping it (most times). They loved using the video-game-like controller to move the arm’s shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand.

Later in the week, we took a day to visit DMACC Department of Electronics, Robotics and Automation.  We observed students making metal and plastic parts that could be used in robots and other machines, computer-operated machines carve out molds and a "MakerBot" turn strings of plastic into souvenir key chains. Campers then got to operate complex robot arms. After the practice at SCI, they were experts!

The kids’ favorite robots were the super fast solar racing cars. These DIY robot kits were fun for the campers to put together and see work. Not having tested them, I wasn’t sure how fast the cars would be, but once we got them outside, the cars nearly ran away! The kids liked making them start and stop by covering the cars with their shadows.

My favorite robot (and an easy one to make at home) is the Art Bot. Powered by a vibrating toy motor and two AA batteries, these robots twirl and bounce around making fun designs and patterns. The kids loved putting them together, figuring out how to make them work better and watching them draw. 

Science Center of Iowa Camps use project-based curriculum on a variety of subjects and provide hands-on experiences to spark young explorers' interest in science. Registration is still available for select camps through August 16. Learn more at www.sciowa.org/camps.

Category: Camps

Jul
12

SCI Camps: Wizard Mania

SCI Camps: Wizard Mania

By: Kathleen Diedrich, SCI Summer Camp Educator

What's going on at SCI Summer Camp this month? Kathleen Diedrich, a SCI Summer Camp Educator, gives a behind-the-scenes look at one of her 1st-2nd grade camps, Wizard Mania.

During Wizard Mania camp, the kids took the "Wizarding Oath" to only use the magic tricks and spells they learned for good. Using their brand new wizard wands, their handmade flying broomsticks (made from Elder Wood, of course) and their magical wizard hats, the kids made Butter Beer, floating gloves, levitating ice, color changing potions, turned invisible and played a competitive game of Quidditch.

Beyond simply magic tricks, the kids learned and were able to explain the science behind movie magic and effects, magicians' secrets and science's role in the world of wizardry. 

Sprinkling salt over an ice cube allowed students to perform a levitation trick with string. Simple table salt melts the ice cube, and the string's fibers freeze to the cube. The ice cube appeared to be levitated only by holding the string up in the air. 

Campers used a simple vinegar and baking soda reaction to make a rubber glove float in air. This reaction created carbon dioxide, filling up the glove with gas - just like a balloon! This vinegar and baking soda combination also created fizzy, bubbly potions. Some potions even changed colors with time-releasing food coloring. 

Over the course of the week, the wizards-in-training tried their hands at mind reading and tricks of perception. Changing the positioning of different objects makes some appear larger and some smaller, a trick used in many films to create the look of giants or small people. We taught the campers a partner mind reading trick to convince an audience that they have telepathic powers. 

Each wizard had the opportunity to choose which type of wood would work best for their broomsticks, each wood having different flying qualities. Some woods are best for independent people or those who like to travel. Other woods fly quickly but are hard to control. One wood even responds only to its owner. Campers chose the type of wood that best fit their personalities and their needs. 

Registration is still available for select camps through August 16. Learn more at sciowa.org/camps.

Category: Camps