Discovery Abounds at Wise Wonders
by stephanie hobby | photos courtesy of Wise Wonders
Wise Wonders, a hub of exploration for young scientists, is bustling with all kinds of activity this fall. Since its inception, Wise Wonders has emphasized learning through play and hands-on activities. While the museum and its programming continue to grow, expand, and evolve, that mission has not changed.
Wise Wonders offers various learning opportunities for a wide range of ages and interests. Lisa Almanza, an educator at the museum, is one of the founding members of Wise Wonders and coordinates teaching programs. Themes change monthly, so there is always something new for young visitors to learn and explore.
November’s theme is “Fall into Steam,” and homeschool families have the opportunity to take advantage of team-building activities in three sessions on Tuesdays. Teaching is based on grade level, and students are divided into grades K-2, 3-4, and 5-8. Almanza emphasizes the importance of working with others during these activities. Topics change monthly and include biomimicry, chemistry, engineering, architecture, robotics, coding, and circuits.
Wise Wonders hosts the popular Lego Robotics leagues on Wednesday afternoons for children ages 5 through 18. First Lego is the international effort behind the program, which now includes nearly 700,000 students from roughly 110 countries. Students learn to build and code robots to navigate a series of challenges. Five- to 8-year-olds are in the Lego Robotics Explore League and meet from 4-4:45pm; students aged 9-13 are placed in the Lego Robotics Challenge League and meet from 5-5:45pm. Participants aged 14-18 graduate from using Legos and instead start doing metal work and taking their efforts to the next level of robotics.
Amie Williams, manager of Wise Wonders, coordinates the museum’s Lego Robotics teams and said it’s free with admission to come and try the program, but there is a fee, expected to be under $100, to become a team member.
Stories and STEM
Wise Wonders offers a story time with a STEM theme geared toward preschoolers on Thursdays. Starting at 10:30am and repeating at 11:15am, children are invited to hear a story and participate in a corresponding hands-on activity. For example, one favorite theme for fall has been the book Ten Apples on Top, a Dr. Seuss book about animals trying to balance a stack of apples on their heads.
After the story, preschoolers use playdough or other materials to stack apples and see how high they can build their towers. “It’s totally hands-on for little kids to investigate science,” said Almanza. The program is included with the price of admission.
To wrap up the week, on Fridays, Wise Wonders sets up a table where children of all ages can look deeper into an assortment of topics, typically tying into a monthly theme. Earlier this fall, the museum was focused on space. One Investigation Station invited students to use salad spinners to create a painting of nebulas, which are vast clouds of gas and dust in space; some are left over from explosions when a star dies, and others are where new stars form.
Almanza said they’ve also demonstrated how orbits work by placing a heavy ball in the middle of a gravity well and then sending marbles and ping pong balls around the edge. During another session, they explored the science of sound with tuning forks. By tapping the fork against the table and then dipping it into a bowl of water, participants could see how the water moved and then talk about what caused that motion. Investigation Station is also included in the price of admission.
Birthday Parties and Field Trips
Almanza regularly offers up her classroom for birthday parties and field trips. Students and party guests can have fun with a hands-on experiment in the classroom and enjoy the rest of the museum with their group. Birthday parties are two hours
Happy Rad Fun Time (HRFT) Challenges
For at-home learning and fun, students can check out www.wisewonders.org, where they’ll find the museum’s science kits to check out or purchase. There’s also a section on DIY science at home, filed under H.R.F.T. Challenges.
Almanza says her favorite part of her job is working with students. “I love seeing the excitement in children and that ‘a-ha’ moment where they’ve figured something out,” she said, adding that taking the perspective of a growth mindset is an important perspective when approaching a scientific problem. “There are so many aspects of science, and I tell the kids, the scientists don’t get it on the first try. So sometimes, we make a plan, and it doesn’t work. I think that’s the beauty of STEAM activities, to give them that ability that they don’t have to get it right on the first try, and I think that’s one of the hardest skills to learn, but we go back to the drawing board, and we’ll come up with another plan.”
If you want to learn more about these activities, check out www.wisewonders.org, follow Wise Wonders on Facebook, or call the museum at 406-702-1280.
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