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Life is a Laboratory

Building Blocks

by Lisa Kerr
Exhibit/Program Developer
Providence Children’s Museum

I have a confession to make — I am science phobic. Having grown up in a family of writers and artists, the idea of formulas, periodic tables, scales, test tubes and beakers sent shivers down my spine. Even when I became an educator and embraced a wide range of subjects, I still didn’t fully appreciate the delight in scientific study.

Working at Providence Children’s Museum has given me a wonderful new perspective on the possibilities of science. Exploring with my young friends has helped me realize that science is not some foreign concept solely tied up in laboratories and chemicals, but a constant examination of the world around us. Opening my eyes and broadening my mind has led to a stream of marvelous discovery. Watching a leaf blow along the sidewalk on a windy day is a lesson in aerodynamics; cooking with my children is research in chemistry; building a tower of blocks is an exercise in engineering. Armed with this awareness and powered by curiosity, even the most mundane tasks transform into exhilarating experiments.

I’ve also come to realize that scientific thinking is not about having all of the answers, but, rather, having lots of questions. Why did the block tower crumble when it got too tall? How could I build it again differently? Why does that leaf soar into the air, while others scurry along the ground? Come to think of it, what keeps an airplane in the sky? Would my airplane look like the leaf that soars, or the leaf that scurries? The opportunity to seek out the answers on our own – to test, experiment, design and build – provides a powerful learning experience. More importantly, it strengthens our ability to be creative thinkers and problem-solvers; skills that will stay with us and serve us long after facts and figures fade from our memories.

In September, Providence Children’s Museum will be entering into a new and exciting partnership with PBS, and opening the FETCH! Lab, based on the popular PBS show, FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman. The FETCH! Lab will provide a space where kids can try their hands at challenging activities and design, build, test, revise and share their ideas with each other. Museum educators will encourage children to draw their own conclusions with open-ended questions and observations about their work. Many activities use common household items, inspiring children to use everyday objects in new ways and emphasizing the point that science and engineering don’t have to be complicated.

Most importantly, FETCH! Lab, provides an opportunity for families to play and experiment together, inviting curiosity and collaboration that travels far beyond the museum walls and into the magnificent mysteries of our everyday lives.

TM/© 2006 WGBH Educational Foundation

News and Notes from Providence Children’s Museum: Occasional posts about things to do with our kids – from places to go, things to make, ideas to think about, and ways to explore. Providence Children’s Museum – 100 South Street, Providence, RI. 401-273-5437 (KIDS).

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