Science Friday is collaborating with science museums to encourage listeners to become doers by making and tinkering. The Pensacola MESS Hall- that stands for Math, Engineering, Science, and Stuff- embraces the idea of making and tinkering so I went there to find out more. Megan Pratt is the founder and director of the Pensacola MESS Hall.
"When you come to the MESS hall you'll see stations with materials out but not a lot of instruction. We're really trying to teach kids not science fact but how to think scientifically. How to come up with a question, how to test it, how to see the results, refine their experiment, do something different, and keep exploring and engage their own curiosity rather than dictate a set of facts."
What’s cool abut the SciFri challenge is that it revolves around making something. The creativity around breaking down and building up has coalesced around a word that’s finding new life in the contemporary science museum: tinkering. In this way kids learn advanced concepts just by playing around.
Megan Pratt says, "Where the older museums were what they called planned discovery: you walk up to an exhibit, you do what you're told, and you will now know some particular science fact, you will have felt it. Now it is an effort among many science museums to provide loose parts, tinkering experiences, ways for people to use their own creativity. Not science as an end, but science as a means to an end."
The MESS hall has several ways of building this week’s science club project: an art machine. The harmonograph you see when you first walk in is a great example. A paper marbling mess kit or painting with fractals!
Pratt says they recommend fractal painting to many of their visitors.
"It's paint, it's very simple, you don't have to have great fine motor skills. It's using these complex physics principles about fluid expansion and viscosity to create a complex mathematical pattern called fractals, which is something most people never learn in school unless you become a mathemetician. But these fractals are seen everywhere- they're in trees, rivers, eyes coral. Everyone, when they make their painting the first thing they say is what it looks like. Also, famous artists, they've used this technique to make their art. It just covers so many different things, so while it's great for three year olds it's also engaging for older audiences. And then, once you've discovered it you realize you see it all the time."