Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Thinkery!

We love visiting museums! While on vacation (working for me--my job is portable with a laptop!) in Texas recently, we stopped by the Thinkery in Austin. It's a fairly new STEAM museum which was formerly the children's museum of the area. We were able to get in free with our ASTC reciprocity from the Museum of Science and Industry. Added bonus! Since our Christmas present theme was "tinkering" we thought this would be a perfect place to explore with the boys!

There were many hands-on stations throughout the museum. They also had seasonal gingerbread house making, including a high tech version. It looked like many signed up for this extra at the museum. Since this was our first visit, we thought the visit would be enough. We liked these simple blocks with velcro. They allow for different uses than normal blocks. The gears were fun, too. We have a couple of gears toys at home--maybe we need to get them out again soon.

There were circuit boards to control wires, lights, sounds, etc. 

One of the kids' favorite spots was with the "rockets". They had animal shapes on them and various wings--loved these as it brings in a little nature. They are put on a compressor and shot off, with ways to change the trajectory. The different rocket designs also impact how they go as well. 

The kids thought clean up time was just as much fun! I like that we have raised them to pitch in and help when there is a need. If you make a mess, clean it up. (okay--still working on that one in the home!)

I didn't see them used much; however, I like that there were record sheets nearby to turn it into a real experiment if desired.
We also loved the wind tubes! Even my husband got into it! I have been looking for a good source for one of these (maybe not museum quality), watching the options at Kodo Kids and also looking at the many different options that are available as far as making one on your own. Still pondering on this! It would be great to study wind, cause/effect, seed dispersal, etc. 

My husband also was mesmerized by the iron fillings suspended in oil and the different patterns and shapes they made with the magnets! The ball shoots with air flowing through them were also fun!

Outside there was a water play area, a large climbing area, and various play areas. 

Nice places for shade and privacy!
We're always up for a climbing log!
I've been looking at the plans for these beehives for several years--maybe it is a sign that we need to get something made!

There were also tubs of various loose parts and toys outside, like large dominoes and "snow" balls! A music area was also fun! 


We were really looking forward to the Maker Space they have at the museum. They only had afternoon hours that day, so we planned on an afternoon visit. We thought it might be more open ended (though the attendants were open to the projects the kids might want to make), but it was nice to have a theme on circuits for the 45 minute session. They talked about making a complete circuit, using words like circuit, conductor (like water, metal), closed loops, resistor, insulator, etc. I always like to see how they organize and set up these experiences (teacher geek in me). They talked about how this is a hands on project, how there might be some challenges or mistakes, and how to learn from what they are doing. They used laminated name tags with dry erase for the names. Also, the planning sheets later on were dry erase. In the picture below, they are closing the loop to make a circuit, using their bodies as part of the loop. They made a big closed loop with all the kids in the class! The ball lights up when the circuit is closed. They talked about examples of insulators and conductors. A wood table might be an insulator; however, a live tree conducts water inside. A wet t-shirt would also conduct electricity. They also shared a safety caution as they would use small batteries which are unsafe for young children if ingested. They gave the cards to the parents so no batteries would be lost within the museum that had 525,000 visitors in its first year as The Thinkery.

They were show an example of what they might do, but then were given lots of options and loose parts to make their own design. 


Supplies were out on the tables, ready to go. 

There were also experts who had used these materials many times that could help if they got stuck or to help understand the material better. 

It was neat to see their finished designs with blinking lights!

Nearby were several fun books related to tinkering! Lots of inspiration! 

Outside of the Maker Space, they also had circuit boards for use. Love these! They remind me of the littleBits we recently got. It's fun to try different options! 

Some areas were creative areas, with instructions for snowflakes and a place to add to the big gingerbread house! Fun! 

Other areas had different loose parts to build and construct things, with an invitation to make a sleigh during the holiday season.

They had an animation station, a scope, and a whole room on light that I didn't capture with pictures.

Upstairs, they had a whole toddler area that looked inviting! We were busy with other projects and didn't make it upstairs for long. 

There was also a kitchen lab for special projects--that could be neat! 

They had local food outside, as well as healthy vending machines--win! There was also a gift shop as you left--while a small area, there was a lot of super cool stuff in it! Since we got in free, we let each of the boys choose something inexpensive to buy, while my husband decided he needed magnetized blocks! While the museum is not huge, we had plenty do during our afternoon visit. There are many classes and things appear to be changed up over the seasons. It helped us think and connect to STEAM concepts more! 

I liked the big chalkboard in the museum with a question of the day and notices about the day! Fun!