logo

SCI 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 of all ages come to explore science and technology.

To continue the learning outside our building, we bring 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, in-depth information about science events and STEM connections in the Des Moines area.

All Posts

  • STEM Across the State: An SCI Outreach Road Trip

    By Rachel Braak, SCI Outreach Presenter

    I like to call myself a morning person because compared to some people, I am. But 3:30 am is a little early, even for me. Luckily, I went to bed early, prepared everything the night before and hit the road right away with a fresh cup of hot chocolate in my hand. Time for a day of Outreach for the Science Center of Iowa!

    I arrive at SCI early in the morning, and all I hear is the quiet hum of the building at work. As I load the van with liquid nitrogen, a tank of hydrogen and a whole box of matches, among other experiment components, I know I’m in for an exciting day. I get in the car and settle in for the three-hour drive to North Fayette Valley Community Schools.

    When I arrive at the school I am greeted with smiling faces and eager questions from students in Pre-K all the way through 8th grade. “What are those balloons for?” “Are you a scientist?” My favorite question is, “Are you going to blow things up?” If I am doing our popular “Boom!” program, I happily reply, “Yes, I will be setting things on fire and there will be explosions.” Most of the time students think I am kidding. I mean, 99 percent of the time they ask that question the answer will be “no.” I love getting to tell them “yes”—their eyes light up!

    I set up and am all ready for the students when they start to come in. They stare at me in my goggles and lab coat in awe. No matter their grade level, they all start guessing what I’m going to do. Throughout the show, the look of excitement in their eyes makes the early morning and long drive well worth it. From our “whoosh” bottle experiment to the fiery hydrogen balloon explosion at the end of the program, students are on the edge of their seats, answering and asking questions, learning and having fun.

    Even after five shows in a row, the students’ energy is contagious. I always find myself in awe of science just as they are. I can’t wait for each experiment, even though I have done them many, many times.

    As I pack up the van and prepare for another three-hour drive back, I look across the parking lot and see busloads of kids waving at me. I wave back, get in the big, green SCI van and head on my way. I’m still smiling because I know my day was well spent inspiring kids to explore the world of science.

  • STEM in DSM: Students develop SCI app and a new relationship with technology

    We absentmindedly tap, touch and swipe screens every day, expecting they’ll perform the desired task without considering the intricate code that informs every action. Three Des Moines Christian School students rewired their relationship with mobile technology this semester, thanks to the 2015 statewide HyperStream Club challenge: a “Design Your Visit to SCI” app for Android devices.

    “I learned how we communicate with our devices. If I click this button, my phone is going to do this. If I tap here, it’s going to shut down an app,” said senior Thierry Habinshuti, 18. “I’m actually telling my phone what to do. It’s amazing. It’s amazing to communicate with technology and tell it what to do.”

    When the Technology Association of Iowa announced this fall’s statewide HyperStream challenge, Habinshuti and DMCS juniors Kate Plagge and Catherine Gardino teamed up on the project.

    “We’ve never done app development in HyperStream. I’ve done cyber-defense. They’ve done multimedia,” Plagge, 17, said. “Together, we have the skills, but we knew it would be a challenge.”

    The team plugged into MIT’s App Inventor software, which introduces users to programming and app creation through drag-and-drop building blocks. After weeks of brainstorming ideas, making lists and watching tutorials, Plagge, Gardino and Habinshuti turned to the best teacher of all — experience.

    “We decided to stop watching the tutorials and go inside the project,” Habinshuti said.

    Each student took ownership of different tasks, trouble-shooting problems as a team along the way. Tasked with linking the app user’s age, interests and duration of visit into one cohesive SCI experience, the project’s complex logic proved the No. 1 obstacle.

    “We spent a lot of time thinking about how everything is connected,” Habinshuti said.

    Despite the challenge of weaving together layers of data, the students’ diverse skills and tech interests created a dynamic club environment.

    “It’s fun when all our minds are working together,” Gardino said.

    Each of those minds has big plans for the future. Gardino, 17, isn’t sure what she’s going to pursue after high school but enjoys expanding her tech know-how through HyperStream.

    Plagge plans to go into a medical field but said the programming skills gained in the club will help her no matter her career choice.

    Habinshuti is interested in engineering or architecture, and HyperStream has given him a glimpse of how everyday technology functions in extraordinary, often hidden ways.

    “Everything uses technology,” Habinshuti said. “Everything has a code. Even though I’m interested in doing engineering or architecture, I’m going to need coding skills to see how things work.”

    Students from HyperStream clubs across the state will submit their final “Design Your Visit to SCI” apps this Friday, January 1. A panel of judges will select the winning team, and the selected app will be available for Android devices on the Google Play store.

    Whether or not they win the contest, Habinshuti, Plagge and Gardino have experienced the real-world side of software engineering, complete with a resume piece and the skills to communicate with a team and with technology beyond the classroom.

    “It’s critical to know how to communicate a coding language with objects,” Habinshuti said. “I believe this will help me and my classmates in the future.”