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.

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  • Robots are high-tech toys with real-world applications

    Robo-snakes, robo-taxis, robo-hotels — last Tuesday’s Iowa Maker Tweet-Up featured all of the above and more in the spirit of our “Robots and Hacking” theme in the Makers Studio. We explored the future of robotics as a cool toy and technology with real-world applications. Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

    First, we discussed our favorite futuristic robots… And how we can make them a little less freaky.

    What’s the most exciting piece of robotics news you’ve heard in the past couple months? #iamakerchat -@SCIOWA

    The robot hotel in Japan sounds really interesting - and creepy at the same time! -@MichaelELandon

    We agree! A cool application of tech, for sure! Would you visit that hotel? -@SCIOWA

    Not sure! The videos I’ve seen show the movements to be awkward - what I tried to avoid programming animatronics! #iamakerchat -@MichaelELandon

    Naturally, we had to take a virtual tour of the “Henn’na Hotel” (it translates to “strange hotel” in Japanese, appropriately enough). Almost entirely staffed by robots, the hotel is high-tech but booking your stay is surprisingly cheap, as the robo-staff cuts labor costs by about 70 percent.

    Need a ride to the robot hotel? Take one of Japan’s robot taxis.

    Whether you’re building the ultimate robo-taxi or a DIY replica of R2-D2, robotics is all about problem-solving.  

    What’s one lesson you’ve learned working with robotics/mechanics as a Maker? #iamakerchat -@SCIOWA

    How to press bearings. SMT soldering. Controlling a stepper motor. How do you pick one? #iamakerchat -@Area515DSM

    More as a user than a Maker, understanding robotics’ role in increased access made it not just a toy. #iamakerchat -@AAMers, American Alliance of Museums

    Great point! How do you keep that concept in mind with every step of the Making process? #iamakerchat

    Maybe by trying to see the world through others’ eyes; approaching #Making as a way to solve problems/create solutions. #iamakerchat -@AAMers

    Next #iamakerchat: Join us Tuesday, August 11, from 7:00-8:00 pm for the final Iowa Maker Tweet-Up of the summer. We’ll discuss the upcoming Des Moines Mini Maker Faire, the future of Maker culture and more. Tweet #iamakerchat to join the conversation! 

  • Making in the Metro: Ames teacher instills Maker mindset in students

    Make something that does something: That was the motto for Teresa Green’s fourth grade students, one she hopes to incorporate in every element of the classroom experience.

    For Green, that motto means trading the traditional concept of a classroom for a “Makers Space,” where students own the learning experience through hands-on discovery and innovation.

    Growing up, the Maker mindset was intertwined with Green’s everyday life in rural Iowa. With 10 brothers and two sisters, Green and her family upcycled and recycled everything.

    “It’s all about learning to make do and thinking, ‘Well, what can we do with it before we throw it away? Can we turn it into something else?’ I think it comes from a creative mentality,” Green said.

    With each round of hand-me-downs, jeans and overalls arrived at Green’s sewing station. She examined each pair’s holes and frays and designed a custom patch.

    “It was my first engineering feat,” she said.

    Sewing repairs led Green to custom furniture refurbishing, and in college, she studied the musical side of Making. Today, she is an instrumental band teacher turned librarian and instructional technology consultant at Ames Community Schools. And now, she has a newfound title for a lifelong mindset: Maker.

    For Green, STEM learning is all about encouraging students to see ordinary objects in new, innovative ways.

    Take Oral-B toothbrushes, for instance. At a recent Ames Maker Tech Camp, students transformed toothbrushes into whirring robots.

    “They took Oral-B toothbrushes and made their own brush-bots. Then, some asked, ‘Oh, Mom, when you’re done with your toothbrush, can I have it?’ It’s that kind of project that makes them realize they don’t have to go and buy toys. They can make their own,” Green said.

    Whether her students are asking Mom to borrow her toothbrush, or how to upcycle a beloved toy into a DIY lamp, Green is happy. Inspiring inquisitive, tech-minded Makers is her goal. 

    “They realize technology is all around them, how sensors are used to open doors when you walk in or wash your hands, for example,” Green said. “Then they start to think, ‘Oh, what if I could Make this?’ That’s my favorite thing.”

    Green invites students to explore Making through fun, DIY toys, but she’s quick to connect every hands-on activity with real-world STEM applications.

    Take 3-D printing. Green hopes to give her students the opportunity to explore its practical potential through design and computer-aided drafting activities.

    “I'm hoping to incorporate problem-solving challenges into students' thinking about what 3-D printing is and how to use it to its full potential rather than as a cool toy,” she said.

    The same goes for educators. As she incorporates Making as an integral part of the entire learning experience, Green hopes to illustrate to educators that it’s not just about cool, high-tech toys. It’s about equipping the next generation of STEM professionals with the creative, resourceful Maker mindset.

    “My challenge for the coming year is to learn to make it something that isn’t an extra or an add-on,” Green said. “Making is part of what we do.”