Interactive tinkering studio goes on the road

By Wayne Bryan Published January 2, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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Dinosaurs have been among the featured displays at the Mid-America Science Museum in Hot Springs.

HOT SPRINGS — While visitors to the Mid America Science Museum will probably never forget watching the world’s most powerful Tesla Coil arc, spark and create lightning with 1.5 million volts of electricity, perhaps the most popular permanent exhibit in the museum is the Tinkering Studio.

The studio on the museum’s middle level is a place where young visitors can become immersed in creative experiments that are also fun.

“It’s a place where the visitors can slow down and become deeply engaged in an experiment that has no “right answer” — just possibilities limited only by your own ideas,” said Casey Wylie, educational programs coordinator at the museum in Hot Springs.

Now, with the help from a grant from the Arkansas Discovery Network, Wylie and the museum staff can take some of those experiments out of the museum and take them into school classrooms, libraries and other locations.

Wylie said the first road trip for the Tinkering Studio was to Cutter Morning Star Elementary School on Dec. 13, when several classes used the studio’s circuit blocks.

“It was fabulous,” she said. “We had two fourth-grade classes, and we worked with each of them for about four hours. The circuit blocks fit into the curriculum taught at this grade level, but the kids had never had a chance to get their hands-on experience and see it for themselves.”

The blocks have electrical connections placed within them, with nails as connectors. Tinkerers can attach batteries, light bulbs and other objects, and connect them with leads to create light or operate a motor, Wylie said.

“The students could build up the block as much as they wanted to,” she said. “They decided what went on it.”

Since the students had already studied about electrical circuits in class, they “were all over it,” Wylie said, when they were given the opportunity to make their own powered circuits turn on lights.

“They also build a Jitter Box that has batteries and a motor to make it move and dance around,” Wylie said. “The kids had so much fun.”

Wylie and Brooke Ownbey, educator and volunteer coordinator, led the student activities, along with the teachers.

Also available for travel to a school or library in the area is a marble run.

“There are two sections that snap together to form a track 4 feet tall where marbles can drop,” Wylie said. “The children can control the path the marbles take with tracks, rubber bands, flexible tubing and funnels.”

It is the smaller version of the marble run used in the Tinkering Studio at the museum, but Wylie said she can carry the mobile unit in her car.

Roving programs, led by museum staff, have been making trips to the Garland County Library for a while, Wylie said.

“We have tons of stuff for the programs, like a portable planetarium, and I do a Harry Potter birthday program,” she said. “I play a visiting professor to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry who teaches how muggles can make magic through science.

“I use magnetism and chemistry and make ice cream with liquid oxygen.”

These programs that can travel through the community will be especially helpful when the museum closes from August 2014 to March 2015, as the museum goes through a complete renovation, along with the construction of a Science Skywalk located among the trees around the museum, 25 to 30 feet above the ground.

“The doors might be closed, but the museum will still be active,” Wylie said. “We are also working on a schedule of summer camps.”

She said the museum had not held any camp programs for six years, but several sessions are being developed.

In addition, she said, the annual summer reading program for libraries in Arkansas will focus on science in 2014.

“We have requests from libraries from all around the state asking us for programs to support the themes of the summer reading [programs],” Wylie said.

For more information about the museum’s mobile programs, call Wylie at (501) 767-3461, ext. 15.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 24-4460 or at

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or

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