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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Traveling Experiments - UM Exhibit Brings Science Fun To Reservations
by Betsy Cohen of the Missoulian
credits: photo by Linda Thompson of the Missoulian

PABLO - After sprinkling iron filings over the curved shape of a World War II radar magnet, 8-year-old Olivia Perez strategically added a few lug nuts, some bolts and screws, then stepped back to admire her handiwork.

In just a few moments the humble pile of scrap metal was transformed into an alien sea beast.

“These materials make great, scary creatures,” Perez said as she gazed at the spiky-haired monster she designed on Sunday during the first day of the University of Montana's two-day spectrUM Discovery Area exhibit at Salish Kootenai College.

“It's really cool how this stuff sticks together,” she said while reassembling the parts into yet another freak of nature. “I would love to have something like this at home so I could play with it on days when it's snowing and there's nothing to do.

“This is really fun.”

Lucky for Perez and her family, the hands-on science exhibit will be in Pablo one more day before it is back on the road with scheduled stops in Browning, Box Elder, Harlem, Wolf Point, Lodge Grass and Lame Deer.

Thanks to a series of grants, UM is this year's host of the traveling “Weather” exhibit from the San Francisco Exploratorium, said Emily Crawford, spectrUM outreach coordinator.

While on the road this month, students will engage with four of the exhibit's 14 hands-on science stations, and during the summer months, the entire exhibit will be available to the public at Montana Tech in Butte.

“Learning opportunities likes this are available in urban settings around the country, but not in rural areas or in tribal communities,” Crawford said. “And we are really excited to bring these hands-on exhibits to all our major communities in Montana.”

Aside from the astonishing power of magnets, on Sunday children seemed to be most captivated by the mesmerizing power of a giant “Gravity Well.”

At that exhibit, when pennies are placed into a slot, they roll out on their edge, around and around a huge black drum drawing ever closer to the center of the drum and its giant black hole. Eventually, they drop in.

The well captured Sam Wicker's 8-year-old imagination as he watched the pennies spin around, never faltering because of ventricular force.

One penny at time, he realized, wasn't nearly as fun as dozens, one after another.

With the drum aswirl with pennies, the thing hummed and buzzed, attracting the attention of Perez's 2-year-old sister, Sierra, and 4-year-old Daniel Wicker.

Not to miss out on the fun, Sierra picked up handfuls of pennies and flung them into the mix, derailing gravity in action and proving she was a mighty force to be reckoned with in her own right.

“When I get home after work during the week and the house is a mess, I know which hurricane came through,” quipped Juan Perez, Sierra's father.

No matter the technique or outcome, experiencing science is the whole point of the exhibit, Crawford said.

“We want to offer a physical opportunity to relate to scientific concepts, rather than just have learning be mental and intellectual,” she said. “We want to instill learning with play - something we call instilling prior knowledge.

“The idea is that these kids will have knowledge of science at a young age, so when they are sitting in a classroom one day and learning they might remember a hands-on experience they had.”

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