Amy Burke, board chair of the Children's Science Center Lab, and executive director Adalene “Nene” Spivey watch Emily Brunner, 15, of Falls Church take on the robotic arm challenge after programming the device to play the “Happy Birthday” song on a xylophone following a Sunday morning ribbon cutting in Fair Oaks Mall. Brunner participated on her school’s robotics team at George C. Marshall High School.
Photo by Marti Moore
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Some children go to the shopping mall because their moms have to run errands or it's a nice place to hang out with friends.
Who knew Fair Oaks Mall is a go-to place to conduct science experiments, program a robot and make stuff out of a 3-D printer?
Nearly 700 children and adults found out Sunday, July 25, as the Children's Science Center Lab celebrated its first birthday as a premier destination in this region for opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math education.
Board Chair Amy Burke says 80 percent of learning happens outside the classroom. She believes the museum is an informal education facility that reinforces learning in school.
“And it’s fun,” adds Burke, the mother of two boys who also works as a consultant for technology policy and government relations.
The lab received two huge corporate gifts worth $125,000.
Lab visitors saw two new exhibits, an aquatic life display and a robotic arm challenge.
The small aquarium holds colorful fish like some of the sea creatures featured in the popular 2003 Disney-Pixar movie “Finding Nemo” in a room designed for kids ages 5 and younger.
This Discovery Zone offers a tinker shop that introduces young minds to engineering and design concepts. It is earmarked for the $75,000 birthday gift from Herndon bank Northwest Federal Credit Union.
The robot exhibit in the adjacent gallery performs tasks users can program from four tablet computers installed around a booth. McLean commercial and government technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton gave $50,000 for this interactive display. Visitors can help the Children's Science Center Lab find a name for the new robot through Sept. 5. The winner will receive a birthday party at the museum.
Visitors can also sit at a bar and order a science experiment from a “STEM tender” who brings their ingredients and offers assistance if patrons need help with instructions shown on the Amazon Kindle electronic reading device at their station.
“It’s fun and they don’t even know they’re learning,” said museum marketing director Dorothy Ready.
Ready said the facility can fit 90 kids per field trip and many schools must send their students in separate groups. These “capacity constraints” are the reason why Spivey spoke to a crowd Sunday morning about the museum’s 10-year expansion plan with a new center under construction soon in Loudoun County at the Dulles Town Center.
This million-dollar STEM education facility runs on corporate and private donors, annual memberships of $150 a year for a family of four, birthday parties and a $12 general admission.
The 5,400-square-foot Children's Science Center Lab has an annual operating budget of $1.2 million — according to museum executive director Adalene “Nene” Spivey — and employs 12 full-time and 20 part-time staff. The museum also boasts 300 active volunteers.
The museum also continues to thrive on its STEM education roots through a portable classroom in a van donated by Volkswagen that delivers science projects to area schools.
“We started as a mobile lab,” Ready explained. She said it took five years of fundraising to grow the van into a museum.
Spivey said the Children's Science Center Lab had at least 50,000 visitors throughout its first year and garnered 900 family memberships. The demonstrations change on a rotating basis. Part of her display criteria is “they are so fun, the adults want to play with the exhibits.”
More activities held elsewhere in the mall focused on health and fitness in preparation for a special event to promote STEM education nationwide. Retired U.S. Army Col. Tim Hoffman of Warrenton will bike 4,200 miles across America to promote the initiative and raise money for the Children's Science Center Lab from Aug. 1 to Oct. 25. Participate in his cause online at www.afceanova.org/transamerica-cycle-for-STEM.
The Children's Science Center Lab is open every day in Fairfax from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the Level 1 entrance at 11750 Fair Oaks Mall. Parking is between Lord & Taylor and Sears. Call (703) 648-3130 or visit their website at www.childsci.org.