Whether you’re looking for science activities for a single evening event, a full-day Saturday event, a day camp or even a semi-permanent display, many science events can be created to be “reusable” so many children can explore them. Each exhibit needs to have more than things to look at. It needs an activity to keep your visitor engaged. This might be a challenge, skills they can practices or anything else that is “hands-on”.
NOTE: This Science Center set is designed to be more of a learning experience than a visual showpiece.
Pre-Planning Your Science Center
1. Visit other Science Centers.
I’m not suggesting you go to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago (though it is really cool). Check out smaller science centers, permanent installations at schools, classroom science centers and more to pull ideas for your Science Center. See how they build their exhibits, especially the lower tech ones. Take notes of the exhibits, how they are assembled, etc. If they allow you to take pictures, do so.
2. Determine your location.
Where will you be having this event? Can you use the school gymnasium or cafeteria for an evening? Are you looking at an empty piece of land for a weekend? Is there an old building that isn’t being used that you can utilize for a month? Determine where you will be having your event. Create a rough layout so you can work on including your exhibits in the area you have available.
3. On-site availability.
You’ll need to measure door sizes, ceiling heights, locations of electrical outlets, HVAC registers, lighting and other fixed items. Keep these handy as you work on exhibits. You may need to adjust your exhibits to the available space.
4. Portable or permanent.
Are you planning on making your center permanent? Can you pack up the exhibits and create a moving center that can be used at schools, youth centers, etc.? Sometimes a simple design change to your exhibits allows them to be taken down and put back up again with minimal effort.
If you’re thinking of making a portable Science Center, locate a storage location where you can house the exhibits when they are not in use. Even if your center isn’t portable, you’ll need somewhere to store unused exhibits, tools, non-reusable materials and more. Determine the space you’ll need. Do you have a place to store materials? Is it accessible to everyone who needs to retrieve items?
6. How long will it operate?
How long will your event last? Are there issues with leaving your materials up for a period of time? Can you get enough volunteers / workers to be there for the duration of the event? Explore reasonable lengths of time for your event.
For a short event, like an evening, materials do not need to be as sturdy as a semi-permanent exhibit that you plan to use for a month. Keep durability in mind as you create your exhibits.
What do you have available? Is there water? A large amount of space? The resources that come with the location will dictate the “exhibits” you can offer. If the area does not offer the resources for the exhibits you would like, find if there is a way to create these resources on-site.
9. Your visitors.
Who will be visiting your center? You want to have this person in mind when you design your center. If you plan on having people of many abilities and ages using an exhibit, choose a representative of each. As you look at the exhibit, try to do so from your visitors’ eyes and determine if the exhibit works for them. Your ideal visitor(s) will need to be able to get to areas easily, move within them, get into and out of the location, etc. Keep the Americans with Disabilities Act in mind.
Your venue, age of participants and other restrictions may limit your choices of activities. In addition, something as simple as a lack of electricity at an outdoor camp may severely limit your “exhibit” choices. Your location may dictate time of access, areas allowed and other rules you need to follow. Review your restrictions and determine how you can overcome those that eliminate the “exhibits” you would like.
Do you intend to limit your Science Center? You might want to stick to a branch of science, a theme or even limit your exhibits to feature local and natural information. Keep this in mind as you’re working through possible exhibit ideas.
12. Sharing with others.
Sharing your Science Center with others allows you to utilize a larger pool of volunteers and experts. In addition, sharing also allows more people to enjoy your final efforts.
For example, if four service units are hosting their own day camps and they agree to do a “Science Center”, you could share the work and costs to make it less prohibitive for any one of the four. In addition, you might be able to let your council help by offering them a weekend event or two with your Science Center when the day camp isn’t using the exhibits.
Another example might be a community that utilizes an empty building where Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Lions Club and other local organizations all work together to provide a free Science Center for local elementary children for a period of a month or two to allow them to learn more than they could in a classroom.
13. Additional activities.
Review the following list of possible activities that you might want to add to your center in addition to the exhibits themselves.
- Snack area
- Create your own experiment area
- Live experiment area
- Community garden
- Expert presentation area
- Common room to gather groups or to do group activities
14. Up front costs.
Inevitably, there will be some items you have to pay for. Ask your community to donate items that you need from your exhibit list. Find sponsors / donors to help offset the cost. You may also have a fundraiser to help pay for items that you cannot get donated.
Populating the Science Center
Brainstorm your exhibits. What might you like to include? Do you have a theme? Are you focusing on only one type of science? Do you have the resources on-site for the exhibits?
Check out the badge program “Science Center 02: Exhibits” to get more into the exhibits you might want to share.
Is your Science Center designing mainly to deliver hands-on fun? If you actually want to guarantee that visitors interact with your exhibits, you need to hold them accountable. This might be by providing a sheet with a question or two from the exhibits you want them to visit, recording variables of an experiment, describe what they did, etc.
17. Find collaborators and volunteers.
Find help in your community to plan your center as well as build the items you need. Collaborators can help you plan, reimagine and troubleshoot your initial ideas.
For volunteers, start with organizations that can help with a specific skill, such as carpenters helping with building exhibit stands. Don’t limit yourself to professional people. Many people have hobbies that they are experts in that can help. Brainstorm possibilities for volunteers.
In addition, you’ll need people to be available during your exhibit. These people might give explanations of why certain experiments work, may direct people to exhibits they missed, or work in one of your special areas doing live experiments.
18. Printed supplements.
From signs explaining how the experiment works to a possible passport so participants can make sure not to miss any of the exhibits, printed materials can add to your Science Center. A master CD or binder can allow others to recreate your Science Center and / or replenish printed materials as needed.
For any printed items that you plan to remain with the exhibit, laminate them to increase durability. This includes the name of the exhibit, the steps for the experiment or description of why it works.
If you’re planning a portable exhibit, make a binder with instructions for setting up the exhibits, what materials go with each exhibit, etc. Believe me, you’ll thank yourself later.
19. Adding your own.
As you create your Science Center, keep your brainstorming lists, exhibit ideas, etc. handy. Share any items you have that have not been provided with this badge program to share with others and help improve their programs.
I realize the badge set is huge compared to the others I’ve done and you may feel overwhelmed. Take one step, one activity or one supplement at a time. There was so much more I wanted to include, but had to stop it somewhere. Don’t feel this is exactly how you need to work through this badge set to create a Science Center.
You may simply ask the science teachers in your school district to bring in their favorite experiments and do an evening of science and leave it at that. Let your resources, knowledge and volunteers be your guides through this process.
This badge program does not have supplements, but some of the other parts of the set do. Check out the Science Center X (Exhibit Idea) badge programs below for ideas and supplements.
Science Center Badge Set
- Science Center 01: Creation
- Science Center 02: Exhibits (general)
- Science Center 03: Little Additions
- Science Center 04: Shop
- Science Center 05: Support
- Science Center X: Animals
- Science Center X: Build
- Science Center X: Color
- Science Center X: Detective
- Science Center X: Earth
- Science Center X: Experiment
- Science Center X: Games
- Science Center X: Human
- Science Center X: Light
- Science Center X: Movement
- Science Center X: Nature
- Science Center X: Senses
- Science Center X: Tech
- Science Center X: Water
Also check out these Enrichment Project badge programs created as supplemental material for the Science Center badge set.
- Hooked on Science
- Science in a Box
- Super Charged Science
- Try Science
- USG Science Resources
Sites to Explore
To download a PDF of this badge program, click here: EP_SC01_Creation