Wednesday 16 November 2011

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Discovery Science Center - Fun in a Rubik's Cube

In our house, helping with the homework is a job that Lori and I have split down the middle. I handle any English, Math, or French questions, and Lori takes care of Social Studies, Bible, and Art. The kids are on their own for P.E., but the subject that gets passed around the most is science. The standing rule for science is that whichever parent you ask for help first, will send you to the other one. Whoever gets the homework referral is stuck trying to figure out what laws of the universe have changed since we were in school.

This lack of scientific expertise in our family meant that we were all going in on a level playing field when we went to visit the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, California. For a family that tries to avoid bunsen burners at all costs, you may think that a science center would be a strange choice for a place to spend an afternoon, and you'd be right. If you've ever driven the I5 south of Anaheim though, you know the reason. It's the giant Rubik's Cube.

OK, it's not exactly a Rubik's Cube, but it's similar enough to get us to stop and investigate. The cube itself is hollow, but the main building is packed with all sorts of neat, interactive science exhibits. My kids, who usually share their parents disinterest in the laws of physics, were off and running almost as soon as we stepped through the door. Within five minutes my older two were lying on a bed of nails, learning the principles behind the distribution of weight. I decided not to join them, thus saving them from having to learn that there's a maximum amount of weight you are allowed to distribute.

The kids tore around the place, checking in to everything. They rode in a shack that simulates and earthquake (which felt more realistic than the time I was actually in one), they learned how to make tornadoes with air currents (because what kid doesn't need to know that), and they learned how to send smoke signals (technically I think they made cloud rings, but nobody tries to figure out what cloud rings are saying).

Smoke signals! I believe this translates to "Dad, I need a raise in my allowance!"
After exploring everything thoroughly on the ground floor, we made our way up to the second floor to check out the "Science of Hockey". There were plenty of things to do here like make your own play-by-play tape, test the sturdiness of some sticks, or throw on some gear and become a goalie. This was our favorite activity, as there was a giant video screen in front of your net where you could watch a player skate in at you, and then just when the player took a shot, a puck would shoot out of the screen. It's lots of fun, but let me give you fair warning: Whoever was responsible for setting up this exhibit, had a bit of a mean streak in them. Boys, if the player on the screen goes over to the left to shoot, you probably should crouch low and protect your own pair of hockey pucks.

Once I finished demonstrating my athletic prowess to my children (except for maybe the skating challenge, where I got my butt handed to me) we headed outside to try Dino Quest. In the area underneath the giant cube, the science center has built a dinosaur boneyard, and as researchers, you are on the hunt for fossils. You are given "research transmitters" (aka Harry Potter wands) and a card with a list of fossils for you to find. When you find one you are looking for, you wave your wand (err...research transmitter) at it and it records your find. Once you've completed your card, you can return to the research office and get a prize. Depending on what kind of admission you bought, there may be a small surcharge to do Dino Quest, but it was a lot of fun, and probably worth the few bucks just to walk around yelling "Expelliarmus!!" at anybody else who looks like they might have seen the Harry Potter movies.

We actually ran out of time at the Discovery Science Center before we ran out of things to do. That's OK because it gives us a reason to go back. The Boeing rocket lab wasn't even open when we visited, and the simulated rocket launch looks like it would be fascinating. Our ticket included a showing in the Discovery Theater, but my kids found the movie a little young for them, although they did appreciate a chance to sit in a comfy chair for a little bit.

As a change of pace from all the theme parks in Southern California, the Discovery Science Center is a great place to spend a day. The fact that there was never any "Can we go back to Disneyland?" requests should show that the exhibits kept my kids intrigued throughout our visit. The only problem I have with the science center is that it promotes learning about science at every turn. If my kids develop an interest in science, one of us is going to have to help them with their homework. I guess I'll just have to make sure I'm the first one they ask.