Kids Meet Science at Des Plaines Public Library
Stephanie Spetter and Heather Imhoff | October 28, 2010
Blinded by science?
No way! The pictures tell the story. More than four hundred people attended the second annual Family Science Expo at Des Plaines (Ill.) Public Library on Saturday, October 16, from noon until 4 p.m. Exhibitors from all over the local engineering and science spectrum came together to demonstrate to kids and their parents just what it is they do. Demonstrations and hands-on projects captivated kids of all ages as presenters helped get kids excited about science.
Des Plaines Public Library board president George Magerl, himself a member of the Optical Society of Chicago, initiated the program:
My experiences participating in similar expos at other venues were excellent. I’ve seen that fun hands-on experimentation is the key to exciting young children and encouraging them to explore science and engineering as a career. We wanted to give the kids of Des Plaines that experience so we started this fair.
George invited other engineering associations and science organizations to join him in participating, and the first ever Family Science Expo was held in October 2009. More than two hundred people attended that event. Library Head of Public Information, Heather Imhoff, organized these events, arranging for George’s science recruits to have space for displays, audio-visual presentations, science demonstrations, and hands-on science activities. The event itself was promoted with large banners in the library, listings on local calendars, extended coverage stories in key local press, and a TV news segment appearance by one of the exhibitors.
Exhibitors included representatives from the Illinois Wing Civil Air Patrol; the American Institute of Chemical Engineers; MATHCOUNTS, a project of the north suburban chapter of the Illinois Society of Professional Engineers; and TravelMidwest.com. In one area of the library, Bob Johnson of the Structural Engineers Association of Illinois demonstrated the different methods of keeping a building from falling down. This group’s demonstration included an hourly simulation of an earthquake to test the structural viability of certain building types. In another area, Illinois Destination Imagination and their project group, the Construction Challenge, had kids participating in an attempt to build a structure as a team using cups and string. Yet another exhibitor, Women in Engineering, had the guts of two computers spread out on their tables, and kids were helping the presenters put the computers back together.
Youth Services department staff supported the exhibitors by collecting materials and creating displays of science and engineering books and videos that kids and their families could check out that day in order to continue their science experience at home. They also offered a handout (PDF) listing exhibitors and events at the program.
In 2010 there were ten exhibitors, with exhibit space in our meeting rooms and spread strategically among first floor (meeting rooms and circulation) and second floor (youth services) public service areas to give plenty of space for both seeing and doing. Board president George Magerl and Head of Youth Services Stephanie Spetter hope to grow the program to include even more exhibitors and participants in 2011. The plan is to expand into other available meeting room spaces to allow for more interactive participation.
If you are considering hosting a similar expo at your library, look for existing expos or fairs in your area, perhaps at a technical college. Get the list of exhibitors and start to recruit. Look online for professional science and engineering organizations in your area and contact them. Most have youth outreach initiatives and would jump at the chance to be part of your event.
Stephanie Spetter is Head of Youth Services at Des Plaines Public Library.
Heather Imhoff is Head of Public Information, Des Plaines Public Library.