On a recent Science Saturday, dozens of kids came to the Wescott Library in Eagan with this aim: to learn about acids and bases.
When it came time to drip red cabbage juice into substances like Mountain Dew or lemon juice and watch them turn various colors, the kids leapt off the floor. Who knew that pH levels could be such fun?
The Wescott Library started offering its STEAM on Saturday series last fall. (STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math.) The sessions are an expansion of the science classes for home school students that the library has hosted since 2008.
Attendance at the classes for home schoolers, low at first, has grown to the point where some sessions now draw more than 100 students, said Mary Wussow, a manager at Wescott. That success prompted Wescott to broaden the programs to the general public. The Galaxie Library in Apple Valley has also added Saturday science programs.
Wescott has two remaining Science Saturday programs this spring for kids ages 5 to 12, one on electrical generation April 11 and one on chemistry May 16. Programs for ages 10 to 17 at the Galaxie Library in the coming weeks include a “Fire and Ice” session on heat and cold put on by Mad Science of Minnesota on April 18, one on static electricity by the Bakken Museum on April 25, and one on chemistry by the University of Minnesota on May 2.
Friends of the Wescott Library, a group that funds library programs and projects with proceeds from book sales, has doubled its contribution to the science programs, helping to pay for the expanded series at that library branch.
The programs are being implemented primarily because of the popularity of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curricula in the local schools, librarians said.
STEM initiatives have increased in recent years. According to Tony Taschner, District 196 communications director, that’s mostly due to “just knowing that’s where our future career opportunities are going to be focused.”
Taschner said several Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan schools now have a STEM focus, including Cedar Park Elementary School, which became a STEM magnet school eight years ago. Valley Middle School and Apple Valley High School also became schools with a STEM focus in recent years.
This is the Galaxie Library’s first time trying a science-focused series. They are hoping for 15 to 20 kids per class, said Annemarie Robertson, a manager at the branch.
“If we have too many kids, that would be a wonderful problem,” she said.
The programs at Wescott have been a great way to connect the libraries with professionals, said Eric Austin, a senior manager at the library. For example, the “visiting wizard” who led the recent acids and bases program was a chemist from 3M. In February, when one organization unexpectedly canceled, Mike Lynch, the WCCO Radio meteorologist who’s also an astronomer and lives nearby, filled in. His program was such a hit that the library hopes to have him back for a nighttime program soon.
“Librarians these days have to be connected to our communities,” said Austin. “People want to come and teach what they know. We need that.”
The librarians at Wescott are also currently testing out sample kits and activities, such as snap circuit and invention kits, to possibly include in summer and fall programming.
Robertson said Galaxie Library has added tech toys like Sphero, an app-controlled ball, and iPad labs with programs like Hopscotch, which helps kids learn computer programming to create stories, games and art.
The libraries are planning on rolling out similar science and technology programs for upcoming seasons.
Wescott children’s librarian Anne Frederichs said the library has a STEAM fest planned for July — an evening open house where kids can do things like work on circuits and robotics. They also have some coding sessions planned for August, with help from the Eagan High School robotics club.
This summer, the Galaxie Library will host Thursday night science programs and weeklong coding camps for kids, including one designed for girls, in August.
“[It] gets them thinking in a different way about how that machine is working,” said Robertson. ”It’s not just turning it on and plugging it in.”
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer. Her e-mail is email@example.com.