An educational initiative developed at the Smithsonian has opened at the Springfield Science Museum. It is the first in a series of improvements planned for the museum.
Spark!Lab is a hands-on exploration of science, technology, engineering, and math.
Tricia Edwards, Deputy Director of Smithsonian Affiliations, said it is not a place to learn about inventors, but a place where people can come up with their own inventions and solve problems.
" You don't see instructions. There arn't step 1,2,3. It is really about using the materials here to create the invention I want to create," said Edwards.
The activities in Spark!Lab are drawn from the key steps in the invention process and labeled as “It Phases.” These include identify a problem (Think It), conduct research (Explore It), build prototypes (Create It), and test the invention (Try It).
" No wrong answers for sure," said Edwards. The exhibit has "facilitators" but not instructors.
Originally opened at the National Museum of American History in 2008, Spark!Lab has been replicated in nine other locations in the country. The Springfield Museums houses the only one northeast of Washington, DC.
" We knew it would be in great hands here," said Edwards.
Edwards said there are plans to have each first-grader in the Springfield Public Schools go on a field trip to Spark!Lab.
Spark!Lab is the catalyst to a planned multi-million dollar upgrade to the Science Museum, according to Springfield Museums President Kay Simpson.
"Science and technology are ever changing and you need to keep pace with the times," said Simpson. " We want to turn the Science Museum into a 21st Century learning experience. We want to stay ahead of the curve."
Scheduled to open later this year is the International Space Station exhibit. It will include a robotic arm that museum visitors can program, exhibits that demonstrate the challenges of living in a low-gravity environment, and a live video feed from the orbiting space station.
The Museums also plan to upgrade the Seymour Planetarium with a digital projection and audio system.
Funding from the MassMutual Foundation will allow the Springfield Museums to extend for three more years its affiliation with the Smithsonian, according to Simpson.
"The benefit are many," said Simpson. "It gives us access to exhibitions and collections from the Smithsonian and enables us to bring up experts from the Smithsonian who can give lectures."
The Springfield Museums became an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in 2016.