Friday, August 7, 2015

Pensacola MESS Hall is the Gulf Coast's STEM Secret!


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Don't you hate it when you plan a beach vacation, and then the weather changes?

SIGH

For us,we knew the morning was fine for the beach, but by 2 the rain, and severe heat, would be arriving, so I went looking for something for us to do, that would not require an hour drive.

I was torn between 2 STEM activity centers for kids on the Gulf Coast, but ultimately decided via reviews, and the fact that a CSI workshop was being offered, to go with the MESS Hall in Pensacola, Fl. The fact that it was only 10 minutes from our hotel was also a score in its favor!


The Pensacola MESS Hall opened just 3 years ago, and is not a typical science museum. Rather than exhibits with planned outcomes, visitors get to work like real scientists, developing questions and creating experiments, engaging in complex reasoning and learning science just through tinkering. It’s all hands-on science.


During the week were on the coast the MESS Hall was offering special CSI workshops (DNA, chromatography  and examining evidence). For only $2 over the price of admission, the kids got to attend the special workshop and learn how science can help solve crimes. I was able to literally grab the last slot for Miss Grace the night before! I love online booking, don't you?


When we got to the MESS Hall, Miss Grace wasn't sure where to start, as we had a half hour until the workshop started. There are so many hands-on activities! Each activity center has basic ideas and questions to consider and ask, while conducting the experiment. Here are some of Miss Grace's favorites:






The MESS hall claims they have thousands of Keva planks, and judging by how many the kids were using on their different builds, I would believe them! Miss Grace built her fort variation on the designs she saw in Fort Pickens!


The kids are able to select from the 'Daily Menu' of MESS (STEM) kits, and pick any that they want to do. One at a time, and they can pick a new one, when one is returned. the 'menu' changes daily, so kids can come every day (if members) and have different activities to do. For Miss Grace, she decided to go with Dancing Acrobat. She was able to draw her acrobat, cut out the pattern, and then put it all together, and then experiment with momentum. It was fun, and she loved having a kit to work from. And then she picked Zoetrope, as shown above, where she learned to 'dance' the rings up and down the holder, with their magnetic field. It was interesting to see her apply concepts from one kit to the other!

You can check out some of their simple ideas from the MESS kits, on their MESS Hall to go page!.

The CSI workshop was very clever. The kids were able to see a 'crime scene', read about 5 potential suspects, then collect soil and flour samples, test said samples and 'DNA' and then use those results to rule out suspects.


They then had to decide between 2 final suspects, determining motive and opportunity. Both the instructor and I were pretty shocked with how well thought out the group of 8-13 yr olds was in their thinking. they came up with solid motives, based on the personality profiles provided and sneaky ways of how entry could have been gained to the room in question. Either they have watched WAAAY too much TV,or these were just some pretty creative kids!


Miss Grace greatly enjoyed herself and made a couple of friends in the 3 1/2 hours we were at the Mess hall! I know-I ahd not PLANNED on being there that long, but she was so into checking out the experiments and working through them, and tinkering to find a better 'way', that I wasn't about to stop her! 


And that is what is super about the MESS Hall! Kids are so caught up in experimenting, that they aren't worried about cell, TV or tablet screens. That alone is worth the cost of the (only) $8 admission! Active military members get $1 off. There are plenty of chairs for parents to sit at, and just let the kids go to it. But more than likely parents will want to be hands on as well! 


They do have a mini snack bar, in case you stay longer than expected, and they are right off the strip for Pensacola Beach access. they even have half day/week long Summer Camps,divided by grade levels. But you can also attend for only one day, if you're only there part of the week! This year's topics were Mission to Mars and Inventor's Workshop. We highly recommend them if you are on the Coast and looking for things for kids to do! 

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