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Arts and Enrichment

Raising Scientists

Indiana Adventures to Explore the Wonders of Science

October 01, 2010
Children are born adventurers. The two-year-old in the high chair is reenacting Galileo's famous drop of the cannon ball and the feather from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to see what will hit the ground first. They are channeling Sir Isaac Newton to "discover" the laws of gravity. The constant questioning at the pumpkin patch is an in-depth investigation into the natural world: Why are pumpkins orange? Why are some big? Why are some small? How does the tractor pull the wagon? How does the kettle corn pop? The kitchen can unlock principles of chemistry. How does cake batter go from a gooey liquid to a delicious solid? How does macaroni go from being a hard noodle to squishy macaroni and cheese?

Some investigations can be more formal than others and can provide the basis for a wonderful field trip. All throughout our state, there are many different experiences just waiting to be had for all ages.

Science in the State Parks

The Eagle Creek Discovery Center has been welcoming guests for over 30 years. After reopening in the fall of 2009 as the Ornithology Center, the building is now "all about the birds," featuring beautiful exhibits and programming focused on birds and bird watching, as well as live birds of prey programs. Did you know that Eagle Creek Park is home to 260 of the 400 bird species seen in Indiana? It is not uncommon to see bald eagles, great blue herons, double-crested cormorants, grebes, loons and other amazing wildlife from the observation window.

Indiana Dunes State Park includes everything from dune succession tours to working with park rangers and Singing Sands Star Shows. This state park, located on the shores of Lake Michigan, is living proof that glaciers once scoured our great state and left behind the magnificent Great Lakes. Looking down the shore, it is hard to miss the mingling of factories with the natural environment in a compromise toward peaceful coexistence. As you walk the beach, you can find zebra mussel shells, which at first glance look lovely. However, this invasive species creates havoc and financial ruin to many in the area. First introduced in the ballast of ships, it has taken over and clogs any drain pipe it can find. Indiana Dunes State Park, 1600 N. 25 E. Chesterton, IN. (219) 926-1390. www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2980.htm

You can explore beach dunes, watch the progression of plants as you move further away from the water inland, and search for all different types of rocks, many brought from northern Canada by gigantic glaciers. The Chain O'Lakes State Park is a fabulous example of glaciers scouring our state. The chain of lakes that provides the monikers for this park are a glacial feature called kettle lakes. They were formed when the glaciers began to melt and water dug holes and left its material behind. Many of the original kettle lakes did not survive until today and provide great examples of bogs. Chain O'Lakes State Park, 2355 E 75 South Albion, IN. (800) 457-8283. www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2987.htm

To the west of Bloomington lies McCormick Creek State Park. Entry into this park is five dollars per vehicle with an Indiana license plate. Because of its southern Indiana location, it is easy to find evidence of limestone and karsts topography. According to the McCormick Creek State Park Web site which details the geography of the area, the canyon is a mile long and 100 feet deep. McCormick Creek State Park, 451 McCormick's Creek Park Road, Spencer, IN. (812) 829-4881. www.mccormickscreekstatepark.com

Math & Science collide in our state's geology

Our land-locked state rests upon the site of a giant ocean. We know this because a variety of fossils are spread throughout the state and in the limestone for which southern Indiana has become famous.

You can get a first-hand look at this by going to Falls of the Ohio River on the border between Kentucky and Indiana. This is a Devonian sea bed chock full of fossils everywhere you walk. The nature center is outstanding and really allows you to experience what formerly lurked or swam in Indiana. Falls of the Ohio River, 201 W. Riverside Drive, Jeffersonville, IN. (812) 280-9970, $2 per person. www.fallsoftheohio.org

Ocean dwellers left behind a huge inheritance for future generations in the form of limestone. The area of the state around and to the south of Bloomington has rich deposits of limestone. Limestone is made from calcium carbonate. It occurs on sea beds as a result of the demise of marine organisms and their shells. If you are curious about whether a rock is limestone or not, you can put a couple of eyedroppers of vinegar on it. If it bubbles, chances are its limestone. This is the same principle as vinegar and baking soda volcanoes.

Blue Springs Caverns in Bedford, Indiana is an example of what happens to limestone over the years when slightly acidic rainwater is allowed to do its magic. Blue Springs Cavern is large enough that you can descend over 800 feet underground and take a boat ride through the cavern to see stalagmites and stalactites, experience 52 degree weather all-year-round and experience total darkness for the briefest of moments. Children can also take the opportunity to mine for gems using age old methods. Cost is $14 per adult, plus mining for gemstones at $3.75 per person. Blue Springs Caverns, 1459 Blue Springs Caverns Road, Bedford, IN. (812) 279-9472. www.bluespringcaverns.com.

Not sure if caves are your thing? Go north of Indiana and check out Fair Oaks Farms north of Lafayette. This combination of nine dairy farms demonstrates what farms can do to limit their environmental impact. This large dairy farm provides milk to the Chicago area and south throughout Indiana. They have created an interactive experience appropriate for all ages that has the goal to educate the general public about what it takes to bring milk to the dinner table. You will get to see calves being born at 80 per day! You'll also witness cows being milked and a 4-D movie entitled Grass to Glass that describes what is involved in bringing milk to the table. If that's not enough, you can take a bus tour of the entire facility, jump on a huge air trampoline and even climb a gargantuan milk bottle. Equally as fantastic, you'll find a fantastic restaurant, ice creamery and gift shop just waiting to be explored. Fair Oaks Farms, 856 N. 600 Fair Oaks, IN. (877) 536-1194. www.fofarms.com.

Hoping for a quick car nap? Go a little north of Fair Oaks, just off of Highway 65 and take the free self-driving Benton County Wind Farm Tour! Earl Park, IN. (219) 474-6100. www.earlparkindiana.com/windfarm.html.

The environment

As a whole, the state of Indiana is looking to find more ways to become environmentally friendly and look at creating new types of jobs and sources of revenue for the state. Alternate forms of energy like ethanol and biofuels are resources that are constantly being replenished and never run out. Currently, wind energy makes up only a small fraction of the total energy output of our country. It is reliant upon the construction of large windmills, which turn by the force of the wind. The blade acts like an airplane wing and creates a pocket of low pressure much like the processes of lift and drag in flight. This wind energy is used to turn turbo generators, which then create electricity. This type of energy produces absolutely no pollutants. The structures are expensive, but farmers gain income by renting out their land and still being able to farm it.

Girls, Incorporated has been focusing on environmental issues during their outreach programs that include water pollution and wind energy. Their Operation SMART® (Science, Math, And Relevant Technology) program uses hands-on, engaging activities to investigate solutions to environmental problems. To test the effects of water pollutant like oil, pesticides and coal, girls create a replica water source. To understand the benefits of wind energy, girls also assemble their own windmills.

"With all of the media coverage of the BP oil spill, we wanted to have an activity where girls could fully understand the impact of pollution on our water sources," said Christy Barlow, director of programs. "The visual of watching oil spread out into water created great dialogue and fostered critical thinking among our participants, while encouraging them to think of ways to help the environment in which they live."

Companies throughout the United States and the world grapple with ways to make money by creating and distributing their products in cost effective ways. Subaru of Indiana is leading the way in a grass roots effort from their employees to set the bar for its business being environmentally proactive. The process of automobile production uses nonrenewable resources. These resources are finite and are not replenished by natural processes as they are extracted or mined. Factories like Subaru have to contend with the use of these resources and the discharge from their factories into the environment.

Subaru of Indiana has made itself into a zero waste to landfill plant since 2004. This is quite an accomplishment since we live in the heartland of the United States where up until a few years ago the mindset was that we had plenty of resources and all that "Green" stuff didn't apply here. Tom Elger will conduct the tour and he prides himself on being able to tailor the tour based on the questions and the interest levels of the people involved. They began small with recycling cans in the lunchroom and are now known the world over for their practices.

Want a more formal tour of how Indiana is going green? Check out the Subaru Plant in Lafayette, Indiana by calling Tom Elger, 5500 IN 38 East Lafayette, IN. The tour 90-minute walking tour is absolutely free. (765) 449-1111. www.subaru-sia.com.

Want to stay closer to home? Interested in Astronomy? Holcomb Observatory on the campus of Butler University is the place for you. This reflecting telescope uses mirrors to reflect an image to the eyes. The observatory built around this telescope has a star theater downstairs, which presents a nice tour of the known solar system and then up to the telescope to see many things present in the night sky, including the planet Venus.

Most important, whether you are just doing experiments at home, answering an endless litany of questions, or taking day trips to explore our state, remember—science is everywhere. Holcomb Observatory, 4600 Sunset Ave. Indianapolis, IN. (800) 368-6852. www.butler.edu/holcomb-observatory/tours/public-tours.

Holli Joyal is a Kindergarten teacher at The Orchard School in Indianapolis, former middle school science teacher, 2006 Bechtel Fellow Purdue University School of Engineering, 2010 Wiley N. Turner Space Science, Teacher of the Year, 2007 Space Foundation Space Teacher Liaison.

Nikki Keever is a freelance writer living in Noblesville, IN with her husband and three children.

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Tags: Education, Enrichment, Green Parenting, Kids, Local, Parenting, Tweens & Teens

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