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Partner Highlight: Children’s Science Center Explores Topography with Elementary Schools in Fairfax, VA

Laahiri Chalasani, Education and Program Manager

The Children’s Science Center, located in Fairfax, Virginia, provides Family Science Nights of interactive exhibits and hands-on activities to its Northern Virginia elementary schools. Every Tuesday and Thursday, the Center’s van rolls out filled with 12 activities designed to coincide with the curriculum taught in the communities’ schools. During a Family Science Night, the host school’s gym or cafeteria is transformed for 2 hours, while parents and children have full reign on what they’d like to learn and explore. The activities, all manned by volunteers, were created to cater to all ages and minds in the school. Each school year, activities are updated and replaced to continue to broaden the scope of multiple STEM related subjects offered.

As a recipient of the Explore Science: Earth and Space 2017 toolkit, the Center is utilizing the Rising Seas activity for their place-based ideology. In this activity, visitors use topographical mapping techniques to track changes in sea level. To take it a step further, the Center’s Outreach Team created a second ‘coastline activity’ to relate it back to Virginian topography. They used modeling clay to create a shallower coastline model than the volcano to differentiate the effects of rising sea levels. Filling the volcano model with water up to the third mark has a lesser effect than when the coastline model is filled up to the same third mark, and the water submerges more land and does so more quickly. They then have participants look at different maps of mountains (Bull Run Mountain, VA) and cities that reside near water (Hampton, VA) in Virginia and have the children discuss which location would likely be affected when sea levels rise.

By showing the visitors different locations they have either visited or are familiar with, it makes the educational concept that is being taught a real-life situation. Since the science has been connected with them on a personal level, the activity has made a greater impact.  Visitors leave with a better understanding of their local environment. Some have made statements like, “That needs to change,” or, “I wonder what we could do together to help.” This type of activity leaves a lasting impression on them and the wonder and thought process continues with them long after Family Science Night is over and the van has driven away.

About the Children’s Science Center:

The Children’s Science Center’s mission is to instill a love of learning science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in all children by providing unique opportunities to explore, create and be inspired.  The Children’s Science Center Lab is located at Fair Oaks Mall and is Northern Virginia’s first interactive museum where children, families and school groups can explore STEM concepts through fun, engaging hands-on exhibits, activities and programs. In addition to the Lab and community programs, the Center is working to fulfill the vision of a full-scale, world-class children’s science museum to be located in Dulles, VA. The Children’s Science Center is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization. Learn more at