Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Neat Demonstration-Based Water Exhibits in the Twin Cities

During our recent trip to the Twin Cities of Minnesota, we saw some very neat water exhibits at local museums.  The Twin Cities lie on the Mississippi River, and the cities are very much celebrating the cultural and natural history of their river.

The Mill City Museum in Minneapolis sits on the site of what was once the world's largest flour mill.
This mill used the power of the Mississippi River to turn vast machinery and process the copious grain crop of the Midwest.  I talked a bit about these mills in this post.  One of my favorite things about this museum was its very neat interactive water exhibits.  They were probably designed with children in mind, but of course I immediately started playing with them as well.

This exhibit allowed visitors to float 'logs' down the river into 'lumber mills' - a small model of the larger mills that were used to process huge logs floated down the river in times past:


This exhibit demonstrated how the dam in the river and associated tunnels and spillways were used to bring water power to areas along the river:


This river was a small model of the historic buildings and bridges along the river:


Of course, I tried using the bridge to dam up the river, and tossed the houses into the river to wash over the falls.  Not something we'd want to see in real life but fun to do with little models.

My only complaint was lack of sand for the river to flow through, but that would have made a big mess indoors.

This exhibit demonstrated how vertical water turbines work:


Visitors can plug the tube with their hands and feel just how much power and weight is behind even this small amount of water.  It's not hard to imagine how the mighty Mississippi, so many times larger, could power a whole city of mills.

I also tried the 'make a cereal box' exhibit:


There is also a fun elevator tour of the mill with reenactments of what it was like to work here 100 years ago.  Pictures weren't allowed on the tour, but it ended at the top of the mill where there was a good view of some of the ruins:


Nearby in Minneapolis we found a neat fountain and some fun manhole art:



On the way out of town we visited Saint Paul, the twin to Minneapolis.  The Science Museum of Minnesota has a very neat area of outdoor exhibits called the Big Backyard.  Sadly, I didn't have time to go in and check it out, but I got a chance to see some of the VERY neat exhibits.

I was excited to see that there is a 9 hole Mini-Golf course that demonstrates many characteristics of rivers and watersheds.  It looked like a very fun exhibit, and a great way of demonstrating river science.



There was also a maze through native prairie plants...


... and my favorite type of water exhibit - a large outdoor 'stream table' where water flowed down a sandy slope:


Much of what I learned about rivers was through playing in water moving through sand and mud (though often we had to haul the water with buckets!)  This is the best way for kids to learn about how water moves through a landscape, and admittedly I myself could have spent hours watching the water erode different patterns through the sand.  After all, water is scalable, and patterns seen on a small scale are extremely similar to the patterns larger waterways make.  Alas, we wanted to drive beyond Chicago before we stopped for the night, to avoid Chicago morning traffic, so I didn't get to go in and play in the sand this time.  If I'm back out there again during the warm season, I'll sure check this part of the museum out in more detail!

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