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This Iowa City house party will feature a mini-drone, robotic cars and DIY mechanical bees — all to spark kids’ interest in STEAM


Science and Technology House Party

RAL Social Hall -- 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18


Child’s hands from a photograph by Ivan Radic. Robert A. Lee © Google 2022. Toys clockwise: RUSR DIY Solar Car, DJI Tello Mini Drone, UBTECH JIMU Robot. Graphic by Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Mini-drones, programmable robots and small cars will cruise around the Science and Technology House Party this Sunday at the Robert A. Lee Community Recreation Center. The free event is hosted by the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department to showcase its newest technology and promote the fall and winter STEAM programming.

“Something I care a lot about personally is getting kids interested in science outside of a classroom,” said Nancey Pope, the department’s Nature and Science coordinator. “We want to provide a place where they can spark interest in science in a low-pressure, non-academic setting.”

The event will have robotics and engineering kits like the Sphero Indi, a toy car that moves by responding to color-coded mats. A green mat, for example, will make the car move forward a few feet. Kids can use the mats to make mazes and racetracks that navigate around different obstacles.

“The color-coded mats are a way of programming the cars to do different things: go, stop, turn around, turn right to left,” Pope said. “They’re actually super cool. I love these little these little cars.”

The Sphero Specdrum rings will use color-coded mats to make music. Tapping the ring on the mat will produce a sound. It’s a simple concept with a low entry barrier, but older kids and adults can produce complex music with the rings.

The Hummingbird kit combines arts and crafts with robotics. Attendees can build the robot’s body using craft supplies, attach mechanical pieces and program certain actions. For example, they could build a cardboard bee, add robot wings and program the wings to flap.

The kit uses the Scratch, a programming language designed for kids and pre-teens. Using a tablet, they drag-and-drop pre-coded commands and string them together to perform an action.

“Even though our activities are really aimed at kids, it’s a great educational opportunity for adults,” Pope said. “Technology is just changing so fast. It’s a great chance to learn a little bit about programming.”

Mini-drones will hum and buzz throughout the event. They’re small, between four and five inches, but powerful. The drones are untested in a public setting, so Pope is “really curious” to see how it goes. Event staff will hold a training session, teaching attendees how to pilot them with the tablet controls. Kids can fly the drones through an obstacle course and take aerial pictures.

The house party will also have Makey Makey kits, which turn everyday objects into keyboard inputs, like using a banana to play GarageBand on a laptop. Other activities include the Roylco Straws and Connectors building kit, accessible microscopes with prepared slides and the stream table.

“Our stream table is my absolute favorite thing that we have,” Pope said. “It shows how rivers change over time and how erosion occurs.”

The 3-ft by 6-ft interactive table that uses plastic sand and water to create a river system. People can change how the river flows, create floods and observe how erosion occurs.

“All of the new equipment that we talked about, we’re going to be offering classes using that equipment into the fall and winter,” Pope said. “People will be able to sign up for those classes at this event.”

Pope hopes the event will inspire kids and teens to pursue and develop their STEAM interests, while also providing a memorable experience for families.

“I loved going to events like this with my own kids when they were younger,” she said. “We strive to provide a welcoming place where community members learn about science and technology. Science isn’t only a classroom topic. It is a way to understand the world around us.”

The science and technology equipment was funded by ACT (the nonprofit that administers the standardized college admissions test of the same name), Iowa STEM Hub and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources REAP-CEP (the Resource Enhancement and Protection’s Conservation Education Program).

The house party will run from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18, at RAL’s Social Hall. It’s free and open to the public, but children must be accompanied by an adult. Masks are encouraged and hand sanitizer will be provided.


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