Palouse Discovery Science Center is in Pullman, Washington on the eastern edge of the state.
This was our biggest surprise on our Road Trip of Science. When I looked on their website there wasn’t a lot of information about their exhibits, and when I read reviews in advance, some were very favorable, and some… were not. So, we came in with very low expectations, and ended up being very impressed.
I’ve now realized that there was a major remodel recently. So reviews from 2 years ago describe it as dirty, in poor repair, with many items non-functional. Current reviews are all favorable, and for good reason! This was an absolutely great museum. It’s on the small side, because this is a small town, but really high quality with high replay value. If we lived near here, we would have absolutely bought a membership.
They had a special exhibit of hands-on activities about the science of flight, a fabulous doctor’s office dramatic play area, building toys, an art room, sensory experiences, and a quiet room. It’s a great science museum for kids age 2 to 12, with lots of great replay value. I’ll cover all those in detail below. They also have special events, like a 3-D printing event held in August. Note: One review said “their exhibits for teens will be back soon.” I can’t attest to that, but it’s an interesting note.
This was a great exhibit on the science of flinging, launching, and flying. We wondered if it was locally developed, or if it was from a national program, like the Sun, Earth, Universe exhibit from Explore Science and NISE Net. But, we found no evidence of it online, so we are guessing it is locally developed and unique to Palouse – if so, kudos to the designer! It has lots of diverse activities, all of which are accessible and engaging to all ages, infinitely replay-able, and teach the tinkering mentality. The signage is really nice graphic design, and the content is great, with questions on each one to guide the user’s thinking and inspire inquiry.
They had an air cannon, where you pull back and release a handle, and it shoots a donut-shaped gust of air at a target. (Tip: I found this online project to build your own air cannon.) The cloud ring exhibit is a drum shaped thing with a water vaporized inside. When you lift, then drop the top, a donut shaped puff of steam comes out.
They had a wind tube and parachute flyers. You put the paratrooper toy at the bottom of the tube, and a fan blows him up and out the top and he floats to the ground. (Here’s how to make your own wind tube.) The scarf cannon is a tube mounted by a fan that launches scarves into the air. (They had the kodo kids wind tunnel. It’s beautiful but pricey, so I’m working on a DIY scarf cannon using a shop fan.) The catapults allow you to pull a rod back at an angle and launch a ball toward a target.
There was an air car race where you stomped on a half-ball to create a burst of air that shoots a water-bottle-car along a track. This was really fun, but we never got them to go more than a few feet, and the track was many feet long, so I think it could use a little tweaking to increase the range. For the air rockets, you made a paper rocket by wrapping paper around a pipe, taping it, and then folding the top down. (You could add wings or fins if desired.) You’d place the rocket on the launching tube, then jump on a half ball to create a burst of air to launch the rocket. (Note: We think you could duplicate this activity and the air cars using the launch mechanism from a stomp rockets set.)
There was a video tutorial on how to fold paper airplanes, with paper and a folding desk – my son folded the best paper airplane he’s ever folded. Then there’s a machine that launches it super fast.
The ring launcher has electricity in the base that induces a magnetic field that repels metallic discs, launching them in the air.
There’s a table with sno-cone cones, scissors, tape, and a fan. It challenges you to shape the sno-cones so they will fly as long as possible.
Or, some kids just explored how many sno cones they could move at once:
There were additional flight themed things that did not appear to be by the same designer / maker as the other activities.
- the U-Fly-2 simulator – this had a a toy plane hung in front of a bank of fans that you could control the nose-to-tail tilt of and the angle of the wings using joysticks. The signs talked about the challenges of controlling a vehicle that moves in 3 dimensions, and teach the terms pitch, yaw and roll. My 8 year old played with the plane, but the concepts were over his head. Maybe better for tweens/teens.
- How do Airplanes Watch their Weight talked about different materials that could be used in building an airplane, and the strengths and limitations of each. There’s a long bar of each material that you can lift to see how heavy it is, and press down to see how strong it is, and whether it’s flexible or rigid. This exhibit is best suited for age 10 to adult. (Although again, younger kids will play with lifting and pressing.)
This pretend play area was simply the best I have seen at any museum! They had a real hospital bed, real equipment like stethoscopes, BP cuffs, a scale, a hammer for testing reflexes, a tuning form for testing hearing, and devices that I don’t even know what they do! They even have a working pulse oximeter! They have lab coats and scrubs to dress up in, plus aprons that show where the organs are located on the body. They have x-rays, a brain model, and baby doll and puppet patients.
Ball Wall – they had a fun ball wall, with a wide variety of components mounted on magnets to hang on a metal wall. Ball walls are great for teaching tinkering skills – build something, test it, tweak it, test it again.
There was a carpeted corner of the room, with shelves filled with loose parts for building with. Bins held tinker toys, counting bears, dominos, unifix cubes, wood pattern blocks, Magneatos, Mega Blox, and ~1-inch wooden cubes. [Note: I included affiliate links to all of those in case you see anything you love and want to own – I do get a small referral fee if you purchase them.] There was also a bin of musical instruments, like tambourines. They also had a Mega Blox wagon that “vacuums up” blocks when you pull the wagon over them – my son loved scattering blocks across the floor so he could use this to pick them up again. There was a Duplo table too.
The art room is set off and away from the other rooms. At first, I thought maybe it was a birthday party room, and wasn’t open for play. When I walked in, I saw that there were materials out to be used, and a place to display work on the wall. I think it would help engage kids if 1) they had a big sign out in the main room with an arrow, saying “Come in here and do art!” or some other invitation, and 2) they had a “sample project of the day” out on the table to get kids started with an idea.
They had a lite brite made with water bottles, similar to the one at Mobius Children’s Museum in Spokane. I hope both of these were made with bottles rescued from recycling bins, rather than purchased new for the project.
They had two sensory tables made from PVC pipe (find the tutorial here on how to make your own). One had Mad Mattr in it (this is a substance like a cross between play-dough and kinetic sand) and molds to shape it with. The other was a water table. I loved the pipe across the top with the sprinkle holes drilled in it, and this great little water wheel. (We’ve had a hard time finding a small water wheel to use in the water table with our 1 year olds – most water wheels are too tall for them to reach up to pour water on.)
They had pieces from the Nano exhibit from NISE Net. This exhibit is designed to teach about nanotechnology. They had the building blocks to build a carbon nanotube with, a poster and hands-on display of some nanotechnology products in a home, and natural examples of nanomolecules. I have seen this exhibit elsewhere, and although kids enjoy exploring the activities in the exhibit, personally I think the most kids takeaway from it is “nano means very small.” They only had some of the exhibit out on the floor. Some was in the store room. Perhaps it was replaced by the flight exhibit?
This room wasn’t labeled – I thought maybe it was a room for nursing mothers or for toddlers who needed quiet space. A reviewer describes it as a sensory room for kids with SPD or autism to take a break when needed. It has a rocking chair, books, a felt board, fidget toys, foam blocks, ramps and balls, stones to sort or stack, and foam tumbling blocks.
In summer 2019, admission was $6 for kids, $7.50 for adults. They participate in the ASTC Travel Passport program so if you have a membership to a science museum elsewhere, you may be able to visit for free. For the most current info on fees and hours, check the museum’s website.
There was no cafe there… I don’t remember that they even had anything like goldfish crackers in the gift shop. But, if you bring your own snacks, there are a couple tables in the lobby to eat at. We spent 2 or 3 hours playing there, so it’s worth bringing a snack.
More STEM Destinations
We visited Palouse as part of our “Road Trip of Science.” You can learn more about other science and engineering related museums we’ve visited in the Destinations section of this blog.