Still and silent, the bright yellow school buses are lined up along the curb of 19th Street by 10 am. Inside McWane Science Center, the air is filled with the bustle and buzz of energy and excitement that only a field trip can bring.
Children, in what can best be described as organized chaos, make their way around the building’s 9,000 square feet of hands-on exhibits. Sometimes you hear a chaperone, like a lifeguard at a swimming pool, firmly warn someone to “Walk!”
But you can just see the kids itching to run. There’s simply so much to see and they have been freed! They have been released from the confines of their desks and their typical school days. They are on an hours-long vacation.
Shh. No one tell them that they’re learning.
“We want the community to remember that we are a science center. We have an incredible opportunity to improve our science education,” says Chandler Bibb, Vice President of Marketing and Development. “Even our founding donors don’t know some of the amazing things we are doing.”
Bibb gives us the rundown of what’s happening at the downtown destination.
McWane is conducting a national search for a new CEO. This is the second such search in the past year since Tim Ritchie left to become president of The Tech Museum in San Jose, Califonia. In February, after a four-month search, former president and CEO of Southern Progress Tom Angelillo took the reins at McWane. In April, Angelillo resigned, according to a press release, “due to unexpected health issues with his parents.”
Bibb, who also interned at Southern Progress when Angelillo was still there, spoke highly of the former CEO’s brief tenure.
“He felt this was an amazing opportunity to give back to the community and he’s still very involved. We would love to have an announcement soon about a new CEO. It’s important for us to have a leader who’s going to take us to the next level.”
Early Learning Expansion
The next level, in part, begins on the second floor. McWane Science Center is in the midst of its biggest project since its opening in 1998 with an expansion on the second level to construct the Birmingham Children’s Museum. This area of McWane will focus on early learning for pre-K children with features such as a sound garden, a climbing structure, water features, and more.
Early learning exhibits have been especially popular at McWane. Over the summer, a Dora & Diego exhibit created by the Indianapolis Children’s Museum and Nickelodeon drew large crowds of small people.
A Big Red Exhibit
He doesn’t speak Spanish, but Clifford the Big Red Dog is certain to draw as many children (of all ages) as Dora & Diego. Adventures with Clifford the Big Red Dog will be at McWane October 27- February 17.
Clifford has both the nostalgia factor going for him – this is the 50th anniversary of the beloved children’s book character created by Norman Bridwell – plus the advantage of still having a show on PBS.
The exhibit is a recreation of Birdwell Island (cQ), with Clifford’s doghouse, Samuel’s Fish & Chips Shack, and the Birdwell Post Office. A larger-than-life Clifford (with Emily Elizabeth sitting on his front paw) features a slide for little ones. (Little ones. Don’t get any ideas, adults.)
If McWane were a vehicle during the holidays, there is no doubt it would be a train. Busy, bustling, and a fitting tribute to Birmingham’s railroad heritage.
The Magic of Model Trains exhibit will return to the center and a new riding train will be set up on the third floor.
“We love seeing the cross-generational popularity of trains,” Bibb says. “You can’t even imagine the detail [of The Magic of Model Trains exhibit]. You can look in the window of a restaurant and see a waitress dropping her tiny tray.”
The Magic of Model Trains will be set up November 10-January 10.
Also through January 10, the IMAX Theater is currently showing Rocky Mountain Express, a film about the building of America’s first transcontinental railway. Bibb says the combination of features during this time will show the science and engineering blended with the magical fascination trains inspire.
In other train-related news, The Polar Express will return to McWane for a Polar Express Pajama Party December 8, 15, 22, and 23. Wear your pajamas, sip hot chocolate, eat cookies and visit with Santa.
If a few hours isn’t enough, you can spend the entire night in The Magic of Model Trains and Winter Wonderland exhibits December 14 during the Snowed-In Sleepover.
By the way, forget what James Spann might tell you as the cold-weather months arrive. There will be snow. McWane’s Winter Wonderland exhibit will feature a Snow Room where kids can make snow angels and play in the frosty white stuff.
The snow is a super-absorbent polymer called sodium polyacrylate, a non-toxic powder that fluffs up to look like snow when you add water to it.
And that’s science.
Forgot you were learning something, huh?
For more about what McWane Science Center will feature through the end of the year and beyond, visit www.mcwane.org or call (205) 714-8300.