The Science Mill has a really cool background, and this is apparent in the architecture of the building.
The old feed mill-turned-museum, in downtown Johnson City, was “built in 1880 as a steam grist mill and cotton gin
As you walk in to pay, you receive these little cards attached to yarn that the kids are encouraged to hold on to. I then notice these little kiosks with iPads attached to them. At the iPad stations, you create an avatar that connects to your card with the QR scanner from the iPad. The program guides you through a series of questions, such as child’s name, age, gender, etc. before allowing you to create your robot avatar that will inform you about each exhibit that you come in contact with. The coolest thing about this avatar is that it is used with an augmented reality program so that the robot appears 3D while interacting with you. So cool!
The first silo features an interactive exhibit called “Cell Phone Disco.” The description on the wall for this exhibit instructs the user to “send a text or make a phone call inside the silo and see what happens.” If you do one of those things, a huge board of red lights light up and come in and out of power. The purpose of the lights coming off and on is to show that your cell phones transmit radio waves every time that you use it, and these radio waves activate the lights. The 2nd silo consisted of an exhibit about where water comes from, and the 3rd consisted of a very cool exhibits about fractals called “Fractalarium.”
As you make your way to the middle of the museum, every single area of science that you could ever imagine comes into fruition. There is computer science using coding to make an electric cow move its head and moo, as well as a chemistry periodical table game. You can see how chemical reactions work and even cause a loud chemical explosion (all safe of course!). You can study human biology as you explore a skeleton on an interactive touch-screen monitor, cutting and dissecting each bone, ligament, and muscle as much as you want. You can learn about physics as you try and make your sail boat go faster by controlling the wind, and then experiment with electricity and control electrical circuits. You can even strap on a bio-sensor headband and challenge an opponent to a game of mind control as you literally try to use your mind to move a ball across the table. Mind = Blown!
The exhibits above are a little bit more geared toward older children. However, there is something for younger kids as well. As you make your way across the building, there is a section that little kids, and even big kids, will love! If you have a little builder on your hands, they will love building their own machine-powered race car, and the race it on the HUGE wooden racetrack! If gears are more their style, there is a gear wall that encourages children to put together gears in the correct order to make the windmill move. There is also a section for 3 and under that allows them to run around and play with mats, balls, and their reflection on the walls. If you come at the right time, you can even watch the 3D movie called “Space Junk.” At only 25 minutes, it’s definitely worth your time! You can also venture outside and play with a huge foam K’Nex set, all under the shade and with places for parents to sit. Good thinking, Science Mill!
Lastly, a cool feature of the museum is that it has a nice “farm to table” restaurant inside of the children’s area called “Lady Bird Café.” The food was DELICIOUS! The menu was limited, but all the ingredients are grown locally and you can’t beat that. The price was reasonable, and my kids and I left satisfied. I would definitely recommend trying it!
Something that I learned from this trip: The Science Mill museum was definitely geared more towards older children in that it had more for them to do that they would understand. My kids are small now… but guess what? They turn into big kids. This makes the Science Mill something that they will enjoy coming to for a LONG time. I saw tweens, teens, and even some adults exploring all the exhibits there, and that shows me that the Science Mill really encourages life-long learning. I also really enjoyed how they used technology to their advantage, such as the avatar and all the iPads. Each exhibit had an iPad that helped explain what was going on, and they used “the cube” device on the iPad to pay for everything you purchased.
Johnson City, TX has a population of under 2,000 people, but the history and charisma make it something so much bigger. Before the summer comes to a close, make sure that you plan a day trip to Johnson City and check out all that this small town has to offer!