The Science Near Me blog is a partnership between Discover magazine and ScienceNearMe.org.
If you’re searching for a place to learn, create, and explore all kinds of STEM activities, look no further than a local science festival! These events happen all over the country and offer exciting opportunities to learn about and do science right.
Some science festivals are localized enough to be hosted on a college campus, like the Virginia Tech Science Festival, while others span entire cities and states. For example, this month, the Wisconsin Science Festival will feature over six hundred STEM opportunities for communities all around the Badger State! The festival runs from October 16 to 22, with additional events happening the week before its official start date.
If it’s your first time attending a blowout STEM celebration, the sheer amount of stuff to do can be overwhelming. But with a little guidance and a search tool like Science Near Me’s Opportunity Finder, you can find events perfect for you ahead of time and make the most of it.
What can you do at a science festival?
Science festivals are a celebration of all things STEM. They often feature a variety of activities like live demonstrations and hands-on makerspace projects that span a huge range of topics, from chemistry to robotics to astronomy. It’s like a state fair but for STEM!
Science festivals are often held at a single location like a conference center, although others happen in multiple places. At the Wisconsin Science Festival, participants can get involved in dozens of locations across the state, including both big cities and small towns. That’s all thanks to statewide partnerships with libraries, universities, nature centers, museums and other community institutions.
Science festival events can be in-person or held virtually. And in some cases, you can stop by a location to pick up materials for an activity that can be done at home.
For example, libraries in dozens of Wisconsin cities will have free Science in a Bag STEM kits available for pickup during the science festival, with options for students in kindergarten through high school. These kits feature several projects that explore topics like ecology, quantum physics and genetics. (You can search for your local library in Science Near Me’s database to see if they’re participating.)
Large science festivals will have something for everyone, regardless of age or experience. You’ll find hands-on robotics activities for kids, nature-focused after-school programs for teens, and interactive museum exhibits for all ages. Activities can even be done by the whole family, like the Wisconsin BioBlitz. All week during the festival, participants can go outside and record their observations in the app iNaturalist to help gather more data about local plant and animal species.
If you’re a science educator, professional development sessions and lectures on timely topics are often included in science festivals to enrich your curriculum. Take the Badger Talks series from University of Wisconsin-Madison for example, where professors will speak on topics like sustainability, psychedelics research and weather monitoring.
Seasonal and regional events are also worth keeping an eye out for at your local science festival. This month, an annular solar eclipse will occur on October 14 and will be at least partially visible across most of the country. Several places will host viewing parties in Wisconsin as a lead-up to the festival, which officially starts the following week. There will also be a Sandhill Crane migration watch ongoing at Sandhill Wildlife Area in Babcock, Wisconsin all festival long.
Overall, science festivals are a great place to learn something new while engaging with your neighbors and local institutions. Science happens everywhere, all the time — and a local science festival can really put a spotlight on what’s happening in your backyard.
How to make the most of it
Decisions, decisions, decisions! At an event the size of the Wisconsin Science Festival, it can be tough to choose which opportunities to prioritize.
Location can be a deciding factor for many people since not every event at the festival will be accessible to everyone. If you live in or near Wisconsin, now is a great time to browse Science Near Me’s database to view the full slate of activities planned for the coming week. You can filter by location or search for events within a certain driving distance so that you’re able to narrow down the easiest-to-reach opportunities for you.
Since there’s no central location for the festival, each event will have its own instructions for registration and parking. Those details can be found on individual event pages on the festival website. There’s also a handy search tool where you can filter for events by cost, topic, accessibility, and more.
Most opportunities are free and open to the public, and many do not require signing up in advance. However, be sure to check if an event recommends an RSVP, since some can be quite popular! For example, admission at the Mining & Rollo Jamison Museums in Platteville is free on Saturday, October 21 and includes a guided mine tour and train ride, but advance sign up is recommended.
For teachers looking for field trip opportunities, check out the festival’s digital guide to in-person and virtual events specifically for student groups. Some do require advance sign-up, such as the hands-on expo at the Discovery Building on the University of Wisconsin Madison’s campus, which is taking waitlist applications.
There’s no right or wrong way to experience the Wisconsin Science Festival, and everyone’s experience will look a bit different depending on their location, interests, and age.
And if you don’t live in Wisconsin, don’t fret. It’s likely that your state (or closest major city) hosts a science festival during the year, but you don’t have to wait for it to get involved in fun STEM projects.
Science Near Me partners with a wide variety of organizations to spread the word about upcoming STEM opportunities across the country. You can check the database for activities happening in your area right now or visit when your local science fest is right around the corner to search for events near you.
If your organization offers events, projects or programs that invite the public to engage in STEM, add it to Science Near Me!