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In the middle of a Tuesday afternoon, young kids dominated the rooms of the Montana Science Center on the corner of Willson Avenue and . At 1 year old, Emmeric Wirtz ran around and pushed buttons on the wall of a room dedicated to bugs, waiting for the buzz of the bee or chirp of the cricket. Brother Callan Wirtz, celebrating his third birthday, learned about the pill bug commonly known as the "roly poly" from Science Center Executive Director Abby Turner. Sterling Wirtz, at 5, was most interested in the butterfly and water bug encased in glass. 

"Did you know these were alive?" he asked. 

While each sibling would have been comfortable in the Montana Science Center's former life as the Children's Museum of Bozeman, the new space allows for scientific exploration across generations. 

The change in name and philosophy was prompted by the 2016 opening of high-tech maker space STEAMlab, filled with computers and 3-D printers, electrical circuits and soldering tools.

"We were seeing a lot of older kids return to the space, kids we maybe thought had phased out," Turner said. "...Younger kids wanted to be doing what the older kids were doing."

Programming started to shift, with CMB's science-based programs and field trips offered for a wider range of ages of kids. Then, as exhibits were turned over, aspects to appeal to a variety of interests and skill levels became a focus. 

"The philosophy really spread out into the space," Turner said. 

And the Children's Museum name had to go. 

"The name became a barrier to understanding who we are," Turner said. 

CMB officially became Montana Science Center on March 14, and with the renewed vision is in the process of finding a new home to further grow the organization's offerings.  

Where children’s museums as a whole tend to focus on imaginative play, a science center seeks to enhance creativity through problem solving and critical thinking.

“It’s the next level of creative play,” Turner said.

Each of the exhibit galleries has been revamped to include what Turner calls a scaffolding form of learning, utilizing caregivers and older kids’ knowledge in collaboration.

“(Older) kids who are starting to get deeply involved in science and technology don’t feel like they are coming into a space for little kids,” Turner said.

With the change, Turner said there will be more adult programming offered, such as a women’s night in the STEAMlab. The organization has also formed an advisory council of women in STEM fields.

While the focus is very much on various sciences, Turner said kids who may not think much of their own skills in the subject should not be wary.

“Seeing things in a practical sense, a real-life sense, to them it’s playing,” Turner said.

For Natalia Kolnik, the director of education, programming in the science center is really about leaning on her own sense of fun. She pulled a notebook from a shelf, opened to a blank page with googly eyes. This, she said, was the basis for a camp focusing on photonics and optics. Kids can learn about different types of light through a drawing on the page. In the right light, a monster appears around its eyes.

A flashlight project seems simple, but kids are learning circuitry in the creation. And if they build it a box, that’s mechanical engineering, Kolnik explained.

“It doesn’t make sense when applying for grants for a children’s museum, but it does as a science center,” she said.

Now, Kolnik sees her role as supplementary to what kids learn in the classroom.

“We’re supporting schools and encouraging kids to dig deeper with it,” she said.

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Rachel Hergett is the editor of Ruckus, the arts and culture publication of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She can be reached at or (406) 582-2603.

Rachel Hergett can be reached at or at 406-582-2603. Hergett is on Twitter at @hergett.

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