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Pivot and Progress: The Putnam Museum Looks to Remake Itself with a STEM Learning Center PDF Print E-mail
Local News
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 21 March 2013 05:37

(To read the sidebar about the renovation of the Family Museum in Bettendforf, click here.)

This past weekend, we brought our daughter to Davenport’s Putnam Museum and did the full tour. We saw Flight of the Butterflies 3D on the Giant Screen, walked through the new Bodies Revealed show, and saw all the cultural-, regional-, and natural-history displays that visitors have known for decades, from the mummies to the Asian artifacts to Bix’s cornet.

But what kept Emily’s attention was the Spark Learning Lab, a modest career-themed room with the goal of preventing high-school drop-outs.

Our daughter is five and in no danger yet of dropping out of any school – or pursuing any career beyond princess-ing. And the Spark Learning Lab is geared toward fifth- and sixth-graders. But she loved the lab’s drawing program with the dual touch screens (one on the computer and one where the picture was being projected), the construction-plank set (which she’s playing with on this issue’s cover), and the feature that allows visitors to build tube structures and – with the help of a blower – either launch table-tennis balls or keep them aloft.

One station in the room lets visitors connect batteries to simple electrical devices, and another shows how structures they build with Lincoln Logs or those aforementioned planks might fare in an earthquake. The “concentration station” fosters communications skills, as one person describes a block structure and a partner tries to build its twin using verbal instructions alone.

If you want to see where the Putnam is headed, you can look at the conceptual drawings – posted in several locations – of its planned STEM learning center. The $1.5-million project is currently in the fundraising phase, and the museum expects to open it in June 2014. Putnam President and CEO Kim Findlay said adding the STEM center to the Putnam now is “the right time and the right thing for the community and the museum.”

But you’ll get a hands-on sense of the Putnam’s direction in the Spark Learning Lab. Larger-scale hints are available in the interactive components of the current Destination: Space exhibit, with its compressed-air tennis-ball launcher, and a bicycle wheel and rotating platform demonstrating angular momentum.

Implicitly and explicitly, all of these draw a line from playful exploration to science to careers, and that’s what the STEM center will do on a much grander level. It’s an attempt to transform the nearly-century-and-a-half-old Putnam from “nice to necessary,” to use a phrase that’s common in the museum field these days.

 
A New Community at the Family Museum PDF Print E-mail
Local News
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 21 March 2013 05:36

(To read the main story about the Putnam Museum’s planned STEM center, click here.)

At a recent visit to the Family Museum’s new Fox Hollow, there was a robber at the grocery store, grabbing (fake) money and announcing his deed. This probably wasn’t what leaders of the Bettendorf museum wanted to happen with their renovated facility, but dictating any aspect of open-ended play is antithetical to the enterprise.

So Museum Director Margaret Kuhl laughed when told about the Fox Hollow crime wave.

“We don’t have any police officers on duty,” she conceded. “Maybe somebody from the fire department could have helped. ... We have that neighborhood concept of everybody looking out for each other.”

 
Southern (Ohio) Gothic: Donald Ray Pollock, April 25 at Augustana College PDF Print E-mail
Literature
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Friday, 08 March 2013 05:29

Donald Ray Pollock

Because there’s no rational response to a terminal cancer diagnosis, Willard Russell’s course of action following his wife’s death sentence doesn’t seem as strange as it should.

In Donald Ray Pollock’s novel The Devil All the Time, it’s a prayer log in the woods, “the remains of a big red oak that had fallen many years ago. A weathered cross, fitted together out of boards pried from the back of the ramshackle barn behind their farmhouse, leaned a little eastward in the soft ground a few yards below them.” Willard goes there every morning and evening “unless he had whiskey running through his veins,” Pollock writes, and he often takes his son Arvin.

Lest that sound peaceful and perfectly pious for a man who had little use for the church after what he’d seen in World War II, allow Pollock to set the scene as the condition of Willard’s wife deteriorates: “Maggots dripped from the trees and crosses like squirming drops of white fat. The ground along the log stayed muddy with blood.”

This is in Part One of The Devil All the Time. Out of desperation, Willard begins offering blood sacrifices at the prayer log – animals he killed or scraped off the roads. “But even he had to admit, they didn’t seem to working ... ,” Pollock writes. “There was one thing that he hadn’t tried yet. He couldn’t believe that he hadn’t thought of it earlier.” And that is when Willard decides to kill his landlord.

 
Hoofin' It: Ballet Quad Cities' "Love Stories: Love on the Run," at the Scottish Rite Cathedral PDF Print E-mail
Dance
Written by Thom White   
Monday, 18 February 2013 06:00

Ballet Quad Cities' Love Stories: Love on the RunWhile bearing the same title as 2012's Valentine’s Day-themed performance, Ballet Quad Cities’ 2013 Love Stories: Love on the Run – held on February 16 – offered several new short pieces along with “Newsflash,” one of my favorites from last year’s presentation. And Saturday night’s entertainment delivered a mixture of sensuality, flirtatiousness, and exquisite beauty, culminating in a romantic experience that left me doe-eyed with emotions linked to love.

 
Maximum Obfuscation: Rock Island County Asks Voters for a Blank Check; You’d Never Know It from the Referendum PDF Print E-mail
Local News
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 24 January 2013 08:33

If a government body wants to spend tens of millions of dollars for a construction project, there are lots of ways to gauge the public temperature.

It’s hard to imagine a more roundabout approach than the one chosen by the Rock Island County Board.

Last week, the board voted to put a referendum on the April 9 ballot, and if your eyes glaze over while reading it, that might be the goal. The measure asks: “Shall the County Board of The County of Rock Island be authorized to expand the purpose of The Rock Island Public Building Commission, Rock Island County, Illinois to include all the powers and authority prescribed by the Public Building Commission Act?”

Of course, most people don’t know what the Rock Island Public Building Commission is, or that it even existed – let alone its current or potentially expanded authority.

And there’s no way to know from the words what the endgame is. There’s no mention of a new or renovated county courthouse or county office building, or of a location, or of a price tag – which could be anywhere from $13 million (the low estimate for a new court facility alone) to $50 million (the high estimate for a new courthouse and county office building in downtown Rock Island).

In short, the referendum appears designed for maximum obfuscation – a seemingly innocuous question about an obscure public body. The move could easily be interpreted as a deceptive attempt to gain public support for something the public otherwise might not support.

 
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