Making Math fun for everyone at the NY Hall of Science: The Math Midway Exhibit

NYC Children's Museums

The Math Midway is a hands-on, side show styled, action packed “carnival” that illuminates mathematic principals and applies them in fun, surprising ways for kids.  My family and I got a peak at the Math Midway last year when it debuted at the Science Festival in Washington Square Park but it was so unbelievably crowded we couldn’t really tell what it was.  We were excited to hear it was coming back to the NY Hall of Science in Queens and wanted to give it another try. 

The NY Hall of Science was surprisingly not crowded, even for a wet and nasty Sunday, giving us plenty of time to experience each of the colorful booths and the large scale attractions of the midway in detail.

The first activity we tried was Plant the Daisy, a lesson in harmonic motion.  Here we needed to grasp an enormous faux-daisy at a specific place on the stem and pull it out of the pot, then put it back on a peg in the pot - all while the stem wobbled in your hands. For me, it was pretty hard to do. When my son tried it was downright dangerous.  Stand clear of a 5 year old boy wielding an uncontrollable 6 foot daisy.

By far, the number one attraction was the Polyhedral Puzzle Plaza, a geometry lesson hidden in giant, soft foam shapes that were meant to be put together to form a cube.  The cube never materialized but lots of creative building, climbing and jumping went down, instead. It was hard to pull them away from this part of the exhibit and eventually I stopped trying.

Riding the tricycle with square wheels of different sizes was another highlight.  We all got to try pedaling it around a specially made angled and bumped track.  The kids were amazed that it worked even if they didn’t know it was thanks to the mathematical concept of catenary curves.  (Which just kind of means there is a road for every type of wheel.)

Miles of Tiles, a giant magnetic board with an unlimited amount of colorful interlocking monkeys and geometric shaped magnets was also a huge hit with the kids. They probably spent 30 minutes creating new shapes and patterns here. So was Mirror Morph, fun house mirrors with curvature that we could control by pulling on a chain to experiment with our reflections.

The kids really liked the entire midway: balancing a “teeter totter” pirate ship with weights, playing with lasers, spinning the roulette wheel to learn about probability, trying to find the exit on a big maze without making a left or backtracking, and the mysterious harmonograph that created mathematical art with markers and a pendulum.

There were signs posted at each booth explaining what to do, what was going to happen and why, along with a technical mathematical explanation for each exhibit.  But, to be honest, lots of the math went right over the heads of my 5 year old son and our 7 year old friend (and sometimes mine, too.) Older kids will enjoy the midway too—and get more of the math.

I think, though, that this could be the point of the midway.  Showing us we don’t have to comprehend the difficult mathematic concepts to “get” math.  The Midway brings the hidden math all around us to life and illustrates that it is more than simply numbers on a piece of paper. Not to mention a lot of fun.

The Math Midway is on exhibit through April 18, 2010 at the NY Hall of Science
47-01 111th Street, Queens, NY
Hours:  Tuesday - Thursday - 9:30 am – 2 pm (Closed Mondays until April 1, 2010), Friday - 9:30 am – 5 pm, Weekends - 10 am – 6 pm
Basic Admission: Adults: $11, Children (ages 2 – 17): $8 (Free on Sunday mornings till 11:00 am)

See other places to get scientific with kids in New York City.