Great Lakes Science Center decides to 'Build It' again, more on its own in 2023

Dec. 8—Emalee Shechter is tapping away on a tablet, inputting basic directions for a robotic Lego truck to follow.

Forward. Left. Right. Right.

She's in the zone performing this bit of light coding.

"I have lived and breathed this exhibit, I think, for far too long, says Schechter, exhibit developer at Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, on a recent afternoon during a walkthrough of its "Build It: Engineering Ideas Brick by Brick," "so I'm a little enthusiastic about it."

Included with admission to the attraction on the North Coast, "Build It" opened in early November, nearly seven years after GLSC hosted a similarly named exhibition in affiliation with Lego. While the aforementioned robotic trucks come from Lego's SPIKE Prime coding initiative, many of the building materials would be most accurately described as Lego-like — snappable bricks of various sizes and textures.

While the science center used to host exclusively traveling exhibits, in recent years it has created several of its own, this one being the latest.

"We actually kind of sprinted through the planning process because we noticed that there was a really great opportunity to have something inside the traveling exhibit hall when we didn't have anything scheduled for it," Schechter says. "So we came to the table and said, 'OK, what's, like, the most fun we can have down here? And how can we put something up pretty quickly?' And we thought, 'Well, building — it's right along what we do. It's fun. Kids love it. So let's make something Lego-inspired.'"

And like most GLSC exhibitions, it was constructed with STEM educational platform in mind — with particular stress on the "E" in the now-familiar acronym.

"Engineering is kind of the great unifier," Schechter says. "Everybody loves to build something. Everybody loves to take on a challenge and have the ability to build what's in your mind ... especially for these younger kids, who just have such great imaginations and they need an outlet to express those different ideas they have."

Engineering certainly is a key component of the exhibit's bridge-building station.

"How do you build laterally from surface to surface without your structure collapsing?" Schechter asks? "Next step further: How do you build something lower to something higher without your structure collapsing?"

What Schechter refers to as the "mascot" of the exhibit is the "Build It!" house, a timber-frame playhouse constructed with the help of Cleveland Builds, a Brooklyn Heights-based nonprofit that works to boost the region's construction trade with training and other programs.

"They really just wanted to have their craft on display," she says. "They build this for us in, like, a weekend."

Guests can add square panels on the house's exterior and then snap bricks onto that to give it a certain look. Inside, they can use larger blocks to build, say, a chair or a table.

Those looking for a bit more of a thrill can hang out in another area built around a reshapable ramp. Put together a racecar from bins of components at a nearby station and then, before dropping it down the slope, configure the last part of the ramp with one or more of a few movable sections — one of which is a hump bound to be difficult for certain vehicles.

The idea for the modular ramp came after the initial ramp they made left a little something to be desired and the team went back to the drawing board and looked for a way to do something "outside the box," Schechter says.

"We thought, 'How fun — you're making your own car, your filter, figuring out the weight, the balance, the design, and then after that, you have an additional challenge that not most ramp components have, which is you're building the track, as well,'" she says. "There are a number of different challenges you can do based on that, so it has a special place in my heart."

For those wanting creativity with gravitational strings, there's what the GLSC folks refer to as the "mosaic" area, a sign there touting "Cleveland Creations."

"Building isn't just a feat of engineering and all these logic challenges," Schechter says. "It's also a really great medium for artistic expression."

If guests choose, they can create a small mosaic tile piece of art to leave hanging on a designated wall.

"Most of the time, (guests) wind up here towards the end of their visits," she says. "They build something for our wall, whether it's their name, a picture of their face.

"It's really fun coming down here at the end of the day because you see everyone's creativity."

Keeping in mind the youngest guests may not be up for robotics, bridge design, car racing or even art, Schechter and her collaborators created the "Little Builders" area. Separated from everything else by a fence made of large toy bricks and home to other larger bricks and even some of the soft variety, it is a space where parents can be with their smallest children while keeping an eye out on any larger ones they brought occupying themselves at other stations.

"As a parent myself," Schechter says, "I love when smaller-children exhibits have a defined entrance and exit so (little ones) can't accidentally wander away."

The space sits only a few feet from the robotics station, the table for which also is the work of Cleveland Builds. The ambition of folks using it runs the gamut, with Schechter admitting she's not the master of quick-coding some guests are.

"We found that most people just like to start with the basics of moving forward and turning — they're pretty satisfied with that. But there are some kids that come in here (who) know this stuff more than I do, and they're getting into backflips, moving around following the colored lines — all sorts of stuff.

"It's very humbling."

'Build It: Engineering Ideas Brick by Brick'

Where: Great Lakes Science Center, 601 Erieside Ave., Cleveland.

When: Through April 15.

Admission: Included with GLSC admission — $19.95, adult; $14.95, ages 2 to 12; free for members.

Info: GreatScience.com or 216-694-2000.

Visit 'The Arctic'

Along with the recently opened exhibition "Build It: Engineering Ideas Brick by Brick," guests to Cleveland's Great Lakes Science Center can check out a new film in the Cleveland Clinic Dome Theater, "The Arctic: Our Last Great Wilderness."

The just-debuted movie "takes viewers to a place that is vast, wild and magical — where one of Earth's greatest natural spectacles unfolds," reads a news release from GLSC. "Princess Daazhraii Johnson (Neet'saii Gwich'in) narrates and reveals the land that has sustained her people for untold generations. For the first time on the giant screen, experience a world that has evolved intact and untamed since the beginning of time."

The release continues: "The 19.6 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are full of life and history. The land is home to hundreds of species of plants, birds, mammals, and fish. It supports Indigenous cultures and has global ecological importance."

Viewers will journey with National Geographic photographer Florian Schulz on his five-year quest to film the elusive 200,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd as it migrates to the Arctic Coastal Plain, one of the longest animal migrations on Earth, the release states.

"Filled with intimate moments featuring polar bears and musk oxen, wolves, grizzlies, golden eagles and more, 'The Arctic: Our Last Great Wilderness' is the first cinematic exploration of a world few have truly seen until now. Experience this special place worth protecting."

Not included with general admission, tickets range from $6.95 to $10.95.

Learn more at GreatScience.com.