Science Zone bringing educational opportunities in the age of social distancing - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Science Zone bringing educational opportunities in the age of social distancing

A sugar glider makes their debut in a Science Zone Wild Wednesday video posted to Facebook. (Courtesy of The Science Zone, YouTube)

CASPER, Wyo. —  It was Sunday, March 15th when the Natrona County School District announced school closures.  The Science Zone followed suit, but on Monday morning executive director Steven Schnell met with his staff for a brainstorming session.

“We wanted to continue our mission,” Schnell said,  “to inspire the mind, delight the senses, and ignite a passion for technical arts and sciences.”  said Schnell. 

The solution: live videos posted daily to the Science Zone Facebook page and curated kits for at-home science experiments. The first videos went up that Monday. 

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“People can look up Bill Nye on Youtube, but we wanted to do something from us and keep it local,” Schnell said. “In times like this, you have to rely on community, and this is ours.”

The production has since expanded into a 3-camera shoot, edited with help from development director Jason Dewitt, who has a background in media and marketing.  Schnell said the videos have been shared on social media by schools and museums across the country.

Engaging would-be visitors and homebound students on the new platform has kept DeWitt busier than ever. “Right now we’re working on virtual field trips and the Virtual Idea Lab to engage middle and high school students in engineering challenges,” DeWitt said. 

“We’re looking right now at the designs and materials to use 3D printing and laser engraving to create plastic masks and face shields,” Schnell said.

The first series of videos is the “Daily Dose of Science:” simple demonstrations that “allow us to flex our skills as scientists,” Schnell said. “Wild Wednesdays” feature animals from the zoo zone, including sugar gliders, snakes, and tarantulas.

“We’re one cohesive unit,” Schnell said, “and everyone has a niche.”

The staff of scientists and educators have developed a curriculum that’s cohesive with both national Next Generation Science Standards and Wyoming Science Content and Standards. Some lessons relate directly to the pandemic, which is “not a coincidence,” DeWitt said.

In an early video, the Science Zone’s Kelsey Marie Phillips, Ph.D, and Krista Johnston, P.D. from the City of Casper Storm and Sewer Department, demonstrated that baby wipes, tissues, and paper towels do not dissolve in city sewer pipes. 

Dr. Phillips hosts the “Learn With the Doc” series, which has covered the biology of viruses and steps in the scientific method. “We’re seeing science unfold before our eyes,” said Phillips. “Basic snippets of natural history.” 

Dr. Phillips also also organized the materials for the “Learn with the Doc” home experiment kits. Parents can reserve the kits and arrange to pick up curb-side from The Science Zone.  The kits will be sanitized upon return.  “We made 50 and they’ve all gone out,” Schnell said. The Casper Rotary Club and Frog Creek Partners underwrote the cost of the materials.

“They are designed to engage the whole family,” Dr. Phillips said. “The Science Zone is really focused on scientific literacy in the community.  We want people to see science as a process, a discipline, and a way of life.”

The Latest Statistics from the Wyoming Department of Health:

What to do if you are feeling sick: In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department says that people who are feeling sick or exhibiting symptoms should contact their primary physician.

If you do not have a primary care provider, and live in Natrona County, please contact the COVID-19 hotline, operated by the Casper-Natrona County Department of Health. The line is open Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm 577-9892. Hotline services are intended for Natrona County residents and may not be able to provide specific information to persons calling from out of county.

Officials ask that you please do not self-report to the Emergency Room. Persons experiencing problems breathing should call 9-11.

For general inquiries and non-symptom related questions about COVID-19, please contact the Casper-Natrona County Health Department via email:

  • Practice Social Distancing by putting distance between yourself and other people. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Cover coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
  • Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.

A list of area closures attributed to COVID-19 are available here.