Design Zone: Danville Science Center’s newest exhibit focuses on applied mathematics — and fun!

Editorial note: We did not receive anything in exchange for this review and we paid regular membership and  admission fees. (For general information on the facility and permanent installations, read the previously published article: Danville Science Center: Worth the cost of admission.)

We were hosting some out-of-town friends the opening weekend of DSC’s newest exhibit, Design Zone: “The nontraditional, experiential exhibition which shows how math is used to create everything from hip-hop music to skate parks.” The following is our review and experience with a three-year-old.


Bottom line:

You should definitely go. Just anticipate that you will need to help your child navigate to the interactions suitable for their (and your!) skill level.

If you’ve been away from the Danville Science Center lately because your kids have seemingly outgrown it, especially consider coming back for this more advanced exhibit.

Read on for our full review, some tips from our experience and a closer look at the displays…

What you’ll see when you walk in:


This exhibit is definitely targeted at a different age group than the previous Fred Rogers Company installment which was especially approachable for very young children.

In fact, just a few minutes walking the floor made very apparent how advanced this exhibit is. We were not alone; it seemed this realization is what other visiting families commented on the most.

Algebra? (Gasp!)

Why would a science center thrust fundamental math skills on us like that?

There are, however, still ways that younger kids can actively engage without formal math skills. Some exhibits catered to a wide age range while others did not, and there were still a variety of activities intended for various age groups.

For instance, may I present Exhibit A:

There were several physical games that visualized — in a surprisingly clear way — complex algebraic concepts, such as this bike race game (photo below). Participants pedaled to compete in a race, and their speeds were graphed in real-time on the screen. If you could pedal, you could play.

Graphing the variable speeds of bike racers
Graphing the variable speeds of bike racers

20160130_3300 Often, even if the exhibit articulated difficult concepts, you could still have fun interacting with what you understood or wanted to take on.

This one (photo on left) is a game challenge to adjust slope to control velocity throughout the length of a track, demonstrating the interrelationship of slope and directional change on how fast a ball travels. Our son still enjoyed just rolling the ball down the track.

Here (photo below), you can race wheels of the exact same size and weight. But once you learn that it’s the weight distribution determining the objects speed, you could win against your little brother.

Every. Single. Time.

Or maybe you can let him win every time, if you’re nice.


My favorite display was essentially a customizable kaleidoscope. The goal was to recreate several patterns with colored tiles on a lightboard, using mirrors.

For one, it was beautiful to see. But it did a lovely job of both demonstrating spatial orientations and relationships as well as creating fractions within a circle by adjusting mirror angles. It was fun art with a sneak attack dash of geometry!

Things we loved:

  • The overall layout and amazing colors.
  • Everything was built tough. Tough enough to withstand the beating of a thousand hyper children, so your enthusiastic child can jump right in without you worrying quite so much about some random artifact that is simultaneously hazardous and delicate.
  • Some of the games were difficult or impossible for us to complete. Our three year old still had a blast, because he couldn’t read what we were supposed to be accomplishing anyway and, well, sometimes he’s just happy to be alive. So the bright colors, dynamic sound, flashing lights and movement are enough for him. On the other hand, an elementary-age kid who can read the instructions may not feel that way. He or she may be frustrated that she can’t solve the task at hand. Be ready for some coaching, learning, encouraging… and if all else fails: redirecting! Oh my, look at this exploding shiny thing over here!
  • We appreciated the intent of the exhibit designers to engage older children, who often are harder to enthrall at children’s centers, especially at a crucial time in their school lives when math and science subjects become increasingly complex and can seem exhausting and inapplicable to everyday life.
  • The spirit of play was very much at the heart of how each exhibit presented. For us, we had fun, even while we had trouble — or utterly failed — to complete a game. But no matter what, the take-away of math as a foundation for designing cool stuff prevailed.

Some displays explored pattern recognition, repetition or mechanics.



Things to know:

  • Some of the displays that were friendlier to a wider age range were dependent on a single item, like a ball, which could easily “walk away” from its intended exhibit. If it seems like something is missing, you may be right — It could be that the ball has gotten carried off to another part of the room. During our visit, I noticed one was adopted by a preschooler as a temporary soccer ball. There were a couple displays where it didn’t seem like there was a single backup ball, and without that specific item it you couldn’t do anything else.
  • Be prepared: Some of the challenges are surprisingly difficult, even for adults. (and maybe even if you can’t figure it out, there’s an opportunity for an object lesson about the value of an education in opening up different career opportunities. Perhaps?
    I learned that I should not quit my day job to be a light show DJ — I apparently cannot master rotating mirror frequencies. I am completely inept at this. We also learned roller coasters engineered by 3-year-olds have much higher fatality rates, but he persevered and eventually everyone completed the ride intact.
  • If you are friends with a math or physics teacher, invite them along. 😉

We thought these two (shown below) were more challenging, even for just the adults in our group. That didn’t stop us from having a glorious time failing at it. 😀 Send your older kids over to check these out.

An educational but unexpectedly goofy exhibit was this set of musical pipes, which you were supposed to beat, literally, with a flaccid piece of rubber, not unlike the bottom of your shoe.


These photos are just some of the exhibits. There were many more at the science center that you can see.

Tip: If you get the yearly family membership, you don’t have to attempt to cram it all into one day. And I recommend taking your time. The littlest ones still find these places absolutely magical, but it can be hard to go all day without a nap.

Tip: Younger kids can play upstairs in the tiny tots area while older siblings explore downstairs.

Many types of play areas
Upstairs play area for tots

Tip: The membership can be used as major discount at other museums in Virginia and North Carolina. This absolutely pays for itself if you ever travel to neighboring cities. (Hint, hint: Durham, Roanoke, Greensboro, Winston-Salem!)

The Design Zone exhibit will be available during the science center’s regular business hours January 30 through May 4, 2016.

Written by Jessamyn Rubio

But what did you think? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.


Monday – Saturday: 9:30 am – 5 pm
Sunday: 11:30 am – 5 pm
Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.


$7 per adult
$6 for youth & seniors
FREE children under age 3
Film passes cost extra


677 Craghead Street
Danville, Virginia


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