(Session recaps provided by COSI outreach educator and ASTC 2012 communications volunteer Jeremy Rader)
Get Connected: A Hands-On Approach to Distance Learning
Museums have been using distance learning to reach their audience for over a decade but the technical and logistical obstacles are a big barrier to those looking to expand into the field. Presenters from three institutions spoke about the successes and challenges they have encountered in distance learning. The New York Hall of Science, COSI, and Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum started the session with a live demonstration to show just how easy it can be to reach an audience hundreds of miles away from you (but really they were just out in the hall). Video conferencing equipment has been the standard for the past 15 years, bringing high quality audio and video but a high price. With advances in technology you now need a laptop with a webcam to pull off the same feat. Using webcasting software and laptop means a much lower cost to those looking wanting to enter the field. After a brief explanation of the technical differences between the two methods, the attendees and presenters broke off into three hands-on stations to focus on a different area. One session focused on the challenges of presenting an audience not in the same room as you. Another talked about the use of kits to provide an added level of interaction. The third dealt with non-traditional audiences (e.g, hospital patients). To conclude the session the presenters talked about creating an online collection of the information discussed as a tool to use and a collaboration platform to continue the discussion started today.
Digital Planetarium Demonstrations
COSI’s planetarium featured demonstration from three providers today: Evans & Sutherland, Seiler-Zeiss, and Sky-Skan. I sat in on the Evans & Sutherland demo. With the use of today’s technology, providers are able to present an ever-increasing amount of content to their audiences in dome theaters. Gone are the days of static star fields and laser light shows. Today’s program featured a fully interactive space to explore. Zoom in over Columbus and see the city’s watershed or zoom out and see the entire solar system and beyond. But the show doesn’t stop at the stars. Live action films are now being produced for dome theaters, creating an incredibly immersive dramatic presentation. Evans & Sutherland also highlighted the use of their software to take video created for flat screen and render it to fit a dome. The presenters pointed out that institutions using the equipment are doing so in new and innovative ways that they had not foreseen.
Fire and Ice: Show Us Your Science
Gadgets Stage at COSI was the platform for an afternoon full of bubbles, flames and big booms presented by several institutions: Pacific Science Center, The Franklin Institute, The Children’s Museum of Philadelphia, Great Lakes Science Center, and COSI each took the stage to present 1 or 2 of their favorite demos. The show started with bubbles: air filled bubbles that fell to the floor, helium bubbles that floated to the ceiling, and hydrogen bubbles that burst into a fireball when ignited. Next we moved onto a giant cloud. Liquid nitrogen and hot water combined to create a cloud that shot into the sky. Keeping with the weather theme, a fire tornado was created next. Using a spinning platform and a mess grating, a tornado of fire over three feet tall was produced, glowing green from the chemicals added to the fuel. The day was capped off by a series of explosions featuring dry ice and a selection from the local grocer. A watermelon, pumpkin, zucchini, and even a fruit cake took center stage before being blown to smithereens. The highlight of the demo may have been duct taping the zucchini after a defective bottle left a huge crack in it. All in all there were a ton of great demos shared as well as the science content to back them up and the safety measures needed to do them safely. I’m sure everyone left with some new ideas they hope to implement back at their home institutions.