This article originally appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of Dimensions magazine.
The biggest misconception about science centers that I would like to correct is the idea that a science center is a place for children only. Many people associate interactivity with “for children.” Many adults see the interaction with an exhibit as playing and thus for kids, and not as playing = experimenting = learning.
Moreover who has ever decided that playing is only for kids? This idea that interactivity is kids’ stuff is strengthened by the fact that many artifact-based museums have an interactive corner that they label as the “kids’ corner.”
Most science centers offer a variety of exhibits and programs ranging over many science disciplines and at different levels of complexity. I am convinced that many adults enjoy the interactivity as much as the children and that they also learn something while playing (sorry: experimenting!) but do not want to admit it.
Patricia Verheyden, experience director, Technopolis, the Flemish Science Centre, Mechelen, Belgium
A common misconception I work daily to clarify at our natural history museum is that we only focus on how people and animals lived “back then.” Natural history is so much more than a lesson in previous cultures and Earth history (although these topics are important). Our exhibits and educational programs also illuminate current events and raise questions regarding current environmental practices on the future health of our society and Earth as a whole. We incorporate concepts typically viewed as “hard science” (engineering, chemistry, physics, etc.) into our educational opportunities because understanding the interconnectedness of all Earth processes takes an interdisciplinary approach. We do not confine ourselves to a narrow box of teaching techniques. To do so would undermine our mission. I strive to debunk this misconception so that teachers, parents, and the community at large can open their minds to what a natural history museum can offer, paving the way for learning and growth.
Stephenie Berggrun, environmental educator, the Schiele Museum of Natural History, Gastonia, North Carolina
Oh, how I wish I could convince everyone that a visit to a science center doesn’t require an interest in science or a friend or family member with an interest. That there is no requirement to know one iota of science, there is no test at the front desk, and no one will point and laugh at you—they are all too busy pointing and laughing together at the surprising things they can see, hear, and feel.
Emma Cook, exhibition manager, At-Bristol Science Centre, Bristol, England, United Kingdom
I wish the public wouldn’t think we are fully funded by either federal, state, or city funds. Very few people seem to know that being a nonprofit does not mean we are government supported, but instead have to rely on ticket sales and especially on support from generous corporations and individuals, and that every donation, no matter how small, can make a difference.
Andrea Decker, executive assistant to Steven Snyder, Fleet Science Center, San Diego
The above statements represent the opinions of the individual contributors and not necessarily the views of their workplaces or of ASTC.
About the image: A woman participates in the Maker Festival at Technopolis, the Flemish Science Centre, Mechelen, Belgium. Photo courtesy Technopolis