This is an extended discussion of the question that appeared in the Viewpoints department of the July/August 2011 issue of Dimensions magazine.
Chabot Space & Science Center has proudly become the local source for environmental science education. Our newest exhibition, Bill Nye’s Climate Lab, increases climate literacy through engaging, solutions-based activities. Chabot’s 50,000+ school field trip visitors receive a captivating demonstration on how to create a “zero waste lunch” (pictured), helping us integrate our aggressive recycling and composting program. Even our Full Circle Café utilizes locally sourced products, which our discerning community demands.
Robert Ade, communications and media coordinator
Chabot Space & Science Center, Oakland, California
As a small science center and native animal zoo, we are building our identity around the value of the small scale experience to provide a sustained learning experience. Over the past year, we went through an extensive rebranding effort that led to a new institutional name. The new name better reflects the experience visitors will find when they participate in our programs and play with our exhibits—up close and personal experiences to explore the natural world—and speaks more effectively to our target audience (children and their families). In the coming year, we will focus on building close partnerships with local schools in order to become more integrated with our local community and be seen as an “anchor” institution in our community.
Rachel Meyer, executive director
CuriOdyssey (formerly Coyote Point Museum), San Mateo, California
The Franklin Institute has not only continued its groundbreaking educational outreach programs, which include professional teacher development, but in 2006 started a magnet high school with the School District of Philadelphia. The Science Leadership Academy was named one of the “Top 10 Most Amazing Schools in the Country” by Ladies Home Journal in 2010, and has quickly garnered a national standing for its innovative teaching practices and 1-to-1 laptop ratio. Additionally, a few years ago we began a hugely popular Community Night, with free admission, which is aimed at bringing in families from economically disadvantaged backgrounds for a museum experience. And finally, in April 2011, we organized the citywide Philadelphia Science Festival, with over 50 partners and 120 events in every neighborhood of the city.
Kat Stein, director of public relations and communications
The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia
We have created councils composed of staff and our learners (i.e. teachers, institution members, and community organizations) to collaborate with us in creating relevant learning experiences. These councils are instrumental in staying connected with our community and maintaining our relevance. We also use social media as an outlet for our visitors to communicate with us and each other.
Joy Kubarek-Sandor, student and teacher programs manager
John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago
Miraikan believes and teaches that science has a direct, daily impact on every individual on our planet, and science is also an integral part of culture. Therefore, science is very relevant to every person. Miraikan also shares state-of-the-art knowledge and innovation of science with the entire society as part of enriched human culture. Our mission is to provide the general public with valid and reliable information so they can make fully informed decisions. We provide immediate information on topics of immediate concern to our public.
Here is a concrete example. On March 11, Japan was confronted with unprecedented disasters from the combination of earthquakes, tsunamis, and radiation—human technology that caused a major problem. Miraikan offered informative, understandable, trustworthy explanations, based upon scientific fact with the following three steps:
1. To answer concerns, we set up a Q&A webpage.
2. To offer clear explanations on earthquakes, tsunamis, and other science topics, we collaborated with researchers.
3. We will continue these activities through our reopening, with special events and exhibitions.
Yuko Okayama, science communicator
Miraikan: National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, Tokyo, Japan
In order to maximize our relevancy to our community, we try to talk regularly to community members and leaders and to let them help us keep our feet on the ground. Thus, for example, we have avoided exhibits on flight, as our visitors never see an airplane in the sky, focusing instead on cars, which are commonplace.
Derek Fish, director
Unizul Science Centre, Richards Bay, South Africa
Our museum’s name, A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village, pays homage to the toy inventor who was born and raised in Salem, Oregon. Keeping his memory alive—and promoting his philosophy that “playing is essential to learning”—is one way the museum demonstrates relevance to its community. Our newest exhibition, The Oregon Room, allows visitors to explore the entire state while learning about geology, topography, local wildlife, and points of interest. From the rock and gem display from a local geology club to a slideshow produced by area schoolchildren to the animatronic cow donated by the Marion County Dairy Women, the exhibition illustrates the web of community support that helps us thrive.
Stephanie Lenox, promotions director
A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village, Salem, Oregon
At Science North, we are consciously moving toward creating opportunities for our visitors to take part in local current science. We have tailored a number of workshops and exhibit experiences to offer our visitors the opportunity to locally take part in citizen science projects such as Monarch Watch and Frog Watch. We’ve invited local scientists into the center to offer our visitors the chance to be a part of their studies. We’ve also recently delivered two successful Science Cafés where members of the community learned about local research projects through engaged discussion with a panel of experts.
Jenny Fortier, staff scientist
Science North, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
Our Teacher Support Program help teachers use the museum as a tool in their work. In our workshops, we show teachers everything the museum offers them as a teaching tool. We advise teachers on how they can use our interactive exhibits to complement and reinforce science and technology learning in the classroom. So far, we also offer two additional workshops, which focus on protection of the ozone layer and on global warming. These workshops give teachers more tools to teach children and improve the educational level in Venezuela.
The more than 5,000 teachers who have attended our workshops can bring their students to the museum at a reduced rate. This has become a widely used resource for schools attended by poor children.
Mireya Caldera Pietri, director
El Museo de los Niños de Caracas, Venezuela
The above statements represent the opinions of the individual contributors and not necessarily the views of their institutions or of ASTC.