This interview appeared in the November/December 2014 issue of Dimensions magazine.
“An old person in a lab coat”: This is the stereotypical image of a scientist that Rabiah Mayas works to dismiss. As director of science and integrated strategies at the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI), Chicago, Mayas helps fulfill the museum’s mission to inspire and motivate children of all backgrounds to achieve their full potential in science, technology, engineering, and medicine.
Read the full transcript, or listen to the podcast below.
About the image: Rabiah Mayas in the Fab Lab. Photo by J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry
After three days of informative, inspiring sessions, and riveting discussions, ASTC 2014 attendees had to opportunity to explore the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, host of the 2014 ASTC Annual Conference, for Museum Open House Day. The day was filled with special events, such as a live video conference in the Daily Planet Theater with the National Reef Education Centre for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Reef HQ Aquarium in Australia, and an “Action for Nature” panel with North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences director Emlyn Koster and some of the nation’s top youth environmentalists. Attendees could also see the inner workings of the museum with behind-the-scenes tours, from exhibit development and fabrication to animal management. Other activities included solar viewing through the museum’s rooftop telescope with museum astronomers, live amphibian examinations and sample collection by veterinary staff at the Window on Animal Health, and a fun-filled show from science comedian Brain Malow.
Conference attendees could also see the latest giant screen films throughout the day at nearby Marbles Kids Museum for Museum Cinema Day, sponsored by the Giant Screen Cinema Association.
Thank you to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, our sponsors, volunteers, and attendees for making the 2014 ASTC Annual Conference an amazing event. We’ll see you next year in Montreal!
According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 73% of online U.S. adults now use some kind of social media, and 42% use multiple social networking sites. So how can science centers and museums best harness social media to engage audiences and advance their institutional goals?
On Sunday afternoon, Lauren Frieband of the Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley, led “Best Practices for Social Media,” a session packed with social media case studies, tips, and best practices from panelists Kalie Sacco of the Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education; Nancy Somers of Science North, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada; Janet Noe of the Lawrence Hall of Science; and Mike Steger of TELUS World of Science, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Here are some of the top tips and best practices:
Build social media into your marketing/communications plan.
Use #, @, and imagery.
Use the platform that works for you and your audience.
Foster good relationships between staff scientists and marketing staff to get more science in your social media content.
Empower your staff (including scientists) to have access to your social media accounts—but if you have multiple staff members creating social media content, be sure you are consistent in how you communicate.
Look at your analytics and do more of what works and less of what doesn’t work.
Try organizing a sweepstakes or contest. Make it fun, interactive, simple, easy, and quick.
Leverage the power of celebrity. Involve celebrities in exhibition openings or other events and fan the flames with social media (as TELUS World of Science Edmonton did by involving James and Oliver Phelps, who play the Weasley twins in the Harry Potter movies, in the opening events for the Harry Potter: The Exhibition). Get to know your local concierges—they may send celebrities your way!
Halfway through the session, attendees were let loose into the Exhibit Hall to find something they thought was cool about science (something that shows science has “swagger”) and share it on social media using the hashtag #socialswag. By the end of the conference, analytics showed #socialswag had more than 94,000 impressions (i.e., the number of times the hashtag was displayed in different social media accounts).
The debate over the value of maker spaces continued on Monday afternoon with “Where is the Science in a Maker Space?” led by Hooley McLaughlin from the Ontario Science Centre. Building off of a similarly divisive session from ASTC 2013, presenters Lisa Brahms from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Karen Wilkinson from the Exploratorium, San Francisco, and Paul Orselli of POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop) described their work with maker spaces while McLaughlin took the (unpopular) anti-maker space stance.
McLaughlin started the session by stating his view that maker spaces are a danger to science centers (followed by a great deal of murmured dissent from attendees). In his opinion, science centers should be educating visitors with classic methods on the basic principles of science so that visitors have a stronger foundation on which to build their interest and knowledge of STEM subjects. McLaughlin believes that while all experimental scientists are makers, putting people in an environment where they get to be makers will not make them think like a scientist. Often participants are just moving things around and not thinking about the process. Needless to say, the panel and many maker professionals in attendance did not agree, leading to a lively and passionate discussion.
Orselli pointed out that many museums are not clear on what their criteria for a successful maker space should be or how it should be measured. He said that asking where the science is in a maker space is a bit of a red herring, since a lot of what maker spaces are about is the learning process and developing abstract thinking. Maker spaces may be spreading like wild fire, but that doesn’t mean everything that came before will be destroyed. This led to a larger discussion about what the overall purpose of a maker space should be. Wilkinson stated that science centers should be the biggest, broadest playground for science exploration in many forms, and Brahms added that the maker movement has sparked a new conversation about learning and thinking about learning as a social process. Attendees were very vocal in their support for maker spaces using “scientific play” as the gateway to a deeper interest and understanding of science.
Brahms then discussed her recent study based on a text analysis of Make magazine that showed that making activities corresponded with many learning disciplines and learning practices. She also stated that through making, children are learning how to set and reach goals and how to work with others. At the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s Makeshop, the goal is not science or science learning, but simply learning. This led to a discussion of the “maker space” brand. There are museums that have received funding and built maker spaces without knowing what to do with the space, or that have simply renamed craft areas as maker spaces. These less purposeful maker spaces dilute the term and bring down the overall impression of maker spaces. However, just because the maker movement is popular and museums around the world are jumping on the bandwagon doesn’t mean that making and tinkering are not effective.
Overall, this thought provoking discussion brought out a plethora of opinions on the maker movement and the debate is sure to continue. Resources and research on learning in maker spaces is being compiled at makingandlearning.org, a project from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
As session leader Jamie Klein of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS) put it, the session “Innovative Trends in Communicating Climate Science” provided “tools, techniques, and food for thought” for addressing climate change in science centers and museums. All three museums that participated in the session use visualizations in different ways to help visitors understand this complex issue.
The first presenter, Eddie Goldstein of DMNS, described the program A Tale of Three Planets, which the museum presents on Science On a Sphere, sometimes with a presenter or facilitator and sometimes without. The presentation compares the climates of Earth, Venus, and Mars to help visitors understand how climate works on Earth. The museum’s research showed that the approach of comparing the three planets was helpful to visitors and that the visualizations were effective.
Patrick Hamilton of the Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM), St. Paul, told attendees about four outreach programs driven by SMM’s Future Earth exhibition. The programs outline the effects of climate change on four different levels (global, Minnesota, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and SMM) and communicate what can be done to address the issue. All four programs communicate the message that Earth’s future will be determined by human decision making, whether by default or by design, and we should work for the future we want.
John Anderson of the New England Aquarium, Boston, talked about efforts to empower people to think and talk about climate change in more constructive ways. Currently much communication about climate change is contentious, he said, and it’s not considered a polite topic of conversation. Science centers can help to change that by letting people know why climate change matters, how it works, and how we can improve the situation. The aquarium does this using visualizations and dialogue with visitors.