Back to school

October 20th, 2008 - Posted in Annual Conference, Featured by Christine Ruffo

Outreach LiveLast year, ASTC members served millions of students through school outreach programs. That work continued this morning at the ASTC Annual Conference with an off-site session, Outreach Live. Presenters from around the region brought their science centers’ best outreach programs to the Friends Select School in Philadelphia for both students and museum colleagues. A roundtable discussion followed to review and evaluate the programs.

Jonah Cohen, one of the session organizers, described the mutual benefits of the program, which has been part of the conference line-up for over a decade: “Participants get the chance to see the full program that other centers do, in front of school children, the program’s intended audience. For the presenters, it’s a singular opportunity to get feedback from a huge variety of their peers. Furthermore, the programming is provided free to a local school, usually chosen because it’s in a underserved district, so the kids and teachers benefit, too.”

This year’s programming included two assemblies (The Human Body by the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, and Weather: Wind, Water, & Temperature by the Museum of Science, Boston) and two hands-on classes (Slime Time by the Maryland Science Center, Baltimore, and Moveable Museum in a mobile paleontology lab from the American Museum of Natural History, New York City).  

About the image: With help from Maryland Science Center outreach educators, second graders at the Friends Select School learn about polymers by experimenting with slime. Photo by Christine Ruffo

Museums and the mind

October 20th, 2008 - Posted in Annual Conference by Emily Schuster

As advances in neuroscience reveal biological pathways underlying emotion, attention, and memory, how can science centers harness this new research to create effective museum experiences? In an October 19 session at the ASTC Annual Conference, Jayatri Das, senior exhibit and program developer at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, led a panel of experts in neuroscience, education, and museums in a discussion of practical ways that museums can integrate new insights about the brain with educational pedagogy to enhance free-choice learning.

Presenters in the session, entitled “Museums and the Mind: Applying Cognitive Neuroscience to Free-Choice Learning,” included Roger Barrett, exhibit designer at the Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul; John Falk, professor of science education at Oregon State University in Corvallis; Matthew Wenger, graduate associate at Flandrau: The University of Arizona Science Center in Tucson; and Jennifer Mangels, associate professor of psychology at Baruch College, City University of New York.

The presenters considered how museums can use recent neuroscience research to maximize their educational impact. Barrett discussed examples of ways that exhibition design, including choice of color and materials, can affect visitors’ moods and emotions. Falk presented research showing that when visitors to the exhibition Goose Bumps! The Science of Fear experienced an optimal amount of emotional arousalnot too much or too littletheir learning was maximized. Wenger suggested creating flexible exhibitions that can be adapted to serve the needs of different people. Drawing upon neuroscience research, Mangels stated people learn best when they experience an unexpected outcome that provides a great deal of novelty and complexity, but can be viewed as a challenge rather than as a threat. ”Meeting challenges is actually rewarding in and of itself,” she said. “Things should not be too hard or too easy.”

Wowing with science

October 19th, 2008 - Posted in Annual Conference, Featured by Christine Ruffo

Wanda Rodriguez on a bed of thumbtacksThe Live Demonstration Hour has been an ASTC Annual Conference event for over 20 years. A hallmark of science centers, science demonstrations date back to the 17th century. Later, Benjamin Franklin entertained his friends and neighbors with his own experiments. This morning, presenters from across the United States wowed conference goers with their stretch rope walking skills, musical abilities, and dramatic demonstrations of physics, using such everyday objects as drinking glasses, toilet paper, and thumb tacks.

This year’s performers included Woody Sobey, Discovery Center of Idaho, Boise;  Duane Dill and Eric Meyer, Explora, Albuquerque, New Mexico; Jonah Cohen, the Children’s Museum, West Hartford, Connecticut; Mikey Casalaine, the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia; Wanda Rodriguez, Funtastic Science; and Eddie Goldstein, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Colorado.

About the image: A cinder block is smashed over Wanda Rodriguez as she lies on a bed of thumb tacks. Photo by Christine Ruffo

Global sustainability: Where do science centers fit in?

October 19th, 2008 - Posted in ASTC News, Annual Conference by Wendy Pollock

How can science centers better catalyze public understanding and local action on climate change? At a plenary session October 19, ASTC conference participants joined in an animated, action-oriented discussion moderated by Joe Palca, science correspondent for National Public Radio.

Providing background for the discussion were Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change and principal investigator for Columbia University’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions; Lynne Cherry, author of the children’s book How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming; and Philip C. Myrick, urban planner and vice president of Project for Public Spaces.

Citing results of a series of empirical assessments of worldwide public values, attitudes, and behaviors regarding global sustainability, Leiserowitz reported that while awareness of global warming is high in the United States, it is commonly seen as a distant problem. Raising awareness in countries where it is now low, helping to make local connections, and providing the understanding required for informed action are educational challenges science centers can help to address, he said.

Cherry spoke about the power of children to catalyze action among older people and shared stories she has collected of young people engaged in local research and educational activities. Myrick said that science centers should “put the knowledge and power of science into the hands of communities.” Science centers and museums can provide much-needed places where people can come together, make connections, and help each other to move from denial and grief to action, he said.

ASTC has already put a number of initiatives into motion, including a coordinated day of National Conversation on Climate Action, the Albedo Project, and the recently funded project Communicating Climate Change. Conversations among those participating in today’s session will continue online, led by a task force that includes Sheila Grinell of Phoenix, Arizona; Charlie Trautmann of Sciencenter, Ithaca, New York; Emlyn Koster of the Liberty Science Center, Jersey City, New Jersey; and Kim Cavendish of the Museum of Discovery and Science, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Science centers and bioethics

October 19th, 2008 - Posted in Annual Conference by Emily Schuster

Arthur Caplan discusses bioethics

What role should science centers play in addressing complex ethical issues in the biomedical and life sciences, such as embryonic stem cell research, cloning, global warming, genetically modified foods, and vaccine safety? In the session “Why Don’t They Understand? Public Perception of Controversy in Science” on October 18 at the ASTC Annual Conference, Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, urged science centers to engage the public in ethical issues directly, particularly in exhibitions.

Caplan asserted that the public must understand science and bioethics in order to vote on controversial issues, manage their own health, and remain competitive in their jobs. Yet science centers tend to address ethics at the very end of exhibitions, if it all, according to Caplan. “Ethics and values should be the leading issue to hook people into the exhibition,” he said. “Ethical issues are at the core of what the public needs to know about science.”

Caplan reminded exhibition designers not to assume that the public knows what science is or understands the scientific method. He also encouraged science centers to treat religious points of view with respect when discussing controversial issues. “It’s time to end the increasingly toxic stand-off between secular arrogance about religion and religious know-nothingness about science,” he said.

About the image: Arthur Caplan discusses science centers’ role in addressing ethical issues. Photo by Christine Ruffo

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