Science treads the boards

November 1st, 2009 - Posted in Annual Conference, Featured by Emily Schuster

Eratosthenes' ShadowOne presenter traveled across 7,000 miles and 2,250 years to be at the ASTC Annual Conference. The November 1 session “Lights Up on Science: Rich Learning Experiences Through Live Theater” began with a performance of Eratosthenes’ Shadow, an original play created at Explora in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in which an actor portraying Eratosthenes, the chief librarian in Alexandria, Egypt, told how he measured the circumference of the earth around 240 B.C.E. Session participants then got to work measuring the earth’s circumference for themselves.

“Theater can provide science-rich learning experiences that immerse learners in a different and thoughtful place,” said Kristin Leigh of Explora. “It can cause learners to question things they thought they knew about the world and give opportunities to engage in dialogue about scientific issues.”

Following the performance, session presenters discussed various kinds of science and museum theater, including full-length productions, original short pieces, interactive courtroom dramas, theater programs for students, and the use of theatrical techniques for interpretation on the museum floor. Leigh spoke about the role of theater in Explora’s education program. Tessa Bridal of the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Indiana, analyzed theatrical techniques as interpretation strategies. Finally, Brian Schwartz of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York explained how museums can collaborate with universities to create science theater. The session ended with a roundtable discussion.

About the image: Eratosthenes’ Shadow performed during “Lights Up on Science” session. Photo by Christine Ruffo

Communicating crucial science issues

November 1st, 2009 - Posted in Annual Conference, Featured by Christine Ruffo

Plenary sessionWhat happens when scientists take to the podium to air their views on the use of science and technology to solve society’s problems? Do they win friends or alienate the audience? Which lines of thought or action earn praise, and which earn a black eye?

At the ASTC Annual Conference’s November 1 plenary session, “Angry Public vs. Grateful Public: Mixing Politics and Science,” Michael Halpern of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C., moderated a discussion with panelists from science organizations that have faced these challenges. Speakers Susan F. Wood, formerly of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); Paul Sandifer of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and David E. Blockstein of the National Council for Science and the Environment shared their stories, both positive and negative, and discussed how lessons learned from their experiences can help science centers communicate effectively.

Wood described the roadblocks to FDA approval of over-the-counter distribution of emergency contraception in 2005 despite recommendations by agency scientists and her subsequent decision to resign from that agency. Among the reasons she said was that “it was very clear the scientific process was being ignored.” Her resignation received substantial media attention that she believes served as a teachable moment showing how the FDA should work and that controversy should not overtake science.

Sandifer followed up, restating the importance of “sticking to the science” and emphasizing the role science centers can play in communicating science in language the general public can understand. He gave as an example NOAA’s Aldo Leopold Leadership Program, which trains scientists to better communicate their work to policy makers to help them make informed decisions. “I’m not suggesting that [science centers] advocate for something,” he said. Rather, he urged science centers to continue to present the science facts to help the public become engaged in the decision-making process.

Blockstein talked about politicians’ views of science. “Science itself,” he said, “is one of the few common beliefs among politicians—science is good…. On the other hand, science is treated as a political football.” He also pointed out that politicians like to “split the difference,” describing how they will often try to broker a compromise between scientific facts and other interests. Science centers, he said, have an opportunity to shape decisions through communicating science to the public. “I think keeping museums contemporary, as the place to learn about current issues, may be the key to the survival of museums as well as the survival of life on Earth.” All three panelists agreed that the less formal venues of science centers can “take the edge off” the discussion and promote rational discourse.

Immediately following the session, attendees clustered in smaller groups to discuss the issues raised with each other and the panelists.

About the image: Sheila Grinell introduces the panel. Photo by Christine Ruffo

2009 Roy L. Shafer Leading Edge Awards presented

November 1st, 2009 - Posted in Annual Conference by Christine Ruffo

The Roy L. Shafer Leading Edge Awards are presented annually to ASTC members and/or their employees in recognition of extraordinary accomplishments that not only enhance the performance of their own institutions but also significantly advance the mission of science-technology centers and museums. This following awards were presented on October 31, 2009.

Leading Edge Award for Business Practice
Sustainability Intiative, Sciencenter, Ithaca, New York

Leading Edge Award for Visitor Experience (small center)
Science Assets-Based School Partnership Program, The Bakken Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Leading Edge Award for Visitor Experience (large center)
BrainCake.org, Carnegie Science Center, Pittsburgh, Pennyslvania
Klima X, Norsk Teknisk Museum, Oslo, Norway

Leading Edge Award for Experienced Leadership in the Field
Dr. Christopher Andrews, director of the Steinhart Aquarium and chief of public programs, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco
Rachel Meyer, executive director, Coyote Point Museum for Environmental Education, San Mateo, California

Photo highlights—October 31, 2009

October 31st, 2009 - Posted in Annual Conference by Christine Ruffo

The first day of the 2009 ASTC Annual Conference was a busy one. Here are a few photos from the day’s events.

The business case for culturally competent institutions

October 31st, 2009 - Posted in Annual Conference by Laura Huerta Migus

Most science centers have made a philosophical commitment to embracing and supporting diverse staff and audiences. However, moving from commitment to implementation requires resources and a long-term commitment to efforts that key decision-makers may not see as directly improving the bottom line. In “The Business Case for Culturally Competent Institutions,” an October 31 session at the ASTC Annual Conference, Laura Huerta Migus of ASTC engaged a panel of science center leaders in a facilitated discussion exploring how each aligned equity and diversity priorities to serve larger organizational needs.

The panelists for the session were Ann Fumarolo of Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center, Shreveport; Chevy Humphrey of Arizona Science Center, Phoenix; and Jeff Rudolph of California Science Center, Los Angeles.

Following an introduction to a framework for building the case for cultural competency, panelists shared, reflected upon, and discussed their respective institutions’ journeys in integrating equity and diversity priorities into institutional practices.

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