A call to action

October 16th, 2011 - Posted in Annual Conference by Emily Schuster

Owen Gaffney, director of communications at the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), Stockholm, Sweden, delivered a riveting featured session at the 2011 ASTC Annual Conference in Baltimore on Sunday, October 16.  Using striking visualizations, Gaffney showed how human impact on the planet has increased exponentially since 1950—a phenomenon known as the Great Acceleration. Human impact, he explained, is determined by the intersection of population, affluence, and technology.

“Humanity has pushed the planet so much that we’ve reduced its resilience,” Gaffney said. “We’re getting close to the edge.” He said that we need to stay within nine boundaries, and we’ve already crossed three of them: climate change, the nitrogen cycle, and biodiversity loss.

Although he cited some grim statistics, Gaffney also sounded an upbeat and hopeful note. He held up the improvements in the ozone hole over Antarctica as a positive example. “This shows we can act globally on these issues, and this action can be effective.”

In that vein, Gaffney invited science centers to host their own events aligned with Planet Under Pressure: New Knowledge Toward Solutions. Gaffney is directing communications for this major scientific conference, which will be held in London in March in advance of the UN summit on sustainable development, Rio+20. ASTC is working with Planet Under Pressure to provide support and resources for participating science centers, as well as to develop 12 debates to be held on four continents.

Gaffney concluded, “We risk crossing a planetary threshold, but solutions exist. We need to act.”

Wowing audiences with science

October 16th, 2011 - Posted in Annual Conference, Featured by Christine Ruffo

The Live Demonstration Hour has long been a highlight of the ASTC Annual Conference, and this year’s wowed the audience once again. If you missed it (or want to watch again!), videos of each demonstration are available through the links below.

Niki Hord, Maryland Science Center, Baltimore

Adiel Fernandez, New York Hall of Science, Queens

Jonah Cohen, The Children’s Museum, West Hartford, Connecticut

Eddie Goldstein and Jodi Schoemer, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Colorado

Steve Spangler, Steve Spangler Science, Denver, Colorado

About the image: Jonah Cohen launches an air pressure rocket. Photo by Christine Ruffo

Celebrating science center youth programs

October 15th, 2011 - Posted in ASTC News, Annual Conference, Featured by Christine Ruffo

ASTC’s Youth Inspired Challenge is one year old, so what better way to celebrate than by having a birthday party in the 2011 ASTC Annual Conference Exhibit Hall? Amid party hats and cake, conference attendees met science center youth program participants from the New Jersey Academy for Aquatic Sciences, Camden; Pacific Science Center, Seattle; the Philadelphia Zoo; and the National Aquarium, Baltimore. Libby Redda from Pacific Science Center and Jeremy Martinez from the National Aquarium addressed the crowd, sharing their experiences and describing how they personally have benefitted from the institutions’ youth programs.

ASTC’s Youth Inspired Challenge is designed to expand the impact of science centers and museums to assist our youth to become the innovative and creative thinkers needed for the 21st-century workforce. ASTC-member institutions will offer valuable science education and youth employment programs outside the classroom to engage youth in a minimum of 2 million hours of science enrichment through STEM-centered youth development programs. In the program’s first year, nearly 14,000 youth across the globe were reached during more than 702,000 out-of-school hours. Click here to learn how your institution can join the program.

ASTC would like to thank the chaperones and youth participants for joining our celebration!

About the image: Libby Redda, Pacific Science Center, and Jeremy Martinez, National Aquarium. Photo by Christine Ruffo

Museums and teachers: Partnerships with a purpose

October 15th, 2011 - Posted in Annual Conference by Larry Hoffer

Approximately 84% of ASTC-member institutions have some type of teacher training program. While science centers and museums are doing a great deal to help strengthen the teaching of science, and the skills that develop in out-of-school environments are being implemented quickly into the classroom, more has to be done. And Ellen Futter, president of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), underlined the imperative: “Failing to improve science teaching in schools will have dire consequences.”

The “Museums and Teachers: Partnerships with a Purpose” featured session opened with a presentation from Dr. Patricia Simmons, the new president of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and head of the department of Math, Science, and Technology Education at North Carolina State University. In 2010, ASTC joined NSTA’s Alliance of Affiliates as the professional organization representing informal science education, and as Simmons mentioned, both organizations share similar advocacy goals, which include ensuring that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is reauthorized.

Over 80% of the fastest growing professions (e.g., health care, IT) require science skills, and despite high unemployment rates, 1/3 of U.S. manufacturers report significant skills shortage in STEM areas. Futter called for science centers, natural history museums, zoos, aquaria, etc., to assume a more active role in improving science education.

“Science centers have always been places of inspiration,” she said. “But as valuable as that role has been, science centers are and need to be as essential a part of the formal learning landscape as well as the informal one.”

AMNH is participating in Urban Advantage, a collaborative program focused on supporting and improving the teaching and learning of public school science education. Urban Advantage reports that participating students perform better than those who don’t. The museum is also about to launch the nation’s first masters degree-granting program for teachers in earth science, co-taught by museum scientists and educators. (AMNH is already the only PhD-granting museum in the U.S.)

“We dare not smother the fire of intellectual curiosity,” Futter said. “Science centers and museums must make our resources broadly available to improve science education.”

Click here to watch a video from this session.

Science on the silver screen

October 15th, 2011 - Posted in Annual Conference by Emily Schuster

In a harrowing scene in the film Jurassic Park, a velociraptor peers through a window in search of its intended prey, its breath fogging up the glass. This moment has been cited by film critics as a particularly effective part of the movie. It was the film’s science consultant, Jack Horner of the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana, who suggested this detail—intended to communicate to audiences that dinosaurs were warm-blooded animals, related to birds.

As he told this story at the 2011 ASTC Annual Conference session “Science in the Movies: Ready for Its Close-up,” the University of Manchester’s David Kirby remarked, “The best science consultants are not ones who make the science in a film more accurate, but the ones who provide the means by which accurate science content adds to a film’s entertainment value.” Kirby is the author of the book Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema.

The session, held on Saturday, October 15, and led by Alan Friedman of Museum Development and Science Communication, explored how science in the movies can create or change public understanding and perceptions of the field.

Several filmmakers also shared their perspectives on science on the silver screen. David Kaplan, a filmmaker and particle theorist at Johns Hopkins University, discussed Particle Fever, which is still being filmed. The movie tells the story of the approaching launch of the largest experiment in history, the Large Hadron Collider. As the film’s website states, “The results could finally lead to the underlying theory of all matter…or dramatically mark the end of our ability to comprehend the universe we live in.”

In addition, Richard and Carole Rifkind talked about their film, Naturally Obsessed, which explores life in a molecular biology lab. The film focuses on the process of doing science and on the people who passionately pursue scientific endeavors, rather than on the specifics of their research. “There’s a story in every laboratory,” Richard Rifkind said.

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