Museum Open House Day & Science in the Park

October 23rd, 2013 - Posted in Annual Conference by Mary Mathias

The final day of the 2013 ASTC Annual Conference was Museum Open House Day, with the three host museums opening their doors to ASTC members. In addition to their regular exhibits, the host museums included a variety of activities and presentations. Explora hosted Meet and Greet sessions with different museum professionals, including volunteer and visitor services coordinators, educators, and marketing and publications staff. They also had activities related to National Chemistry Week, local scientists, and many presentations in the theater, such as a discussion of on digital media art and science.

The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science (NMMNHS) also held numerous events, such as the presentation “The Neuroscience of Creativity” by Dr. Rex E. Jung of the University of New Mexico, tours of the geoscience and bioscience collections, and tours of the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center. NMMNHS was also host to Big Screen Day screenings of eight different films and four different planetarium demonstrations. The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History opened their doors as well, showing films throughout the day and offering Q&A sessions with the museum registrar and the museum curator.

This year’s Museum Open House Day also featured Science in the Park, during which science centers and museums from across the country gathered in Tiguex Park with demonstrations and activities for local students and the general public. The event was a tremendous success with hundreds of students enjoying a vast array of activities, such as a mini-hot air balloon demonstration, telescope viewing, and bubble stations.

Thank you to the ASTC 2013 host museums!

The Neuroscience of STEM Creativity

October 23rd, 2013 - Posted in Annual Conference by Mary Mathias

During Museum Open House Day on Tuesday, October 22, Dr. Rex E. Jung from the University of New Mexico gave a very informative presentation called The Neuroscience of STEM Creativity at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. Dr. Jung has been studying creativity for the past four years but has recently started examining scientific creativity in particular.

Dr. Jung stressed the importance of the distinction between novelty and usefulness when discussing creativity. Something that is truly creative, like what many scientists and innovators produce, is both novel and useful, though the term creativity is used for many things. He then moved on to discuss the phases of scientific revolution: pre-paradigm, folk psychology, theory testing, consensus/normal science, anomalies, revolutionary science, and finally, paradigm shift.

Dr. Jung mixed pop culture references and scientific data to present the steps of cognitive creativity: Preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. He also stressed the importance of downtime for the brain to allow for ideas to assemble and for “eureka!” moments. This research, he says, can have big implications for the structure of education. Dr. Jung is also a proponent of art and science collaboration. He believes that art and science are not so different that we should expect to find that the creativity behind them originates in different areas of the brain.

Dr. Jung also spent time debunking common folk psychologies, such as the left-brained/right-brained traits, and that creativity is produced by geniuses or chemicals. Another interesting discussion was on the subject of brainstorming. Dr. Jung discussed that some research suggests that brainstorming is not the most effective way to produce creative results, due to social conformity and social pressures.

Questions were permitted throughout the presentation and led to very interesting tangents with attendees falling on both sides of the arguments.

Humphrey becomes ASTC Board Chair

October 22nd, 2013 - Posted in ASTC News, Annual Conference, Member News by Larry Hoffer

During ASTC’s Annual Business Meeting on October 21, 2013, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, ASTC President R. Bryce Seidl, president and CEO, Pacific Science Center, Seattle, WA, passed the gavel to a new Board Chair—Chevy Humphrey, president and CEO, Arizona Science Center, Phoenix. Humphrey, who most recently served as ASTC’s secretary/treasurer, joined ASTC’s Board of Directors in 2005, and also served as vice-president from 2009-2011. (Officer titles changed from president to chair, vice-president to chair-elect, and immediate past president to immediate past chair this year as the result of bylaws changes approved by the Association’s Board of Directors in August.)

Joining Humphrey on ASTC’s Executive Committee are Chair-Elect: Linda Conlon, chief executive, International Centre for Life, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom; Secretary: Joanna Haas, executive director, Kentucky Science Center, Louisville; Treasurer: David Chesebrough, CEO, COSI, Columbus, Ohio; and Members-at-Large: Guy Labine, CEO, Science North, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada; and Alexander Zwissler, executive director and CEO, Chabot Space & Science Center, Oakland, CA. (Seidl will serve as immediate past chair.)

As a result of the bylaws revisions, the maximum size of the Board of Directors was increased from 18 to 24 members. This year, seven new Board members were elected by the Association’s governing members, and one member was re-elected. The new Board members are: Kate Bennett, president, Rochester Museum & Science Center, NY; Blair Collis, president and CEO, Bishop Museum, Honolulu, HI; Kirsten Ellenbogen, president and CEO, Great Lakes Science Center, Cleveland, OH; Matt Fleury, president and CEO, Connecticut Science Center, Hartford; Asger Høeg, executive director, Experimentarium, Hellerup, Denmark; Tim Ritchie, president, The Tech Museum of Innovation, San Jose, CA; and Silvia Singer, general director and CEO, MIDE, Mexico, D.F., Mexico. Ronen Mir, director of science learning centers, Levinson Visitors Center, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel, was re-elected to a second three-year term.

Those directors continuing their Board terms are: Dennis Bartels, executive director, Exploratorium, San Francisco, CA; Ann Fumarolo, president and CEO, Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center, Shreveport; Nohora Elizabeth Hoyos, director, Maloka, Bogota, Colombia; Tit Meng Lim, chief executive, Singapore Science Centre, Singapore; David Mosena, president and CEO, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, IL; Neville Petrie, CEO, Science Alive! The New Zealand Science Centre, Christchurch; Stephanie Ratcliffe, executive director, The Wild Center, Tupper Lake, NY; and Barry Van Deman, president and CEO, Museum of Life and Science, Durham, NC.

During the Business Meeting, Seidl recognized two outgoing Board members for their service—Carol Valenta, formerly of the Saint Louis Science Center, and Nancy Stueber, president and CEO, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Portland, who has served as immediate past president for the last two years. “The Association and our field owe a great deal of gratitude to Nancy Stueber for her service and leadership,” Seidl remarked.

For further information about Humphrey, read her interview in the September/October issue of Dimensions magazine, at

Reaching Out Through Science Festivals

October 22nd, 2013 - Posted in Annual Conference by Emily Schuster

Imagine bikes flipping through the air outside your science center, and free runners leaping around its walls, while a spellbound crowd gathers to learn the science behind the stunts. The Manchester Science Festival (MSF), organized by the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Manchester, England, United Kingdom, incorporates events like these in order to capture the bold, creative spirit of its city, bringing science to the public in playful, surprising, and ambitious ways.

The “Learning the Basis for Participation” session, held Monday, October 21, at ASTC 2013, centered around the key question, “How can science centers serve segments of their communities that are unlikely to attend a museum?” The session addressed this question by examining the power of science festivals to reach populations that may not be attending science museums—including younger adults without children, teenagers, people from low-income communities, and underserved populations. Ben Wiehe, manager of the Science Festival Alliance at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Leonardo Alfonsi, president of the European Science Events Association (Eusea) in Onsala, Sweden, facilitated the energetic and inspiring discussion, which highlighted MSF and the Philadelphia Science Festival, organized by The Franklin Institute.

MSF, now in its seventh year, is “ever-evolving; it looks very different every year,” according to Natalie Ireland, MOSI’s head of learning and public programs. The museum partners with 50 to 60 organizations each year to produce 150 to 200 events in venues large and small, across the city and beyond, over an 11-day period. The free festival reaches 100,000 people representing a broad cross-section of the community; 25% of the audience does not ordinarily go to science museums or attend science-related events. Festival events are organized by the experience people are seeking (“family fun,” “conversations,” “art meets science,” “after dark,” “make/do/hack,” etc.) rather than by scientific discipline. The festival also features a citizen science project each year—this year’s project, #Hooked, examines the science of songs.

Ireland shared some advice for science centers interested in starting their own festivals. “Let it have a personality,” she advised. “Be bold with it. Let it have its own attitude and stamp.” She also emphasized the need for science festivals to have relevance and the importance of recruiting partners that “can bring something amazing” to the program. She recommended getting the audience involved in shaping the event. In addition, she encouraged attendees to not be afraid to take risks. “Do something unexpected,” she said. “Be experimental. Some stuff will work, some won’t. Audiences are forgiving during festivals.” MOSI is now working to incorporate the festival’s creative, experimental approach into all of its work.

As with MSF, partnerships are key to the Philadelphia Science Festival. Gerri Trooskin, science festival director at The Franklin Institute, requires the festival’s 200 partners to communicate and collaborate with one another, and also encourages them to take risks. “I tell them, ‘Try something new. If it’s a huge disaster, you can blame me,’” Trooskin said. The festival, now in its fourth year, served more than 45,000 people this year, plus an additional 45,000 at Science Day at the Ball Park, with the Philadelphia Phillies. Of the more than 100 festival events, most of which are offered for free, the most successful is the Science Carnival on the Parkway, which takes place in the streets outside the museum and served 30,000 people this year.

The Franklin initiated a “mini carnival” called Discovery Day in 2012, which was piloted in the low-income neighborhood of Hunting Park. High school and college students help to facilitate the event, and the audience is demographically similar to the neighborhood population. “Most Philadelphians don’t leave their neighborhoods or come to museums. We need to meet them where they are,” Trooskin explained.

The Franklin now sees itself as existing in three different spheres: destination, community, and digital space. “The festival has really impacted the way we’re thinking about how we serve city of Philadelphia,” said Trooskin.

Engaging the Whole Community

October 22nd, 2013 - Posted in Annual Conference by Emily Schuster

On Monday, October 21, at ASTC 2013, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Garibay Group led a session entitled, “Promising Practices for Community Partnerships: A Call to Support More Inclusive Approaches to Public Participation in Scientific Research.”

Session leader Jennifer Shirk of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology framed the discussion by explaining that at the conclusion of ASTC’s Communicating Climate Change (C3) project, the number one need reported by program participants was advice on how to reach more diverse audiences in citizen science projects.

Norman Porticella, also from Cornell, outlined promising practices for engaging more diverse audiences in citizen science: develop collaborative partnerships; be flexible and adaptive; build on what’s familiar; provide concrete benefits; offer genuine, equitable, and sustained personal contact with the community; and uncover and address additional context-specific barriers.

Next, Cornell’s Flisa Stevenson described her experiences working with a Latino youth theater group on the citizen science project Celebrate Urban Birds (CUBS). The theater group was not particularly interested in issues of conservation or stewardship, but felt the project supported their goals of building youth’s self esteem and interest in college, while connecting them to their own community. The youth observed birds and performed research on bird habitats and species while creating plays about birds.

Audubon New Mexico’s Carol Beidleman discussed her experiences working with Latino communities in Wenatchee, Washington. Although the local community was 30% Latino, only 5% of participants in the popular Leavenworth Spring Bird Fest were Latino. After hiring a Latino liaison, involving the Latino community in program planning, incorporating bird walks with native Spanish-speaking guides, providing bilingual materials, and advertising in Spanish-language media, the proportion of Latino participants tripled.

Finally, Cecilia Garibay of Garibay Group discussed culturally responsive evaluation approaches, which require evaluation to consider culture and context as a critical lens through which evaluators develop an evaluation, carry out data collection, and interpret results. She concluded with these remarks: “The panelists mentioned the flexibility of the program, and there’s a need to have flexibility in the evaluation process itself. It can feel uncomfortable, but we need to be willing to change.”

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