Live Demo Hour—Videos

October 19th, 2014 - Posted in Annual Conference by Christine Ruffo

The Live Demo Hour, an ASTC Conference perennial favorite, wowed and entertained the crowd again this year with demonstrations of a range of scientific principles (who knew topology could be so much fun?) and even a stand-up science comedian. Video clips from the show can be viewed below.

Thank you to all the presenters!

Eddie Goldstein, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Colorado
Trevor Taylor, Oklahoma Museum Network
Jeff Rosenblatt, Kansas City Science Center, Missouri
Brian Malow, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh
Robby Stanley, Discovery Place, Charlotte, North Carolina
Thomas Lipham, Museum of Discovery, Little Rock, Arkansas

A Scientist Walks into a Bar: Humor in STEM education

October 19th, 2014 - Posted in Annual Conference by Mary Mathias

With a title like “A Scientist Walks into a Bar: Humor in STEM education,” it’s no surprise that Sunday morning’s session was full of laughs. The naturally funny panel was made up of Jen Lokey, from the Powerhouse Science Center, Durango, Colorado; Paul Taylor from The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia; Jonah Cohen from The Children’s Museum, West Hartford, Connecticut; and Elizabeth Martineau and Gordon McDonough, both from the Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Lokey began the session with a look at humor from a neurological perspective, discussing how humor uses the same areas of the brain as higher order processing and problem solving. She also described how people with damage to their prefrontal cortex tend to lose their ability to interpret all kinds of humor, suggesting that that is where humor is processed. So why use humor in children’s educational programs? Kids are naturally funny and respond well to humor, plus they like being included by being “in on” the joke. Kids are also awkward, and humor is a great way to cut through a bit of the awkwardness. To incorporate humor in programs, Lokey suggests hiring a staff that works hard and takes the mission very seriously, but don’t take themselves very seriously, so they’re not afraid to be silly and fun.

Martineau and McDonough went into more detail on how to use humor in an educational setting. Their many tips included paying attention to the audience and playing off of the reaction, using multimedia, and remembering that the silliness needs to make sense and be on topic. Cohen described other benefits of using humor with kids, such as giving children a chance to take a break from the strict, formal education structure and allowing adults to recognize that fun and humor are necessary for their children and can add to interest in an academic topic.

Taylor rounded out the session with universal humor techniques for presenting programs to different cultures. Physical humor and playful competition transcend the language and culture barrier, plus joy and enthusiasm are infectious. In short demonstrations or during a science festival, it can be difficult to teach children a lot, but as Taylor said, “I can’t teach a kid everything about chemistry in 45 minutes, but I can make them say ‘wow, chemistry is really cool.’”

Science Centers Preparing the Workforce of Tomorrow: An international perspective

October 19th, 2014 - Posted in Annual Conference by Emily Schuster

Are science centers more efficient than schools at helping students cultivate the “soft skills”—like problem solving, critical thinking, and team building—they will need for future careers? Focus groups from 11 countries are beginning to delve into this question in an ASTC-led study. The session “Science Centers Preparing the Workforce of Tomorrow: An international perspective,” held Sunday morning, shared some preliminary results.

Session leader Walter Staveloz of ASTC began with a discussion of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). PISA tests the reading, math, and science skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students around the world. Staveloz explained that there is no correlation between a country’s PISA science scores and the number of students who are passionate about science or interested in pursuing science careers—but that OECD has found that young people who do not score well on PISA but are enthusiastic about science careers sometimes have more experience in out-of-school time activities than other students. Staveloz also described his “eye-opening” visit to Yahoo headquarters in San Jose, California, where Yahoo representatives explained their view that soft skills are crucial for employees to succeed at their company.

The perspectives of OECD and Yahoo helped to inspire Staveloz to launch a series of international focus groups to look at how stakeholders including teachers, museum professionals, and industry professionals perceive the correlation between science center activities and soft skills. So far, the focus groups have taken place at science centers in Australia, Belgium, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Korea, Mexico, Portugal, South Africa, and Thailand. Ultimately, the information gained from the focus groups will help science centers recognize their strengths and create and refine programs that help students develop soft skills.

The focus groups had to react to 11 statements, including
• We should let kids enjoy science centers, not turn science centers into schools.
• Schools can learn more about teaching science from science centers than the other way around.
• Students acquire skills in science centers that are highly beneficial for their lives after school.
• Focusing on soft skills will lower results in test scores by taking time away from testing skills. That’s where science centers can play a role.
• Visiting science centers has little impact on whether students pursue careers in STEM.

The Department of Education and Training, Flemish Community Government, Belgium, conducted the first focus group and is helping to bring together all the results. Rita Dunon, who represented the department at the session, reported that so far, the focus groups as a whole have expressed the belief that science center activities can increase students’ motivation and can aid students in developing soft skills that can help them become innovators.

Dunon reported that the Belgian focus group felt that science centers should mainly trigger children’s motivation in regard to STEM, but that the impact of a science center visit can be enhanced by close collaboration with schools. For maximum impact, science centers should focus not only on students but also on teachers, teacher trainers, heads of schools, parents, grandparents, and other stakeholders.

Ganigar Chen of the National Science Museum, Pathum Thani, Thailand, said that the Thai focus group believed free-choice learning in science centers can help generate enthusiasm for science learning. They also felt that schools should learn from informal techniques but remain focused on following the curriculum and working toward high exam scores.

Sheena Laursen of Experimentarium, Hellerup, Denmark, reported that the Danish focus group participants felt that science centers and schools should complement one another. They believed that science centers are places that can create wonder and viewed them as “sanctuaries where you can’t be held responsible for the results.”

Although his institution has not participated in the focus groups, Khalid S. Al-Yahya of the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, Saudi Arabia, Dharan, shared his thoughts on the topic at the session’s conclusion. He said he is concerned that if science centers focus too much on cultivating a future STEM workforce, they may lose their role as a place of curiosity. “Every crisis in society is ultimately a crisis of imagination,” he said.

Anyone interested in launching a focus group as part of the project can contact Walter Staveloz.

Increasing Diversity Among Museum Audiences

October 19th, 2014 - Posted in Annual Conference by Mary Mathias

There are many kinds of diversity in every community. Science centers and museums are hard at work to bring science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs and activities to more diverse audiences. In Sunday’s “Increasing Diversity Among Museum Audiences” session, session leader Amanda Paige from the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, Ann Arbor, and presenters Cheronda Frazier from the Center for Aquatic Sciences at Adventure Aquarium, Camden, New Jersey; Liani Yirka from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh; Brittany Chunn from the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History; and Brittani Lane from EdVenture Children’s Museum, Columbia, South Carolina, discussed ways to reach more diverse audiences at various age levels.

Frazier first shared the responsibilities of an institution trying to reach a more diverse audience:

  • Target audience must be defined.
  • Target audience should reflect the community, and the community must see itself within the institution. A comfort level is built this way.
  • Programs and marketing tools should reflect the target audiences. Again, the community must see itself represented in these materials (e.g., use of photos with diverse individuals).
  • Mission statements should reflect the institution’s commitment to diversity and should be incorporated into all programs.
  • The board of directors should reflect the diversity in the community.
  • The institution should have a strong policy statement supporting equal opportunity employment.
  • Diverse individuals should be represented on every level, especially among senior management.
  • Internal staff obstacles and training needs must be addressed if external recruitment initiatives are to be successful.

Frazier also suggested recruitment strategies for reaching more diverse audiences, including

  • Offer financial assistance
  • Align yourself with higher education institutions
  • Recruit within multicultural centers and clubs
  • Recruit within the community
  • Hold ongoing events to get your target audience in the door
  • Post job descriptions around the community and in the community centers.

The group was then given the opportunity to speak in small groups about reaching diverse audiences in elementary, middle, and high school and in college. Groups also discussed removing both physical and nonphysical barriers to diverse audience participation.

Museums 3.0: Implementing programs/exhibits which are a community resource

October 18th, 2014 - Posted in Annual Conference by Christine Ruffo

In recent years, museums have evolved from presenters and interpreters of objects with little visitor interaction to “Museums 2.0,” where visitors play active roles in content development and the experience is more of a dialogue. So what’s next? What does “Museums 3.0″ look like?

In a Saturday afternoon session, Lath Carlson (The Tech Museum of
Innovation, San Jose), Priya Mahabir (New York Hall of Science, Queens), Kristin Leigh (Explora, Albuqueque), and Devon Hamilton (TELUS Spark, Calgary) shared their experiences in trying to move their museums beyond being seen primarily as fun, educational destinations to becoming valued as truly essential resources by their communities, much like libraries and parks, used by residents as opposed to just visited. Three characteristics that museums share with libraries and parks can form a basis for building toward 3.0—our institutions are noncommercial, inherently social, and safe spaces for exploration and experimentation. Session panelists shared programs their institutions have developed to build upon these attributes and deepen relationships with their local communities.

One successful strategy that several panelists shared was partnering with schools and community organizations that are already deeply engaged with audiences the science centers wished to reach. Both NYSCI and Explora have begun hosting evening school programs at their centers attended by both students, parents, and teachers. They each also provide free family memberships through schools or community organizations, but have taken steps to engage beyond simply sending a membership card. In Queens, where a large percentage of local residents have immigrant backgrounds, NYSCI holds orientation sessions for their free 3-month membership program in Spanish, Mandarin, and Chinese. Explora distributes its free memberships through community organizations, such as Nurse Family
Partnership Project, where nurses hand-deliver the memberships to mothers during home visits and talk about the benefits of visiting.

Listening to the community to learn more about its needs can take centers down the path of becoming essential. TELUS Spark has developed a highly collaborative relationship with a local large suburban/rural school system that began with one Junior high school teacher asking if her students could create exhibits for the center. The project led to a second school participating, and then professional development for the systems’ teachers being held at Spark, and then the development of Spark’s Science Communication Mentorship Pilot Project which culminated with over 500 high school students installing 273 exhibits at the center for family, friends, and local community leaders to come and see. Spark is no longer just a field trip destination; it’s part of the school system’s toolkit.

Making science center facilities, such as Maker Spaces, more accessible to communities can also help forge deeper relationships. The Tech has a vision of being a resource for innovation that they are working to fulfill in part by providing space and encouragement for community programs. Its Tech Studio is a dynamic space, easily adaptable for a broad range of skill-building workshops used by outside groups. Those organizations actually provide the content; the museums provides the infrastructure. The museum has also hosted Beta Jams, where Silicon Valley companies bring in prototypes to test with visitors, Hack-A-Thons, and a Start-Up Weekend, where entrepreneurs built and tested products and created companies by the end of the event. For all of these community events, The Tech’s primary contribution is its space.

Museums 2.0 moved the field past one-way presentation and interpretation to creating ongoing dialogues with audiences. To be truly essential to their communities, though museums must evolve again to 3.0 and become primary resources for their neighbors.

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