Science Centers and Public Broadcasting: Building Strong Partnerships

October 16th, 2012 - Posted in Annual Conference, Featured by Larry Hoffer

(Session summary by Sean Smith, ASTC’s director of government and public relations)

Has your science center ever thought about partnering with a public television or radio station? If so, take advantage of the insight offered by presenters Dante Centuori (Director of Creative Productions, Great Lakes Science Center), Jen Cassidy (Vice President of Programs, COSI), Brent Davis (Senior Director of Content and Executive Producer, WOSU Public Media/WOSU@COSI), and George Viebranz (Mathematics and Science Education Program Director, WVIZ/PBS and 90.3 WCPN ideastream) at the Science Centers and Public Broadcasting: Building Strong Partnerships session held in the WOSU@COSI studios on Monday afternoon.

During the session, attendees heard about how COSI and the Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC) collaborated with their local public broadcasting stations (and vice versa) on a variety of programs, which resulted in beneficial outcomes for all.

Davis began the session by offering some history of the WOSU-COSI connection, which began in the COSI space six years ago. Most of WOSU’s local television segments are actually produced in the COSI studio, and Davis mentioned that this is a real asset that other science centers across the country could potentially offer public broadcasters—a large public space. WOSU’s science center space provides them with good public visibility and a favorable impression, both of which are significantly more substantial than a more isolated campus outpost would offer. Other positives from the COSI-WOSU relationship include built-in audience participation, access to COSI floor demonstrations that teachers can use in the classroom, COSI expertise, etc.

Cassidy used COSI’s Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science exhibition as example of the way the COSI-WOSU relationship has worked. When COSI went to Egypt, it took a WOSU producer and a professional photographer with them; these images were used in the exhibit. The partnership was a huge success, as it created quality, useful, content for both organizations, proved useful beyond the original plan, and even saved—and made—money. The natural physical/geographic proximity to one another was a plus. Cassidy also mentioned that some of the content visitors can see in the Innovation Showcase exhibit was produced at WOSU, which helped offer consistency in look and quality, additional cost effectiveness, etc.

Viebranz noted that the Great Lakes Science Center and ideastream also share a close proximity and are only 8 city blocks apart. The CEOs of WVIZ and 90.3 decided to merge, and the organizations collectively renovated a historic Cleveland building in the city’s Playhouse Square; the affiliation began about seven years ago. They intentionally built the smallest theatre in the district, with seating for 300; the space is particularly good for kids, and they are able to do remote broadcasts as well. The ties between the two organizations include a shared mission and vision (to strengthen community through science and science education) and an interest in strengthening public and private education systems and the general education of the public. Summed up? “Partnership, purpose, and proximity.”

Centuori shared details from the Great Lakes Science Center’s perspective, and highlighted the collaborative content creation and distribution. He offered an example from the public television series The Human Spark, which helped the science center get new audiences—college age people and young adults. The GLSC held a special preview event for the first episode of the show, and Centuori noted that it was neat to watch a science-related program with a hundred others with similar interests. The partnership was a win-win—it provided exposure for the premiere event, the television show, and the science center. In addition, WVIZ got a commercial (done by GLSC) that they didn’t have to pay their staff to do, etc. The partnership also extends to WVIZ’s PSI: Physical Science Investigation (, which offers multimedia online resources including 28 interactive virtual physics labs. WVIZ ideastream was able to take advantage of the GLSC location, and used its exhibits and demos. The grant-funded website includes videos for teachers in addition to students. It was a perfect partnership, as ideastream had the grant funding and production capability, but was looking for content expertise. GLSC had that content expertise, along with a unique facility, staff with media experience, and was looking for ways to broaden its collaborations within the region. In addition, both organizations had a major interest in improving middle school physical science learning and instruction; because of this collaboration, they didn’t need to work with actors, create scripts, etc.—they actually worked with real experts, which came across a lot more naturally than something more tightly scripted. And again, it was cost-effective.

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Live Demonstration Hour: Recap and Videos

October 16th, 2012 - Posted in Annual Conference, Featured by Larry Hoffer

(Recap written by Kenzie Moore, COSI membership processing associate and ASTC 2012 communications volunteer)

This year’s annual Demonstration Hour featured beds of nails, smashed cinder blocks, hydrogen bombs, a diablo, a bouncing championship competition, and hovercrafts…not to mention some very enthusiastic, very intelligent, and very tie-dyed presenters. One of the busiest sessions of the day, which just goes to show that you should really never underestimate the power of a well-designed, well-presented demonstration. (Really, who doesn’t wish they had the ability to build themselves a hovercraft?)

Videos of each demo:

Bed of Nails

Newton’s Hoverboard

The Diablo That Measured a Ceiling

Hydrogen Bombs

Battle of the Balls

Brief Educational Session Recaps: Monday, October 15

October 16th, 2012 - Posted in Annual Conference, Featured by Larry Hoffer

(Session recaps provided by COSI outreach educator and ASTC 2012 communications volunteer Jeremy Rader)

Get Connected: A Hands-On Approach to Distance Learning
Museums have been using distance learning to reach their audience for over a decade but the technical and logistical obstacles are a big barrier to those looking to expand into the field. Presenters from three institutions spoke about the successes and challenges they have encountered in distance learning. The New York Hall of Science, COSI, and Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum started the session with a live demonstration to show just how easy it can be to reach an audience hundreds of miles away from you (but really they were just out in the hall). Video conferencing equipment has been the standard for the past 15 years, bringing high quality audio and video but a high price. With advances in technology you now need a laptop with a webcam to pull off the same feat. Using webcasting software and laptop means a much lower cost to those looking wanting to enter the field. After a brief explanation of the technical differences between the two methods, the attendees and presenters broke off into three hands-on stations to focus on a different area. One session focused on the challenges of presenting an audience not in the same room as you. Another talked about the use of kits to provide an added level of interaction. The third dealt with non-traditional audiences (e.g, hospital patients). To conclude the session the presenters talked about creating an online collection of the information discussed as a tool to use and a collaboration platform to continue the discussion started today.

Digital Planetarium Demonstrations
COSI’s planetarium featured demonstration from three providers today: Evans & Sutherland, Seiler-Zeiss, and Sky-Skan. I sat in on the Evans & Sutherland demo. With the use of today’s technology, providers are able to present an ever-increasing amount of content to their audiences in dome theaters. Gone are the days of static star fields and laser light shows. Today’s program featured a fully interactive space to explore. Zoom in over Columbus and see the city’s watershed or zoom out and see the entire solar system and beyond. But the show doesn’t stop at the stars. Live action films are now being produced for dome theaters, creating an incredibly immersive dramatic presentation. Evans & Sutherland also highlighted the use of their software to take video created for flat screen and render it to fit a dome. The presenters pointed out that institutions using the equipment are doing so in new and innovative ways that they had not foreseen.

Fire and Ice: Show Us Your Science
Gadgets Stage at COSI was the platform for an afternoon full of bubbles, flames and big booms presented by several institutions: Pacific Science Center, The Franklin Institute, The Children’s Museum of Philadelphia, Great Lakes Science Center, and COSI each took the stage to present 1 or 2 of their favorite demos. The show started with bubbles: air filled bubbles that fell to the floor, helium bubbles that floated to the ceiling, and hydrogen bubbles that burst into a fireball when ignited. Next we moved onto a giant cloud. Liquid nitrogen and hot water combined to create a cloud that shot into the sky. Keeping with the weather theme, a fire tornado was created next. Using a spinning platform and a mess grating, a tornado of fire over three feet tall was produced, glowing green from the chemicals added to the fuel. The day was capped off by a series of explosions featuring dry ice and a selection from the local grocer. A watermelon, pumpkin, zucchini, and even a fruit cake took center stage before being blown to smithereens. The highlight of the demo may have been duct taping the zucchini after a defective bottle left a huge crack in it. All in all there were a ton of great demos shared as well as the science content to back them up and the safety measures needed to do them safely. I’m sure everyone left with some new ideas they hope to implement back at their home institutions.

Navigating the Afterschool Landscape: Policy, Research, and Funding

October 15th, 2012 - Posted in ASTC News, Annual Conference, Featured by Larry Hoffer

(Session summary by Sean Smith, ASTC’s director of government and public relations)

On Sunday afternoon, ASTC 2012 Annual Conference attendees had the opportunity to learn about ways in which to engage comprehensive afterschool programs as partners in STEM education. Session leader Anita Krishnamurthi (Director of STEM Policy, Aftershool Alliance), along with panelists Victoria Wegener (Lead Facilitator, Afterschool Technical Assistance Collaborative, Mainspring Consulting) and Debbie Zipes (Executive Director, Indiana Afterschool Network), shared effective practices, available funding streams, and federal policy issues that affect afterschool providers, while also presenting results from a recent study on defining STEM learning outcomes in afterschool.

The session, Navigating the Afterschool Landscape: Policy, Research, and Funding, began with an overview of what “afterschool” really means, then offered some statistics that helped frame the current state of affairs: here in the United States, 8.4 million kids (15%) participate in afterschool programs, while 15.1 million kids (26%) are on their own afterschool. According to the Afterschool Alliance, an additional 18.5 million kids would participate in a quality program if one were offered in their community—from an ASTC member perspective, then, the need certainly exists. But what can supporters of afterschool do to make the case for increased funding and opportunities? Fortunately, according to the panelists, there is tremendous bipartisan support for the issue. Messages that seems to resonate include the themes of keeping kids safe, helping working parents, and inspiring learners at an early age (which the Afterschool Alliance wants to get out even more).

A number of recent surveys and reports have focused on afterschool, including those from the Afterschool Alliance and Change the Equation and Nielson, which found that less than 20% of households have children enrolled in STEM afterschool programs, and that participation is especially low among elementary and high school students, perhaps because of a recent emphasis on middle school STEM.

What are some outcomes of learning—particuarly STEM learning in afterschool? We know now that they include: inspiring and engaging kids; building skills and proficiencies; and inspiring kids to pursue STEM majors and careers. And we may know more soon, as an ongoing Delphi study aims to delve into specific outcomes, indicators, and sub-indicators that the afterschool field can deliver. The study is currently wrapping up and a report may be ready as early as December.

With these studies in mind, Krishnamurthi reported on the number of U.S. federal programs that provide funding streams for afterschool. There are more than 100, including those offered by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Science Foundation, and, of course, the Department of Education, which offers the only federal program that exclusively targets afterschool, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. ASTC members will be pleased to learn that the program is ramping up its STEM empahsis, and now offers more support for the area. A look at the federal STEM education investment overall shows $3 billion in annual funding across the federal science mision agencies; the Office of Science and Technology Policy is working on a strategic plan to better coordinate these investments.

The conversation then turned to the National Network of Statewide Afterschool Networks, which was established by the C.S. Mott Foundation in 2002. Networks are public-private partnerships that are designed to provide intentional and meaningful bridges between leaders of schools, communities, and families in order to support student learning. There are currently 41 networks, and the numbers are growing. Networks include a range of partners, like state education, health and human services, and workforce offices, elected officials, etc. Attendees—and ASTC members who were not able to attend this year’s conference—were encouraged to visit the National Network’s website,, where they will be able to find detailed information on each existing state network, contact information available for state leads, and more. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the contacts in your state—Wegener reported that they are expecting to hear from you as a result of this session!

The session closed with insightful comments from Zipes, head of the Indiana Afterschool Network, who shared some practical steps for building an effective statewide afterschool STEM system, including: establishing the leadership team; creating a shared mission, vision, and goals; securing funding and resources; focusing on professional development; undergoing evaluation; and even advocacy efforts. Zipes reported that they have recently developed afterschool STEM standards for Indiana, which didn’t previously exist. Their work includes an online assessment tool for initial afterschool standards, which is scheduled to be launched in January—your feedback is welcomed. Zipes concluded with some great advice for those interested in cultivating great STEM afterschool partnerships in their state: (1) Ask for advice; (2) Stay true to what you’re great at; (3) Engage experts outside your area of expertise; and (4) You can accomplish anything if you don’t care who gets the credit.

Brief Educational Session Recaps: Sunday, October 14

October 15th, 2012 - Posted in ASTC News, Annual Conference, Featured by Larry Hoffer

(Recaps written by Kenzie Moore, COSI membership processing associate and ASTC 2012 communications volunteer)

Teens Teach Space: Engaging Youth in Planetarium Programming
Museums are relying more and more on a teen/youth-based volunteer pool, but how do you make sure that both the teen and the center are getting the most out of the partnership? Two presenters from space centers in the U.S. shared with ASTC attendees their biggest takeaway points from their recent years involving teens in planetarium programs. Important details for institutions just beginning to wade into teen- and youth-focused involvement? Teens need more support and training to get the requisite presentational skills, the adults working with teens need clear scaffolding of what is expected of them in a leadership or cooperative role, and teens frequently benefit from having a chance to practice their roles. The key takeaway for centers with an established youth program? Give teens a chance to shine. Give them a voice in the scheduling of programs they’ll be involved with, get their feedback about what kind of programming or hands-on activities they’d like to do. It’s their center too.

Membership Best Practices Roundtable
It’s no news that members are an important part of any successful museum, but some of the ideas flying around the room today were certainly new ways of approaching those members. From installation payments instead of yearly payments to in-depth tracking of the unique ways each member uses their membership, the roundtable featured newly established practices, a few tales of development missteps, and a healthy dose of reminders to not reinvent the wheel. Members are special, and should be treated as such, but moving forward, shouldn’t we take every chance to personalize our approach to groups of similar members? Just how big of a role do the benefits play in a member’s perceived value of their relationship which your institution? (Hint: a big one.)

Bring the Noise: Doing Demonstrations with Sound
A demonstration doesn’t have to be expensive, and it doesn’t have to be something you can only do in the safety of your home base. A series of glasses filled with varying levels of water. A popsicle stick with string, paper, pencil erasers, and a rubber band. A cheap, corrugated plastic tube. Any of these can be turned into a quick, cheap, hands-on demonstration appropriate for in-house or outreach efforts. You can acquire these simply supplies just about anywhere and what you can’t find in a store, you can order through science supply services. Noise demonstrations can be interesting, budget-friendly, and very interactive. A Slinky makes the invisible (sound waves) visible. PVC pipes, ethanol, and a lighter can make a fascinating visual display while coaching kids through observations about wavelength and pitch. If you’re really gutsy, you can even buy a bullwhip to show what happens when you break a sound wave. Just, please, for your safety and the viewers’, watch the training videos.

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