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.

Twist and Shout: Using physical movement in STEM education

October 18th, 2014 - Posted in Annual Conference by Mary Mathias

If a session begins with a paper airplane-making activity, you know it’s going to be good. That is how presenters Jen Lokey from the Powerhouse Science Center (formerly the Durango Discovery Museum), Isabel Leeder from the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, and Woody Sobey from the Science Center of Idaho kicked off their session, “Twist and Shout: Using physical movement in STEM education.” The energetic session also included a 110-foot “crab walk” and dance interpretations of scientific concepts. All of these activities were used to demonstrate ways to include movement in educational programs.

As Lokey and Leeder discussed during the session, numerous studies have shown the positive correlation between physical activity and content retention. Movement stimulates brain activity and brain plasticity, and increases “feel good” neurotransmitters such as dopamine while decreasing stress hormones like cortisol. And, while many studies focus on elementary school-age children, this positive correlation has been demonstrated in learners of all ages. Studies have also shown that decreased movement, and the decrease in parks and active play, have contributed to the increase in attention disorders.

Sobey discussed how strategies like making paper airplanes in one location and testing them in another, and moving chairs to make room are simple ways to incorporate movement into an activity. As Lokey described, strategies for integrating movement can be explicit or implicit. Explicit methods are helpful for young learners and include an explanation of why movement is being incorporated into an activity, e.g. “let’s do some jumping jacks to wake everyone up and get the blood flowing!” Implicit methods of incorporating movement are good for older children who know that movement and exercise are important and will then connect it to positive activities. Leeder also discussed the Frost Museum of Science’s GROOVE program, a randomized controlled trial that explores the potential for virtual reality technologies as a medium to promote healthy lifestyles.

A Time to Heal

October 18th, 2014 - Posted in Annual Conference by Emily Schuster

When museums and hospitals work together, the resulting partnerships can “bring joy to families going through hard times,” according to Ann Hernandez of Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, Michigan. In addition to helping patients and their families, these partnerships can be mutually beneficial to both the museums and hospitals themselves, as panelists explained in the ASTC 2014 session “Building Community Partnerships: Hospitals and Museums Realize Shared Healing Connections.”

The session was moderated by Hernandez and led by Andrea Reynolds, also of Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. Presenters included both hospital and museum professionals: Julie Piazza of CS Mott Children’s and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, Ann Arbor, Michigan; Kurt Huffman of COSI, Columbus, Ohio; and Kristofer Kelly-Frère of TELUS Spark, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Staff from both Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum and Mott Hospital have visited each other’s institutions to present programs—including a Teddy Bear Clinic held at the museum, where visitors learned about the hospital environment and staff roles. The partnership has also involved training volunteers willing to work at both the museum and the hospital. In addition, Mott Hospital has held a focus group at the museum where patients, families, and hospital and museum staff brainstormed ideas for exhibits that would bring an element of the museum into the hospital.

Before opening its facility in 2011, TELUS Spark prototyped exhibits at Alberta Children’s Hospital. Kelly-Frère pointed out, “If you only prototype in your institution, you’re only reaching the audience you already have. If you want to reach new audiences, you have to go out and find them.” Prototyping in the hospital allowed TELUS Spark to design exhibits that accounted for different abilities and family dynamics.

COSI uses videoconferencing to allow students to watch live knee surgeries at Mount Carmel Hospital and ask the surgeons questions, view a videotape of an autopsy accompanied by live narration by a pathologist resident from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, or talk to pharmacists housed at Labs in Life within COSI itself. Huffman explained that these programs help hospital staff increase their communication skills and learn about hands-on inquiry and 21st-century skills.

The presenters discussed many of the special issues involved with museum/hospital partnerships—including designing activities and materials with infection prevention and control in mind; training hospital staff in how to deliver messages in ways children can understand; and training museum staff in how to talk to patients and to respect patient confidentiality.

Piazza said that museums that partner with hospitals are “bringing distraction, discovery, and excitement. [Patients are] kids first, in the hospital second. They’re not their diagnosis—they are people.” She also pointed out that museums can support the children of adult hospital patients, as well as the adult patients themselves. “Play is universal,” she said.

Announcing the World Biotech Tour

October 18th, 2014 - Posted in ASTC News, Partners by Mary Mathias

ASTC and the Biogen Idec Foundation are proud to announce the launch of the World Biotech Tour (WBT), a multi-year project designed to increase the impact and visibility of biotechnology to youth, the general public, and underserved communities in an effort to promote science literacy worldwide. The WBT will improve the professional capacity of science center personnel and create a cohort of young people acting as ambassadors for the Tour in their communities and beyond. The WBT is made possible through a grant from the Biogen Idec Foundation.

The World Biotech Tour will include several biotech-themed events hosted at international sites that will engage different generations of life-long learners, both at the science centers themselves and in the community, making biotechnology accessible to all. A key component will be the “Lab in a Box” product, which contains experiments designed to showcase the relevance of biotechnology in everyday life.

The first three stops of the WBT in 2015 will be at Technopolis, the Flemish Science Centre in Mechelen, Belgium; Pavilion of Knowledge – Ciência Viva in Lisbon, Portugal; and Miraikan, National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo, Japan. In addition to the 12 scheduled stops on the tour over the three years of the program, any and all museums will have access to resources necessary to host their own event, free of charge, on the WBT website at

The WBT will also feature an international Ambassadors Program that will enlist a select group of middle and high school students from around the world to support and inspire others to participate in WBT activities in their communities and schools. Throughout the WBT, ASTC and the Biogen Idec Foundation will conduct research on how biotechnology is being taught to the public, both in schools and outside the classroom. The findings from this research will be shared at the conclusion of the World Biotech Tour at the 2017 Science Centre World Summit in Tokyo, Japan.

For more information, visit and follow the tour on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

© Association of Science - Technology Centers Incorporated