Category Archives: Development

The Day I Worked at the Exploratorium

In early November I was lucky to join the Arkansas Discovery Network for a professional development workshop with the Exploratorium. The ADN has a long-standing relationship with the Exploratorium, which, to put it simply, is both like a “sister museum” of ours as well as a “mother ship” of science center innovation, insight, and creativity. I last visited the Exploratorium in December 2011 when it was at its original location at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. This was a wonderful experience, as I had just started learning about Frank Oppenheimer, its founder, during graduate school, and his key role in hands-on informal education. Now the museum is located at Pier 15/17 in a brand new facility, with down-right awesome tech features as well as being incredibly environmentally friendly. It was great to revisit this institution in its new setting, especially with my new position in the STEM/STEAM field.

During this workshop, professionals from institutions within the ADN (including the Museum of Discovery, the Mid-America Science Museum, The Art & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, and Amazeum) came together to learn from educators and innovators at the Exploratorium about audience engagement, teamwork, tinkering, and planning and implementing floor activities. It was invigorating, exhausting, and educational – but mostly fun!

The workshop took place from Thursday, November 7 – Sunday, November 11, and concluded with an activity on the museum floor (aka: I got to work at the Exploratorium for a day!!!) Our mission during this workshop was to design a “chain reaction”  tinkering activity or a Rube Goldberg machine. After designing the activity, we would then present it on the museum floor in the Exploratorium’s awesome Tinkering Studio.

I  am an official Tinkerer.

I am an official Tinkerer.

Our group began by first experimenting with circuits. This was neat, and a little nerve-wracking for some of the workshop participants. Educators, administrators, and executives attended the workshop, so there was a mix of academic and professional backgrounds – always a good thing for creativity! Some participants were more comfortable with circuits than others. After some basic circuit work we created our own mini chain reaction. Our supplies and materials ranged from wooden blocks, to deconstructed toys (think a dancing Santa toy without a face or costume), to Legos, pipe cleaners, and beyond. We also included circuits within our chain reactions, incorporating this element of technology as both a creative element, as well as a possible reactor to setting off the chain reactions. We paired into teams of two, each creating a mini chain reaction within a larger group reaction. This emphasized teamwork, as well communication within the larger group, to ensure each mini chain reaction impacted the next. One thing I found especially helpful about the organization of this activity was I was able to meet and get to know several individuals within the Network. As the new kid on the block, there were many folks to meet!

After we implemented our own chain reaction, we took our experiences and discussed the most effective ways to incorporate this activity on the museum floor. This part was a bit tricky. There were several nut and bolt issues to discuss. For example:

  • What was the age range of the activity? Should it be open to all?
  • How long should the activity last?
  • How many participants (or pairs?) should be allowed?
  • What supplies could (or should?) we incorporate?
  • Who should facilitate what? Or was facilitation necessary?
  • What was the most practical way to arrange the room?
  • How could other visitors aka non participants, become a part of this activity?
  • Should there be multiple sessions of the activity?

With a group of diverse museum professionals from multiple institutions of varying size and scope, we had several lively discussions on the most effective means to implement the activity. We had multiple brainstorming sessions within a day and half time period. In the end, we incorporated several of the group’s thoughts, while also utilizing our workshop leaders’ recommendations based on their knowledge of both the space and the activity.

The day of the activity arrived. We decided to have two sessions of a chain reaction. Each session lasted about 90 min, with visitors welcome to join throughout this period with the understanding of the time commitment. We decided due to the nature of the activity ages 10 – adult would be encouraged to partake, with a limit of about 12 teams in each session. There were several family groups, a few couples, and some groups of friends who joined together. The creativity of the multigenerational pairings was really neat to see. The age limit did cause some disappointment from younger Tinkerers, but most visitors accepted this caveat without any trouble. We arranged tables within the Tinkering Studio to allow participants ease of access to materials, as well as strong visibility to passerby, so other visitors could watch the session unfold. Materials included a range of ramps, wooden blocks, circuits, misc crafty materials, as well as fun supplies we purchased from Cliff’s Variety in the Castro District.

At the close of each chain reaction session a large group gathered to see the reaction take place. Both reactions went off (mostly) without a hitch. The most rewarding aspect of the activity was seeing the dedication of participants (90 minutes can be both a short and long amount of time, depending on your enthusiasm!) and their joy in watching the chain reaction take place.

The workshop was a terrific opportunity to facilitate on the floor of the Exploratorium and to learn from our workshop leaders about audience engagement techniques. In many ways I am still processing the trip and the workshop experience – so much of what I gained from the workshop came not just from implementing the activity, but also from exploring the museum floor, interacting and meeting professionals in the field, as well as visitors at the museum.

This post attempts to sum up a great professional development opportunity. Do you have similar experiences with professional development? What has been your best experience to date? I’d love to hear your experiences. Also, I’d be interested in hearing if anyone has been the Exploratorium since their reopening. Thoughts?

 

 

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Starting out with a Bang (Literally)

For those in the STEM or science education community, the name Steve Spangler may ring a bell – perhaps even a Pavalovian one.

For the rest, the name may not sound so familiar.

Spangler is, as described by his website, “The science teacher you always wanted to have in school. Things just happen to fizz, pop, smoke and explode, and before you know it, you’re a part of his learning experience. His passion is to find the most creative ways to make learning fun.” For those who grew up in the 1990s and early 2000s, he’s in the same league as Bill Nye the Science Guy (though has yet to Dance with the Stars). Spangler has been a frequent guest on the Ellen Show, and is perhaps best known to general audiences as “the guy who made all those Diet Coke bottles explode with Mentos.”

Last month I was fortunate to meet Spangler while attending a professional development workshop hosted at the Science Museum Oklahoma. This was my first major science education workshop, and I enjoyed every minute of it. From the start, the SMO was incredibly organized and efficient in setting up this opportunity for educators – formal and informal alike. I look forward to returning to the SMO someday to further explore the Museum itself. I was able to attend this workshop through my museum network, and I quickly met other likeminded educators from across the region. At my workshop table we had museum professionals as well as middle and high school science teachers. The diversity of experience and backgrounds was great when we were able to work as a team and try some of our own experiments.

Steve Spangler focused the workshop on a wide range of science content, but his primary focus was on presentation and working with different audiences. We worked hands-on with everything from exploring kid-friendly density and mass experiments to messing (literally) with polyvinyl alcohol slime. For me, this engaging format was a great introduction to both Spangler and even some of the content. Having a primarily history and art-based academic and professional background, I immediately felt at ease and engaged with the content through learning some effective demonstrative techniques. Much of what Spangler emphasized focused on showmanship – that the way to best engage your audience was to hook them through a “WOW” moment. It was important, Spangler emphasized, to be able to push beyond that “WOW” moment and deliver the essential content.

One of my favorite experiments during the workshop explored what happens with a build up of gas in a confirmed space. To demonstrate, Spangler utilized film canisters (with lids), Alka-Seltzer tablets, and tonic water. When the tablets and water combine in the sealed film canister, the pressure within becomes too much and POP! the lid is flown off. It seemed every workshop participant had to try this experiment at least three times…for several minutes after, during Spangler’s presentation there was the occasional POP! as someone continued to experiment!

Throughout the day-long workshop, Spangler pulled many attendees on stage to assist with demos, and  the energy in the room was palpable. Several times throughout the event Spangler compared the room of nearly 150 educators to excitable third graders (the POP! of the occasional film canister did nothing to go against this assessment)! This excitement was based not only on Spangler’s infectious enthusiasm, but also to the generous supplies and materials given away at this workshop. At the close of the day, each workshop participant was able to walk away with a full goody bag of demos, equipment, dvds, and signed Spangler books. The book giveaways are now on my desk, just waiting for future program brainstorming sessions. I left Oklahoma excited and energized to try some of the experiments myself, and I mentally began planning some hands-on activities and possible summer camp programs…

Before we ended the workshop however, Spangler had one last “WOW” moment to share with the crowded room. After discussing engaging ways to present Boyle’s Law, Spangler detailed how he liked to use potato gun launchers as instructional devices to showcase how the pressure of gas and volume impact one another. The room was able to watch video clips of the launchers in action, and there were murmurs of interest from every table. Then, without much warning, Spangler invited every educator to grab a potato gun launder from the back, head to the field outside the SMO, form armies, and launch potato bits at one another! Needless to say, it was quite the epic battle.

 

 

 

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And the Oscar goes to…

Hollywoodland sign, c. 1920s. Photo in public domain.

With the Academy Awards fast approaching (Sunday, February 24), I was recently reminded of the ongoing planning and development for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Scheduled to open in 2016, work on the LA Museum has been in the news on and off the past couple of years.

As a student of history, film, and museums – I’m keeping a close watch on this museum! As many museums have to close their doors due to the climate of the field, it is interesting to watch the growth and development of other institutions.

Are there are any museums or cultural centers in the planning or development stage that you’re watching closely?

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