Wednesday, October 24, 2007

ASTC Day 5 - The last one!

My last day at the ASTC meeting was short...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007:

Web 2.0 session

After checking out of the hotel this morning, I made my way over to the convention center for one last session on how museums are embracing Web 2.0. First up was someone from the
Ontario Science Centre. He gave an overview of common social media Websites, which are sites where users publish the content and have the choice of interacting with each other, and some statistics to go with it: ~96% of 9-17 year olds and ~75% of 18-35 year olds use social media sites. Obviously museums and other educational entities need to embrace social media if they want to reach these age groups to the fullest extent possible. Examples of social media sites include MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Wikipedia, blogs, etc. Of course, if you're reading this blog you're probably already familiar with most if not all of these! One that I learned about from this presenter is Instructables, a site in which users "share what they do and how they do it, and learn from and collaborate with others". Ever wanted to attach a sink to the top of your toilet? If so, you can learn how to do it and LOTS of other random things here.

In any case, some museums are starting to embrace and use social media to both their advantage and that of their real life and virtual visitors. For example some museums are using Facebook and MySpace to communicate with visitors and keep them updated as to events and openings. This is also a good way for museums to get feedback and to reach people that they may not have otherwise. For example, if one of your friends on MySpace lists a museum or science center as one of their friends, you might be inclined to click on that museum's MySpace page and see what's going on. Other museums are using Twitter, a site in which people all over the world simply answer the question "What are you doing right now?", to give people a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in their museum. The writer of the Museum 2.0 blog (who was one of the presenters in this session - see below) provides examples of how and why museums are using some of these sites and others with more detail and eloquence than I have time for here. Read her posts on Twitter and blogs.

The second presenter was from the Science Museum of Minnesota which actually has its own blog on how museums use technology and the Web. He gave more examples of how museums are using Web 2.0, such as his museum's ScienceBuzz, which I discussed in a previous post.

The third presenter was from, which is a blog that tracks other museum-related blogs. He said that of the museums that blog, ~60% publish fewer than 5 times per month (as of Jan. 2007). In order for a museum's blog to be successful, it must "publish or perish!!" Science museums make up only ~15% of museum blogs. I wonder why?

The last presenter was from the Museum 2.0 blog that I mentioned above and in an earlier post. She spoke mostly about museums in Second Life. Successful museums within Second Life are those that offer extensive programming and opportunities for social interaction in addition to great exhibits and builds. An example is the International Spaceflight Museum, which actually not does not have a real life counterpart. In addition to a fantastic rocket garden, a solar system exhibit that you access via a rocket ride into low Earth orbit, and other great exhibits, it also offers a weekly jazz concert on Thursday nights. Even though one can argue that the concert is not educational in nature, it provides an opportunity for people to interact in the museum setting, which can lead to discussions about the museum and its content, other related topics, etc.

In addition to museums, NASA and other federal agencies, such as NOAA, are building and interacting with the public in Second Life. For more information on their activities click here: NASA, NOAA. For those of you that already have a Second Life account (which is FREE by the way) and wish to visit their builds directly, click here: NASA, NOAA. I'll write more on NASA in Second Life at another time.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

ASTC Day 4

Almost done... Here's the rundown from Day 4 of the ASTC meeting in CA.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Field Trip to Griffith Observatory
This morning I boarded a bus along with 250 of my closest friends to travel to Griffith Observatory in LA's Griffith Park. The drive took us up a winding road in the Park. Unfortunately it was cloudy and drizzling for most of the day, so what would normally have been a fabulous view was obscured by clouds. The Observatory is absolutely gorgeous (although I read somewhere once that it is also called "the hood ornament of Los Angeles"). It opened in 1935 and was the country's premier site for public telescope viewing. It closed its doors in 2002 for a $93 million renovation and expansion. The doors reopened in late 2006. Because public interest in viewing the renovations is so high at present, visits to the Griffith are by appointment only until demand decreases.

The Griffith has several exhibit galleries. The one I enjoyed the most was its "Hall of the Sky" in which models of the Sun, Earth, and Moon were used in combination with animations and text panels to illustrate basic astronomy phenomena such as eclipses, seasons, moon phases, etc. Using this three-pronged approach helps the exhibits appeal to a wide audience with different learning styles, ages, and levels of familiarity with the subject matter. I also really enjoyed viewing the various meteorites on display, especially one of the Los Angeles shergottites
(a shergottite is a type of martian meteorite). Since we have not yet been able to return samples from Mars, martian meteorites are the only samples of the Red Planet available for scientific analysis. However, NASA is planning a Mars sample return mission for the future so stay tuned.

After touring the exhibits I had a chance to view clips of recently developed planetarium shows, data visualizations, and experimental music and art (kind of like the Pink Floyd laser shows you might be familiar with but with better graphics) in the Griffith Observatory's Samuel Oschin Planetarium. The Planetarium has a new star projector and a new digital projection system. Some of the NASA collaborations we got to view were "The Search for Life: Are we Alone?", "Passport to the Universe", and "Cosmic Collisions". These shows are traveling the country so be sure to check the listings at your local planetarium in case you're interested.

Back at the California Science Center
Later in the day I was back at the California Science Center where I toured more of the exhibits. My favorite was "Goose Bumps! The Science of Fear". In addition to learning about how and why we physically react to fearful situations, the exhibit contains a challenge course in which you can test your ability to overcome certain fears (like falling or touching insects and snakes) and then analyze your physical reactions. One of the cool things about this exhibit is that visitors actually become part of it because it's set up in such a way that you can observe each other's reactions during the challenge course. The exhibit will be leaving the CSS in December to go on tour around the US so be sure to check it out when it comes to your area!

And in case you're wondering, I was too chicken to do the part of the challenge course that involved touching hissing cockroaches. One thing I'm not afraid of is admitting that I'm afraid!

"Fly Me to the Moon"
After having a popsicle (aka margarita) in the Rose Garden of Exposition Park, I watched a screening of "Fly Me to the Moon" in the CSS IMAX theater. "Fly Me to the Moon" is a new 3D movie about 3 flies that travel to the Moon along with the Apollo 11 astronauts. It's scheduled for release in 2008. The 3D animations were great. Hopefully this movie will help get kids interested in not only the Apollo missions, but in NASA's upcoming efforts to return humans to the Moon and then eventually send them to Mars. The first step in this "Vision for Space Exploration" is the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which will launch late next year!!

Monday, October 22, 2007

ASTC Day 3

More highlights from my time at the ASTC meeting...

Sunday, October 14, 2007


This morning's keynote had two speakers - Adam and Jamie from the Discovery Channel's MythBusters!! I have to admit that although I'd heard of MythBusters, I'd never actually watched an episode. After hearing Jamie and Adam talk however and seeing how truly interested they are in helping teach us a little science through debunking urban legends, I have to say I plan to start watching. It was really cool to hear them talk about how they became interested in science, how they come up with ideas for the show, and how difficult it can be to convince the producers (and their insurance agents!) to let them go through with said ideas. A highlight of their keynote was getting to view never-before-aired footage from "Facts about Flatulence". You'll have to check it out for yourself...

Experience Design session
Aside from helping to work the NASA booth, I attended a session on Experience Design. The session focused on encouraging visitor learning through themed experiences. For example, the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia (site of the 2008 ASTC meeting) has created a series of programs in which school groups don't just visit the museum, see a bunch of exhibits and/or presentations about unrelated topics, and then leave. Instead, their visits, called "Experiences", focus on a central them from start to finish such that
the experience provides "hands-on, auditory and visual reinforcement". Experiences focus on a featured exhibit, the theme of which is coordinated with a hands-on workshop, an interactive science show, and a thematically related IMAX or planetarium show. An example is their "Identity Experience". Another one of the presenters was an Imagineer for Disney. He talked about the work that went into designing and building the new Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage attraction that opened this summer at Disneyland in CA.

Field Trip to the Moon
Later in the day I got to see a screening of the new Field Trip to the Moon DVD in one of the inflatable domes in the exhibit hall. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the DVD and related educational materials, which were developed by the American Museum of Natural History with help from NASA, are FREE! Click here for details. It was fabulous and I highly recommend you check it out. One of the great things about it is that there's a captioned version and an un-captioned version so that you can make up your own script to fit your audience, learning objectives, etc.

Field Trip to the Museum of Jurassic Technology
Later that afternoon I had a chance to visit the Museum of Jurassic Technology. The MJT is awesome!! I was so excited to visit it after having read case studies about it in my museum classes at ASU. Some of you may be familiar with it from the book Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonders: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology by Lawrence Weschler. As its name implies, the MJT is a place of contradictions and juxtaposition (since the Jurassic period ended about 145 million years ago) in the style of the cabinets of curiosities that were popular in the 16th and 17th centuries and that preceded the modern museum . The MJT mixes science, art, reality, and fiction so well that you leave it questioning your ability to distinguish between them. A visit to the MJT is a lesson on the importance of critical thinking and how we shouldn't always believe everything we read, hear, or see. It's also an exploration of what it takes to make a museum - must a "museum" have objects, display cases, text panels, even a building in order to function as such??

California Science Center
The evening ended with an after-hours party at the California Science Center. I had a ton of fun wandering around the exhibits and meeting new people (and eating lots of food). The CSS is impressive in its size, scope, and programs. A really cool aspect of the CSS is that they actually have an elementary school on site called the Science Center School. How cool would it be to be able to utilize the unique resources of a science center as a student or teacher??

Stay tuned for Day 4 tomorrow...

Friday, October 19, 2007

ASTC Day 2

This is a continuation of my experiences at the ASTC 2007 annual meeting...

Saturday, October 13, 2007:

This morning I attended the annual ASTC "meet and greet" breakfast, where I got to meet some of my colleagues from NASA for the first time. The morning’s keynote speaker was Geoffrey Canada, CEO/President of the Harlem Children’s Zone. His main point was that educating youth and their parents is the key to reducing crime in America. He suggested that we focus on engaging young people in bettering their communities so that they feel they’re living in a worthwhile place and doing worthwhile things. The goal is not to just get people into college such that they never return to their hometowns - instead he would prefer to see them want to return so that they can continue to make their communities better. Other suggestions: Optimism is key and contagious – we should all try it! Think outside the box. Remember that we all live in a global village.

NASA exhibit booth:

Helping staff the NASA exhibit booth was a lot of fun because I got to meet fellow informal science educators from all over everywhere. The NASA booth was a big hit, due in part to all the cool freebies we had to give away (like posters about the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, trading cards with photos of Saturn's moons taken by the Cassini mission, lenticulars from the STEREO mission, etc.) and because we had an actual Apollo lunar sample and a shuttle tire that people could touch!

The "NASA Update" session focused largely on the upcoming 50th Anniversary of NASA on October 1, 2008. NASA has already launched a
50th Anniversary website where you can find information pertaining to all of the agency's anniversary-related plans and initiatives, including NASA's participation in the 2008 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The session leaders also mentioned the new Field Trip to the Moon DVD and educational program developed by the American Museum of Natural History in partnership with NASA. The DVD and educational materials are available to educators for FREE!

The "Museums 2.0" session was also fantastic. The writer of the Museum 2.0 blog was one of the session leaders. She gave an overview of what Web 2.0 means and gave a couple examples of websites I hadn't heard of before: and These sites let users choose if they want to interact socially with other users. Other session leaders included representatives from several museums and science centers with Museum 2.0-style exhibits (i.e. the exhibits encourage or offer opportunities for visitors to interact with each other, museum staff, and/or help create and shape the exhibit). The Ontario Science Centre, for example, has a sort of "scientific Times Square" in which visitors can view dynamic content and interact with each other and museum staff. The OSC also hosts an interesting website: The Science Museum of Minnesota hosts a website called Science Buzz that allows for interactive social blogging by visitors and museum staff.

On Saturday evening I saw a preview of the International Polar Year initiative called Polar-palooza. It was absolutely fantastic and sobering at the same time. The scientists involved did an excellent job of communicating recent observations that indicate our poles are rapidly changing. Polar-palooza can be tailored to fit any audience and age group from students to the general public. I greatly encourage you to visit your nearest Polar-palooza event for an eye- and mind-opening experience.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Association of Science and Technology Centers - Day 1

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Association of Science and Technology Center’s annual conference in Los Angeles, CA. Hosted by the California Science Center, the conference included presentations, keynotes, exhibitors, and visits to local science centers, museums, and other interesting places. I was hoping to be able to blog from the conference but did not have access to wireless internet. So… here are the highlights of the first day of the conference from my perspective. My summaries of the rest of the conference will follow in the days to come.

Friday, Oct. 12, 2007:

I attended the National Educators Outreach Network (NEON) workshop, where I met other informal science educators from across the world, including England and Malaysia, heard presentations on various programs and events, and had discussions about best practices and common issues to overcome. Here are some of the highlights:

Examples of museum education programs:
The Denver Museum of Nature and Science has an education program called "Unraveling Ancient Egypt" in which they use CT scans to examine mummies and make inferences about their lives and culture. For example, people that were wealthy had more complete mummifications (i.e. most brain matter was removed from their skulls, etc.) as compared to less wealthy people. In addition to science, DMNS uses this program to talk about tolerance and respect for the cultures of others in an attempt to help participating students become global citizens. How great is that?? One interesting thing I learned about the DMNS is that they have a program called Teachers on Special Assignment (TOSAs). These teachers help create and review their education programs. What a great way to give teachers a taste of the informal science education field!

The Science Museum in London takes a three-prong approach in many of its youth programs: shows (assemblies), workshops, and museum visits. Many of their education programs use stories. For example, the Three Little Pigs story is used to illustrate the properties of materials (remember hay vs. brick??) for children. They showed us video of museum educators acting out the story and interacting with school children. They all had a blast!!

Many museums, such as the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, are starting to incorporate Science on a Sphere into their exhibits and programs. Every year the Bishop Museum travels to each Hawaiian Island to present educational programs to its school children, many of whom have never left their home island. They take a portable, inflatable dome with them so that the students can see planetarium shows. They're also planning to get a Magic Planet to take with them so that they can share the SoS visualizations with the students. It's great that the Bishop Museum makes it a point to reach as many Hawaiian children as possible each year and to show them cool things they wouldn't get to see otherwise.

Examples of interesting things I learned, good ideas, and best practices from small group discussions:
- Museums often find it harder to market free programs than ones that cost money because people think that if something costs more it's worth more. So don't be afraid to check out free programs and events offered by your local museums!
- Many museums offer coupons for free admission to educators so that they can check out the facilities and educational resources.
- Some museums utilize "on-call" teachers and volunteers for different events. If you're interested in volunteering at a museum but don't have the time to committ to a routine schedule, see if they have a program like this!
- When designing visuals and signage for educational programs, consider utilizing a museum's exhibits department because they understand how different people and different ages learn visually.
- When writing educational materials or exhibit labels, consider using a lexcon calculator. These calculators analyze the difficulty of your text.
- Museum visitors, especially children, can get overstimulated easily at a museum. By addressing their basic needs up front (i.e. letting them know when and where bathroom breaks and lunch will be held), they can let go of these worries and concentrate on the new experiences and information before them. Children also need to know when they'll get to visit the gift shop and what they might find there. (We all have to admit that visiting a gift shop is a highlight of any museum visit, no matter how old we are!!)
- Some museums offer free admission passes that you can check out from your local library and then return them when you're done. What a fabulous idea!

Stay tuned for more tomorrow...