Tag Archives: ASTC

In a New Light

I had the opportunity today to see a museum through the eyes of people who helped to design it and nurture its continued growth.  The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is a gem. The museum is a combination of old and new, growing from a robust history of collection and curation to a modern space of interaction, interrelationships, research, and digital tools.  There is something about a tour led by the director of exhibits who clearly loves his work and his museum that refracts the museum experience, bending the light in ways that allowed me to appreciate nuances of museum craft and scientific discovery and learning that I hadn’t considered before.

Having a working research lab in the middle of the museum (actually several of them) seems ingenious!  Partnerships with local universities bring scientists out into the open, working in modern, state of the art facilities behind clear class walls.  Seeing scientists at work helps to demystify what it means to be a scientist…and they are able to interact with museum visitors, answering questions and explaining their work.


And this interactive projection allows the glass between the lab and the exhibit to nearly disappear, and also works as a tool for the scientists to use to explain their work with school groups and tour groups.

interactive wall

Augmented reality and robotics allow young people access to difficult to understand concepts, using models they can virtually hold and manipulate as they watch atoms come together to form molecules or see the changes in the earth as it is impacted by fire, drought, and storms. This robot, whose head was printed using a 3-d printer, will soon be roaming the museum responding to questions asked by museum guests.


The story of this right whale is both a tragedy and a triumph.  Killed by a boat, its skeleton and that of its fetus were recovered and studied by scientists.  Experiments to determine the speed a boat would require to break the facial bone of a whale and kill it resulted in legislation slowing boats during the migration season of the right whales off the Atlantic coast.  Here’s a great example of science working to save a vanishing species!


And in a unique space, short visual narratives mesmerize you with their beauty and fascinate you with their complexity.  Balconies allow you to stop and watch from different locations and you can easily dip in and out of the viewing experience.  This sequence on networks grabbed my attention…I know i want to think more about the different kinds of networks in our lives, how they are similar and different, organic and manmade…and how light and movement help us understand them.


These mini movies were projected on the inside of a curved surface that just happens to be this extraordinary globe from the outside of the building…another interesting and beautiful way to learn about our world.


Today’s tour allowed me to experience the museum in a new light, refracted by the passion of those who know this place intimately.  This post only begins to scratch the surface of what I saw, heard, and experienced in my short visit.  And I’m lucky, I get to return to the museum again tomorrow when it will be filled with museum people from all over the world as they socialize and learn from each other.  I can only imagine what new insights I will gain as I return to this magnificent place of science, research, and learning.

Field Trippin’ Through the Intersections

The bus pulled up in front of the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center as the much-needed rain pelted down.  Excited fifth graders poured from the bus into the rain, ready to explore.


And waiting just inside were a group of classroom teachers and museum educators ready to watch closely and think carefully about how these students’ teachers and chaperones support student learning and promote student inquiry during the field trip.

This was the pilot of the materials developed by the participants of the Intersections project–a collaboration between the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP), the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, and the San Diego Natural History Museum funded by a National Science Foundation Grant to the National Writing Project and the Association of Science and Technology Centers.  This group of educators has been meeting and learning together–with a focus on inquiry, science, writing, and field trips since the fall.  And just a week ago they designed “tools” for use to prepare for and facilitate the field trip to the two museums.

And the field trip was an opportunity to examine the tools in use, with the aim of improving them in a next iteration.  We watched the kids in action, noting their conversation, their body language, their interaction with the exhibits…taking pictures, detailed field notes, video and audiotape…all with the goal of understanding their experience in order to improve students’ opportunities for learning and engagement.  And…we were under strict orders to only observe–something very difficult for this group of hands-on educators dedicated to facilitating engaging learning experiences for students!


After lunch, students moved across the park plaza to the NAT and we repeated the process.


Students sketched and wrote, questioned and connected what they were seeing and learning to things they already knew.

And one of my favorite moments was at the end of the trip, just before the students headed back to board their bus for the ride back home.  They had discovered the pendulum at the NAT and were curious about the little blocks set up inside the circle where the pendulum swung.  Would the ball of the pendulum knock the blocks over?  They started watching by learning on the rail…and then got lower…until they were laying on their bellies on the floor, feet bent up behind them, noses pushed up against the railing.  And they watched, almost holding their breath as the ball closely avoided the tiny blocks.  And then it happened.  The block fell…and the cheer broke the quiet!


After the students left we took some time to reflect on our experience…and also hear the experience of the teachers in our group who brought these students to the museums.  There were lots of things that went well…and plenty that we still want to improve.  And plans are already being made for improved tools and new tools for our next field trip pilot…sometime in April.

There is something amazing about the opportunity for educators to collaborate, to design and then to test, to take time for careful, considered observation and data collection, and then time to reflect on their learning.  If only there were more opportunities like this one, for educators to come together to make sure that students have optimal learning experiences…how would that change our world?