Friday, February 26, 2010

New Prezi: "How do you Build A New Museum?"

A client I've written about before (the Fort Collins Discovery Museum) put together a cool, thoughtful Prezi about their project. Check it out– especially if you're looking for a storyline of how a museum comes together:

We've been working with them since the beginning of the Master Planning process and it's been rewarding and fun. They are a talented, motivated bunch of people working in a supportive community. What a combo.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Fabulous staircase at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago by MCA's Senior Designer Scott Reinhard. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Flickr/Mobilus In Mobili.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Museums & Science Fairs: follow up

On Friday, Justine posted about the President's plan to have a national science fair, and that museums should be at the table. She cited some great models of how this is already happening in Ireland, as a point of inspiration for the US. She just posted this follow-up:
"ASTC Informs just came into my mail box with this exciting note: 'The Inaugural USA Science & Engineering Festival is looking for participants in its October 23rd & 24th Washington, DC Expo and for additions to its list of satellite festivals being held across the country. The event is the country’s first national science festival, and the Expo on the National Mall will feature more than 500 U.S. science and engineering organizations, each with a different hands-on science activity. To register for the Expo, or to learn how you can organize a satellite festival at your own organization, visit'" 
While this may not be formally integrated into the President's program, this is an amazing undertaking, and ASTC is listed as a partner. 

I was curious as to who was behind it. According to their site, the fair was founded by Larry Bock, who is listed as "Festival Inspiration and Executive Director". He sounds like quite the science fair winner himself:
"Larry is a successful serial entrepreneur... He was the inspiration and executive director of the Inaugural San Diego Science Festival which was the world’s largest science festival of its kind... He and his wife have contributed $250,000 of their own money toward the effort. In addition, Mr. Bock is working fulltime on the Festival and is not drawing any compensation."

Again, Museums don't appear to be a player in the President's STEM program of "Educate to Innovate". It looks as if it's primarily supported by public/private partnerships which leverage the core competency of the private partners (which is great). 

So I'm still left wondering how museums might participate in the national effort. There's a perfect match in terms of mission alignment, it's the cash that is the catch from what I can tell.

Next: Museums & Science Fairs: one city's case study

Friday, February 19, 2010

Museums Ought to be at the (Science) Fair

By Justine Roberts

Almost 3 months ago President Obama announced that there would be a national science fair next year.  I, for one, am really excited about this.  I think inventing is exciting, solving problems is creative, developing insights and knowledge is deeply engaging, and competence with making things is powerful.  Science IS cool.  Smart IS sexy. 

And the prize, by the way, includes shaking hands with the president at the White House. 

While I was working on the Exploration Station project, planned for Dublin, I became familiar with Ireland’s Discover Science and Engineering program (run through its Department of Enterprise Trade & Employment).  It too is designed to increase interest in science. But it is much, much more than an annual science fair.  In fact, science fair is Science Week during which time there are lectures, events, competitions and more.  In a country of 4 million over 100,000 people participate. 

One of DSE’s goals is workforce development – educating the next generation of innovators to drive Ireland’s economy.   So they have The Science Ambassadors program, which highlights Irish scientists working today and important historic figures.  Another goal is to increase the number of students in the pipeline.  Discover Primary Science provides teacher training, activity ideas, curriculum connections, equipment lists, and has an annual Award of Science Excellence program that schools can compete for. 

They also run 28 Discovery Centers where students can work on science activities outside of school.  This is like the field trip model we use in the States, but it is organized through the lens of promoting science and it coordinates science learning resources.  They have amazing partners including the Irish Seed Savers Association, and Dublin Zoo, just to pick 2 examples. 

But that is not all.  

They also produced 5 years of a TV series called Scope TV and they host a teen social networking site around science on bebo.  One of the coolest efforts has been Greenwave – a citizen science project to document the first buds on trees as spring sweeps across the island.   

Part of what is great about Discover Science and Engineering is that it has not been limited to one strategy or one audience.  Science, in this model, is for everyone, is accessible and serious, fun and deep, cool and media savvy.

Obama’s plan includes a set of programs not dissimilar to the types of things DSE has been doing.  He announced a series of public-private partnerships to develop science learning resources, such as interactive games.  And there is another piece of the Educate to Innovate program focusing on raising the profile of STEM by working with science rock-stars (like Sally Ride, the first female astronaut).  So I think it represents a good starting point. 

But there is one thing really missing from this picture: museums! We are an existing network of independent organizations working toward similar goals.  We should carve out a vital role. 

I see an opportunity to position ourselves as an on-the-ground network that supports science fair participants.  We could offer science fair workshops and summer camps, host open houses at which young scientists can present prototypes and get feedback, and act as hubs for information and resources to support local youth.  We can leverage existing programs – like the Rube Goldberg competition at the MIT Museum - and relationships to raise the profile of young innovators and scientists in our communities.  

Let’s get involved! 

Image source Creative Commons: quinn.anya / Quinn Dombrowski

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Want more process for developing green exhibits? Add your voice.

Gyroscope is a professional advisor on the NSF-Funded OMSI project: "Sustainability: Promoting Sustainable Decision Making in Informal Education" exhibit. The Museum has launched a survey for exhibit professionals, towards the goal of developing tools and techniques for the sustainable development, design, and fabrication of exhibits.
"Help the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) with its new exhibition: Sustainability: Promoting Sustainable Decision Making in Informal Education. OMSI is developing tools to promote sustainable practices for developing, designing and fabricating exhibits and we need your feedback!

Take a short survey to tell OMSI what you think about "green" exhibits!

Your feedback will help us make these tools relevant and accessible. If you have any questions regarding the survey, please contact You can also forward this survey to any colleagues who might be interested in "green" exhibits."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Nostalgia for Play

By Justine Roberts
Last weekend I participated in the NAREA conference.  It was a two-day event – the first part was a reception held at the DeCordova Museum, and the second was a full day workshop anchored by Lella Gandini, US liason for Reggio.  I was asked to be part of a panel titled “Nostalgia For the Future”.

Five amazing women from Wheelock College, Project Zero, Reggio and Lesley University were going to speak about how Reggio had helped shape their practice and then I, along with 4 other people, were going to respond.

Initially I was confused by the title of the session. How can you be nostalgic for something that hasn’t happened yet?  How do you hold the past and the potential both in your mind at the same time?  It is a kind of idea mash-up. Where it led me, ultimately, was to the transformative power of memory.  Memory can inform our actions in the present, and therefore shape what is to come.  Specifically, when talking about children and childhood those memories are about play: Play Memories. What kind of world would we imagine, and be working toward, if we remembered how serious our own childhood activity was and began to see the children around us through that lens? To step back, childhood is rapidly changing.  Among the people I talk to there is a sense that childhood used to be more:
  • more connected to nature
  • freer and less cautious
  • more physical
  • more dangerous (in a good way)
  • messier
  • more open to possibility
The implication is that today’s children are growing up in a culture that is less able to prepare them for their futures.  In the museum field we believe our organizations add critical value to their communities. One way they do this is to preserve key childhood experiences and make them available to all.  Museums are the antidote to this sense of loss. I like the idea that children’s museums can somehow offer experiences that are relevant across generations and cultures - somehow essential to childhood.  And I think we summarize this idea of a critical ingredient that must be nurtured in children’s lives as PLAY.  That’s a tricky word since many people think of play as disorganized and purposeless. It is easier to talk about play through examples than in the abstract.  But it might be even more powerful to talk about play through an act of memory.  Imagine if adults though about the nostalgia they have for their own childhoods as a gift they could give to the next generation?

I have done an exhibit on play memories, although it was small. That exhibit, part of Go Kids at the Chicago Children’s Museum, uses smell as a trigger to induce adults to share stories from their childhoods with their children.  Children don’t always understand that adults used to be small!  So this component builds connections in both directions: adults relate their childhoods to the children in their lives today, while children develop a new connection with the adults who share their lives. 

Children’s and science museums are increasingly embracing adults as an audience in and of itself – not just as chaperones, or as a captured audience we might as well provide content for - as a central element of the museum visit, and of the child’s learning experience both at the museum and at home.  We need to ask what adults in this setting need and want.  And possibly we will find that reminding adults what the magical, not quite rational world of childhood feels like is a powerful bridge to understanding, appreciation, and partnership with the children in their lives.

Monday, February 8, 2010

National Play Policy?

By Justine Roberts, Principal

KaBOOM! is a playground company with a mission (literally, they are a non-profit): to provide play experiences within walking distance for every child in the country. That is an ambitious goal, and has led them to take on some exciting advocacy projects such as their just released report titled Play Matters: Best Practices in Play.

Wales was the first country ever to adopt a Play Policy. Published in October 2002, the Welsh Play Policy is a public commitment to providing an environment that supports the right to play, and recognizes the value of children’s play. The Welsh government intended this document to serve as a public affirmation of their commitment to children, and an opportunity to create a framework allowing children to be explicitly part of policy discussions.

In 2006 Play England, a part of the National Children’s Bureau and Play Council, published Planning for Play to promote the idea that local authorities should, and could, take responsibility for providing areas for children to play. The authors of this report argue that children at play signals a healthy community and therefore play connects to broader societal goals and priorities. Their report outlines a process for implementing a play policy that will result in more play opportunities. For example, they recommend creating Play Partnerships that include community members, agencies, and organizations; to establish a process for ongoing evaluation and assessment both as a basis for measurable outcomes and as a reflective practice; and to design for operational sustainability. They also identify critical ingredients of successful playscapes such as designing for adventure and providing risk and challenge. Their goal is for children’s needs to be incorporated into planning, design and policy discussions at the local level.

In the USA we do not have a national play policy or statement of children’s right to play. We aren’t even a signatory to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

But we do have an active citizenry and a non-profit structure that makes it possible for many local initiatives to thrive. This is where KaBOOM!’s report comes in. Play Matters rounds up successful local efforts, and summarizes why they work. In doing so, Play Matters paints a picture of an emerging movement that may be changing the public realm from the bottom up.

At the same time, Play Matters makes the case that city-by-city solutions are not a sustainable long-term plan if we hope to achieve the types of changes that are necessary. They conclude “there is a national opportunity and imperative for play advocates to connect play and spaces conducive to play as part of a solution to. . .broader public priorities, and to help inform policymaking at the federal level.”

All of this is non-trivial. There is a well-documented play deficit in this country, and it is worse in under-served communities than in well-resourced neighborhoods. And there is growing research on the negative consequences of our approach to play. What have been a series of decisions effectively made in isolation of one another have started to coalesce into a grim picture of childhood without enough physical or creative activity, opportunities to rely on ones-self, to take risks and to stretch one’s capabilities. As Jeff Levi, Executive Director of the Trust for America’s Health has written, “Today’s children could be the first in U.S. history to live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents.” We are beginning to recognize that play may offer at least a partial solution to the challenges youth face today. But there is more to be done.

Image: Bay Area Discovery Museum "Sea Cave" by Gyroscope Inc.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Love Museums? We do. Love Animals? We do too. Support Zoos & Aquaria.

Whew. Museums made it into the jobs bill!

Now we gotta help our bretheren in Zoos & Aquaria. According to the AAM, "language contained in the recently-passed House version of the “Jobs for Main Street Act” (H.R. 2847, Sec. 1702) prevents zoos and aquariums from accessing any funds for job creation."

Take literally 10 seconds and click here to send a note: