ASTC 2014 Annual Conference Notes- Day 2

I’m a What? Metaphor-based interactions as pathways to learning
Sunday, October 19, 2014: 8:00 AM-9:15 AM / Raleigh Convention Center

Session Leader:
Eileen Smith, University of Central Florida

Session Moderator:
Eileen Smith, University of Central Florida

Robb Lindgren, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
Michael Carney, University of Central Florida,
Brandan Lanman, Orlando Science Center,
Heather Norton, Orlando Science Center
and Michael Tscholl, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Do whole body metaphors – interactions where a learner uses their body to represent some phenomenon or system – aid understanding of physics concepts and increase overall engagement with science content? In this dynamic session, panelists from a science center-university research partnership discuss using metaphors as an interactive design construct.

The session leader Eileen Smith has led the development of an Experiential Learning Initiative as part of the Media Convergence Laboratory at the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Simulation and Training. This initiative is studying how dynamic digital technology can create a rich environment for learning, and allow learning to transcend the traditionally silo environments of the museum, the classroom and the home. As an instructor in the School of Visual Arts and Design, she is charged with engaging students in the story process of digital media — expressing their creativity, and broadening their perspectives on interactivity.

This project seeks to understand the effects of interactive and immersive environments on learning of science concepts in informal contexts. Specifically, it is aim to investigate embodied interactions and whether cueing students to physically enact critical ideas in physics will support middle school students’ learning, engagement, and identification with science.

This research is grounded in emerging research on the embodied nature of cognition and learning (e.g., Glenberg, 2010) and the importance of designing science learning simulations such that interactions map coherently to conceptual development (NRC, 2011).

Research Questions

1. How does the opportunity to embody elements of an immersive simulation affect a learner’s propensity to experience conceptual change and develop scientific habits of mind?

1.1 What design features of mixed reality environments best support body metaphors?

1.2 What metrics are most effective for assessing  learning through body-based metaphors?

1.3 What are the practical considerations to creating immersive metaphor-based learning experiences in ISE institutions such as at a Science Center?



The primary environment for facilitating metaphor-based interactions on this project has been an environment called MEteor—a simulation of planetary astronomy where students use their bodies to make predictions about how an asteroid will move when it encounters nearby planets, etc. The simulation is implemented using floor-projected imagery and laser scanning technology. At our museum sites, a set of information displays were created to allow parents to help their children perform successfully in the simulation.

Challenges and Findings

Some of the important challenges faced in this project include building metaphors that students can easily and intuitively work with in the context of an interactive simulation (e.g., “I am an asteroid”) and also developing appropriate learning measures that capture the effects of this unique experience (e.g., measures of student movement and adaptation). These challenges continue, but there have been several important results from the project so far, including: Physics and Space Knowledge Students who use the full-body version of the simulation score higher on an assessment of physics and space knowledge questions compared to a group of participants who used a desktop version of the simulation, t(112)=2.13, p=.035. This indicates cognitive advantages for embodied interaction and physically making predictions within science simulations.

Project Status and Current Objectives

This project is just concluding its 3rd year. At the end of Year 2 the project was transferred from UCF to UIUC where the focus has shifted to the development of some new simulations and a more flexible, adaptive platform for motion and gesture recognition. The aim is to create an AI-driven system that can recognize and respond to a variety of learning gestures in real time.

A significant component of the project has remained at UCF where the focus has been examining practical
issues of installations of exhibits involving whole-body metaphors in Science Centers. To conduct this investigation they have created a new interactive experience around the topic of Waves. This is a collaborative game where 2 museum visitors work together to create a wave—using constructive and
deconstructive interference—that meets target criteria (e.g., having a specified amplitude). They found that the visitor interaction was high and appeared to justify the large footprint of the exhibit.

Beyond Discovery Rooms: Bringing collections to life for young learners

Sunday, October 19, 2014: 1:00 PM-2:15 PM / Raleigh Convention Center

Session Leader:
Daniel Zeiger, American Museum of Natural History
Rebecca Kipling, Museum of Science and Ashley Gamell, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Discovery rooms, a popular museum feature, started as nothing more than a room full of boxes with items visitors could physically touch, as opposed to the strict “no touching” policy of most museum galleries at the time. These rooms have grown into the immersive, hands-on spaces for children that we all know and love. But what happens when visitors leave the discovery rooms? How can discovery room experiences be integrated with the rest of the museum? Conference attendees gathered on Sunday afternoon to hear Daniel Zeiger from the American Museum of Natural History, New York City; Rebecca Kipling from the Museum of Science, Boston; and Ashley Gamell from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, New York, discuss their ideas.

After experimenting with some discovery room activities from the presenters’ institutions, Zeiger described common key components of a discovery room including:

  • Safe, relaxed environment
  • Child centered
  • Free choice
  • Intricately linked to the rest of the museum content and mission

He then described challenges the discovery rooms at his institution have faced, such as how to connect visitors to the rest of the museum. Zeiger has addressed this challenge by introducing children to an object in the discovery room and then giving the families necessary guidance and materials to find related objects in the museum collection, with activities that do not require children or their caregivers to read a lot of text. Zeiger’s keys to discovery room success include:

  • Focusing on the objects. No one wants to just read a book.
  • Giving visitors a chance to explore the objects with the tools of a scientist.
  • Providing open-ended prompts that encourage creative thinking.
  • Using dedicated staff familiar with facilitation and listening techniques.
  • Not being afraid to try new things.

The discovery center at the Museum of Science, Boston, is wildly popular, but, due to fire safety concerns, had to drastically reduce the number of visitors permitted in the room at one time. Kipling discussed how she took the discovery room activities out into the rest of the museum, especially into some less popular spaces. Gamell described the transformation of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden discovery garden during a time when it had no set space due to the construction of a new discovery garden. Their decision to create portable activities in multiple places around the garden raised their visibility, both to the public and to staff, and doubled visitor participation in just two years. The session closed with attendees sharing their tips, stories, and questions about their own discovery rooms.

A Scientist Walks into a Bar: Humor in STEM education

Sunday, October 19, 2014: 8:00 AM-9:15 AM / Raleigh Convention Center

Session Leader:
Jen Lokey, Durango Discovery Museum
Jen Lokey, Durango Discovery Museum, Paul Taylor, The Franklin Institute, Jonah Cohen, The Children’s Museum, Elizabeth Martineau, Bradbury Science Museum and Gordon McDonough, Bradbury Science Museum

With a title like “A Scientist Walks into a Bar: Humor in STEM education,” it’s no surprise that Sunday morning’s session was full of laughs. The naturally funny panel was made up of Jen Lokey, from the Powerhouse Science Center, Durango, Colorado; Paul Taylor from The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia; Jonah Cohen from The Children’s Museum, West Hartford, Connecticut; and Elizabeth Martineau and Gordon McDonough, both from the Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Lokey began the session with a look at humor from a neurological perspective, discussing how humor uses the same areas of the brain as higher order processing and problem solving. She also described how people with damage to their prefrontal cortex tend to lose their ability to interpret all kinds of humor, suggesting that that is where humor is processed. So why use humor in children’s educational programs? Kids are naturally funny and respond well to humor, plus they like being included by being “in on” the joke. Kids are also awkward, and humor is a great way to cut through a bit of the awkwardness. To incorporate humor in programs, Lokey suggests hiring a staff that works hard and takes the mission very seriously, but don’t take themselves very seriously, so they’re not afraid to be silly and fun.

Martineau and McDonough went into more detail on how to use humor in an educational setting. Their many tips included paying attention to the audience and playing off of the reaction, using multimedia, and remembering that the silliness needs to make sense and be on topic. Cohen described other benefits of using humor with kids, such as giving children a chance to take a break from the strict, formal education structure and allowing adults to recognize that fun and humor are necessary for their children and can add to interest in an academic topic.

Taylor rounded out the session with universal humor techniques for presenting programs to different cultures. Physical humor and playful competition transcend the language and culture barrier, plus joy and enthusiasm are infectious. In short demonstrations or during a science festival, it can be difficult to teach children a lot, but as Taylor said, “I can’t teach a kid everything about chemistry in 45 minutes, but I can make them say ‘wow, chemistry is really cool.’”

Increasing Diversity Among Museum Audiences

Sunday, October 19, 2014: 9:45 AM-11:00 AM / Raleigh Convention Center

Session Leader:
Amanda Paige, University of Michigan Museum of Natural History
Session Moderator:
Josh Kemper, Pacific Science Center
Cheronda Frazier, New Jersey Academy for Aquatic Sciences, Liani Yirka, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and Brittany Chunn, University of Michigan Museum of Natural History

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.

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