ASTC 2014 Annual Conference Notes- Day 3

Where is the Science in a Maker Space?

Monday, October 20, 2014: 2:30 PM-3:45 PM / Raleigh Convention Center

Session Leader:
Hooley McLaughlin, Ontario Science Centre
Session Moderator:
Hooley McLaughlin, Ontario Science Centre
Lisa Brahms, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Karen Wilkinson, Exploratorium and Paul Orselli, POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop)

The debate over the value of maker spaces continued on Monday afternoon with “Where is the Science in a Maker Space?” led by Hooley McLaughlin from the Ontario Science Centre. Building off of a similarly divisive session from ASTC 2013, presenters Lisa Brahms from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Karen Wilkinson from the Exploratorium, San Francisco, and Paul Orselli of POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop) described their work with maker spaces while McLaughlin took the (unpopular) anti-maker space stance.

McLaughlin started the session by stating his view that maker spaces are a danger to science centers (followed by a great deal of murmured dissent from attendees). In his opinion, science centers should be educating visitors with classic methods on the basic principles of science so that visitors have a stronger foundation on which to build their interest and knowledge of STEM subjects. McLaughlin believes that while all experimental scientists are makers, putting people in an environment where they get to be makers will not make them think like a scientist. Often participants are just moving things around and not thinking about the process. Needless to say, the panel and many maker professionals in attendance did not agree, leading to a lively and passionate discussion.

Orselli pointed out that many museums are not clear on what their criteria for a successful maker space should be or how it should be measured. He said that asking where the science is in a maker space is a bit of a red herring, since a lot of what maker spaces are about is the learning process and developing abstract thinking. Maker spaces may be spreading like wild fire, but that doesn’t mean everything that came before will be destroyed. This led to a larger discussion about what the overall purpose of a maker space should be. Wilkinson stated that science centers should be the biggest, broadest playground for science exploration in many forms, and Brahms added that the maker movement has sparked a new conversation about learning and thinking about learning as a social process. Attendees were very vocal in their support for maker spaces using “scientific play” as the gateway to a deeper interest and understanding of science.

Brahms then discussed her recent study based on a text analysis of Make magazine that showed that making activities corresponded with many learning disciplines and learning practices. She also stated that through making, children are learning how to set and reach goals and how to work with others. At the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s Makeshop, the goal is not science or science learning, but simply learning. This led to a discussion of the “maker space” brand. There are museums that have received funding and built maker spaces without knowing what to do with the space, or that have simply renamed craft areas as maker spaces. These less purposeful maker spaces dilute the term and bring down the overall impression of maker spaces. However, just because the maker movement is popular and museums around the world are jumping on the bandwagon doesn’t mean that making and tinkering are not effective.

Overall, this thought provoking discussion brought out a plethora of opinions on the maker movement and the debate is sure to continue. Resources and research on learning in maker spaces is being compiled at, a project from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Innovative Trends in Communicating Climate Science

Monday, October 20, 2014: 2:30 PM-3:45 PM/Raleigh Convention Center

Session Leader:
Jamie Klein, Denver Museum of Nature & Science
Session Moderator:
Jamie Klein, Denver Museum of Nature & Science
Eddie Goldstein, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Patrick Hamilton, Science Museum of Minnesota and William Spitzer, New England Aquarium

As session leader Jamie Klein of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS) put it, the session “Innovative Trends in Communicating Climate Science” provided “tools, techniques, and food for thought” for addressing climate change in science centers and museums. All three museums that participated in the session use visualizations in different ways to help visitors understand this complex issue.

The first presenter, Eddie Goldstein of DMNS, described the program A Tale of Three Planets, which the museum presents on Science On a Sphere, sometimes with a presenter or facilitator and sometimes without. The presentation compares the climates of Earth, Venus, and Mars to help visitors understand how climate works on Earth. The museum’s research showed that the approach of comparing the three planets was helpful to visitors and that the visualizations were effective.

Patrick Hamilton of the Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM), St. Paul, told attendees about four outreach programs driven by SMM’s Future Earth exhibition. The programs outline the effects of climate change on four different levels (global, Minnesota, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and SMM) and communicate what can be done to address the issue. All four programs communicate the message that Earth’s future will be determined by human decision making, whether by default or by design, and we should work for the future we want.

John Anderson of the New England Aquarium, Boston, talked about efforts to empower people to think and talk about climate change in more constructive ways. Currently much communication about climate change is contentious, he said, and it’s not considered a polite topic of conversation. Science centers can help to change that by letting people know why climate change matters, how it works, and how we can improve the situation. The aquarium does this using visualizations and dialogue with visitors.

Real + Virtual: New Horizons for Engagement with Nature

Monday, October 20, 2014: 9:00 AM-10:15 AM / Raleigh Convention Center

Session Leader:
Cindy Lincoln, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Amy Bolton, National Museum of Natural History, Bruce MacFadden, Florida Museum of Natural History/University of Florida, Christopher Norris, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and Steve Fields, Museum of York County, South Carolina

At the Monday morning session “Real + Virtual: New Horizons for Engagement with Nature,” participants learned about ways to use both “real” hands-on natural history specimens and “virtual” digital collections with the public. Session leader Cindy Lincoln of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (NCMNS), Raleigh, was joined by presenters Steve Turner, also of NCMNS; Bruce J. MacFadden of the Florida Museum of Natural History/University of Florida, Gainesville; Amy Bolton of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Richard A. Kissel of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, Connecticut; and Cynthia Spratley and Steve Fields of the Museum of York County, Rock Hill, South Carolina.

MacFadden described iDigBio, a U.S.-wide initiative to digitize collections in nonfederal natural history museums. Specimens are available both to researchers and to “downstream users,” including fossil clubs and K–12 teachers and students.

Bolton discussed her work on NMNH’s new exhibition Q?rius, which has 32 cabinets with objects visitors can take out and explore. All objects are digitized, and audiences can access information about them by scanning QR codes on the objects, accessing touchscreens in the exhibition, or using the internet at home.

Kissel outlined the difference between object-based learning (where audiences can explore single specimens, as in discovery rooms) and collections-based learning (where they have access to a collection of thousands of examples of a single type of specimen). Collections-based learning allows learners to see patterns and draw larger conclusions, and Kissel believes museums need to provide more of these types of experiences. Digitization can be one way to do this.

Fields described the Museum of York County’s Naturalist Center, where visitors can interact with and handle specimens. He said that when visitors have access to specimens, they have more “aha! moments” and meaningful experiences because they are in charge of their own learning.

After the presentations, session attendees moved around the room to discuss the topic in more detail with the panelists at small tables.

The Science Museum of the Future

Monday, October 20, 2014: 2:30 PM-3:45 PM / Raleigh Convention Center

Session Leader:
Don Weinreich, Ennead Architects

The Science Museum of the Future. As the arts, sciences and technology are increasingly cross-pollinating to explore ever more complicated questions, what does the museum of the future look like? Just as STEM curricula is increasingly become STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), science museums of the future will blur the distinctions between disciplines, from pure mathematics to food chemistry to video game design to the physics of trapeze arts. Multi-disciplinary learning is best achieved when the architecture and the exhibits are unified by the concept of learning through play, exploration and experimentation—for kids and adults alike. An affectively-designed museum building of the future would start with this premise but take it a step further: creating formal and informal spaces where the gap between play/experimentation and abstract concepts is eliminated resulting in a more potent experience. This might be achieved through interactions with engaging exhibit explainers, art installations, pure sensory experiences, juxtapositions of seemingly unrelated science content that are fully integrated into the design of the building itself, not as add-ons.

The museum as a media producer

In Don’s opinion, there’s three levels at which a museum does things: 1) new and traditional media, 2) activities and events with the audience and 3) the physical expositions that you put up in a building. Most of our campaigns are focused at getting people to visit us (3). Not everybody, however, will always be able to visit us. For instance, because the buildings not big enough. New and traditional media (1) as well as activities (2) allow us to reach more people. He used the model below to remind of this.


This model is all about people moving from one level to another (up and down). It’s in these movements the advantage of an integrated media strategy becomes clearest.


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