For most students, science is still defined by textbook chapter assignments on Monday and vocabulary quizzes on Friday. Regrettably, only about one out of ten classrooms give students an opportunity to experience science in an interactive way. The Exploratorium is working to change that.
Whether on the exhibit floor, in our Tinkering Studio, or in the museum’s classrooms, the Exploratorium provides learners with opportunities to directly observe and manipulate natural phenomena. Active engagement with natural phenomena encourages learners to ask and investigate their own questions and to test, modify, or expand their ideas and explanations about how the world works. And to support others in their efforts to transform science teaching and learning, a number of our programs provide professional development to educators in both formal and informal settings.
The Exploratorium has several long-standing, highly regarded professional development programs that are rooted in our educational philosophy: the Teacher Institute, which supports secondary science and math teachers; the Institute for Inquiry, which offers workshops about the theory and practice of inquiry-based teaching and learning; and the Exploratorium Network for Exhibit-Based Teaching (ExNET), which shares Exploratorium exhibits and teaching practices with other science institutions.
A unique professional development project involving the Teacher Institute and the Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio is part of the Dalai Lama’s Science for Monks program, which seeks to include science education in the monastic curriculum of Tibetan monks and nuns living in India. Beginning in 2009, Exploratorium science educators have made several trips to India to share Western science and technology—particularly the Exploratorium’s approach to inquiry-based science and hands-on investigation—to a select group of Buddhist scholars who have become leaders and teachers of science in their own monasteries. In 2012, nine of these monks and nuns visited the Exploratorium, bringing with them an exhibition for our visitors called The World of Your Senses—paintings depicting sensory perception from both Buddhist and Western scientific perspectives.
The California Tinkering Network, led by the Exploratorium, provides professional development to informal educators working in afterschool programs that serve children from high-poverty communities. This program combines practical and scholarly knowledge to support a professional vision and plan for how to best engage children in making and tinkering programs in afterschool settings. The goal is to excite and involve children in active tinkering, and also to help them recognize the complex intellectual work that tinkering can entail. By helping children understand how tinkering connects to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as fields of study and as professional opportunities, the program also aims to open doors to the children’s possible futures.
Of course we also offer professional development opportunities for our staff. Take, for example, our Field Trip Explainers—young educators who give demonstrations, orient school groups who come on field trips, and interact with visitors at exhibits. To acquire these skills, they participate in intensive professional development that includes both formal training and reflective practice.