Learning and Teaching
A Leader in Science Education Reform
The Exploratorium seeks to transform K-12 science education practice nationally by extending its museum-based interactive learning approaches in science inquiry to formal education settings.
As the nation calls for higher academic standards in all disciplines, including science, and documents such as the National Science Standards and Science for all Americans advocate for the importance of students doing rather than just reading about science, the Exploratorium offers its over 35 years of experience as an innovator in creating learning experiences and opportunities that blend hands-on and conceptual learning to provoke in the learner deep understanding of the most important concepts in science.
A Design for Impact and Change
The key change strategy is to provide education professionals with carefully staged and transformative learning experiences in science inquiry, while at the same time illuminating the design and decisions behind these teaching and learning experiences. This approach—both experiential and self-conscious—helps educators become advocates for inquiry approaches to science teaching in their home schools and districts, and gives them the rationale and tools to provide their colleagues and students with similar learning experiences.
What We Bring to the Table
Our programs use the museum's 400-plus interactive exhibits on display and its core curriculum. Participating teachers begin investigations at the exhibits, observe students and other visitors in their own inquiries, and then participate in group explorations and lecture/seminars in the museum's classrooms. These classroom experiences are designed to underscore content knowledge emanating from exhibit experiences, and to model inquiry approaches to K-12 science teaching and learning.
The act of genuine inquiry as it is used in the study of art, human perception and other disciplines serves as a vehicle for building among teachers a new view of learning in science classrooms. Often the teacher recognizes in this process that he or she does not have to have (or receive from our faculty) all the answers to science questions in order to have an intellectually stimulating and content-rich experience. Questioning and investigating become real, not words in the latest state science framework or set of standards.
We also produce and disseminate classroom tools for inquiry-based approaches to teaching and learning using multiple methods of delivery—from our widely acclaimed classroom books, and teacher guides to on-line science education expertise and classroom activities and strategies. We also are responsible for developing community outreach programs for youth and moderated learning experiences on the museum floor for the museum's visitors.
For more than thirty years the Institute for Inquiry (IFI) ©, (IFI is registered trademark so you should use the R in a circle) has been providing a variety of workshops, forums, and resources to support an international community of scientists and educators dedicated to developing innovation and leadership in inquiry-based elementary science education. IFI was designated, in the 1990’s, as one of the five National Science Foundation funded centers for accelerating elementary science education reform nationwide. IFI provides an online professional development curriculum for educators in districts, universities and museums -- available at www.exploratorium.edu/ifi Recently, IFI was awarded a U.S. Department of Education, “Investing in Innovation” grant to partner with the Sonoma Valley Unified School District to develop an integrated science and English Language Development program. This prestigious award addresses the great need, at the local and national level, to find innovative solutions that address the unique learning needs of English Language Learners.
The Teacher Institute (TI) is one of the country’s most comprehensive and successful professional development programs for secondary school science teachers. Founded 26 years ago, TI has helped more than 2,000 middle and high school teachers bring hands-on science into their classrooms. What distinguishes TI from many professional development programs is that the support provided to teachers is content rich, coherent, and life-long. TI works with teachers to support and improve science and math content knowledge and teaching practices while rekindling teachers’ love of science and science teaching. Science teachers in all stages of their careers have access to a rich array of resources, including staff scientists, staff educators, interactive exhibits that display scientific phenomena, a library, Web-based resources, and a community of like-minded colleagues.
Taking a cue from the public's enthusiastic response to "informal science centers" like science and natural history museums, zoos, and aquaria, the Center for Informal Learning and Schools (CILS) investigates how learning in informal settings relates to and supports classroom science. A collaboration between the Exploratorium, King's College London, and the University of California, Santa Cruz, CILS prepares leaders in informal science education, conducts research, supports students pursuing advanced degrees in education and professional development opportunities and networks for informal educators, including science museum staff. The Center is headquartered at the Exploratorium, and began operation in fall 2002.
The Educational Outreach program works throughout Bay Area neighborhoods, focusing in particular on youth at risk and working in partnership with community-based organizations. The Community Outreach team works with community groups and social service organizations to provide science and art activities to inner-city youth and their families. Most programs take place at familiar neighborhood locations where students and their families can discover that science is accessible and fun. Families are also invited to events at the Exploratorium. Additionally, the Community Outreach team makes regular visits to hospital schoolrooms.
XTech, another Educational Outreach Program, is an immersive program designed for middle school and high school students from San Francisco populations that are underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) professions. XTech encourages students to have a positive sense of their potential, an awareness of their talents, and the self-confidence to pursue STEM learning and careers. The program develops students’ skills in communication, creative thinking, design and engineering, and both traditional and digital technology.
The High School Explainer program trains cadres of diverse groups of high school youth in both science content and social skills by employing them to act as the museum's interface with visitors. This program serves as a model for museums around the world seeking to develop authentic youth programs. Our Science Field Trips program works with teachers to facilitate their and their students' use of the museum, connecting it with mandated curriculum, and developing classroom extensions of the museum experiences.
The Exploratorium has learned how to leverage its experience and resources in many significant ways. Specifically, it works at length with educators, routinely exceeding 100 hours in intensity for its professional development programs. More recently, it is recruiting teacher educators and education administrators who, in turn, develop the skills of hundreds of additional teachers in their home institutions. These educators must come from school districts that are already deeply involved in science education improvement projects, thus ensuring that the support and resources are available to advance these approaches to science learning with their colleagues when they return.
In another example, the Beginning Teacher Program is providing concentrated professional development programs and support to beginning teachers in middle and high schools to increase the likelihood that they will (1) stay in the profession, (2) teach more effectively earlier in their careers, and (3) adopt our approaches for the length of their careers. This program is designed to shore up the national investment in preparing teachers for today’s classrooms in light of the alarming attrition rate that exists among beginning teachers.
Our youth and teacher professional development faculty are sought out for consultation and advice from museums around the world.
In summary, the Exploratorium seeks to transform teaching practices by:
-Working at length with teacher educators and education professionals who are deeply engaged in district-wide science reform efforts
-Establishing a unique beginning science teacher program and experimenting with new kinds of relationships with colleges of education
-Building ongoing relationships with reform projects and leading organizations in the national science education community
-Strengthening teaching and learning experiences for visitors to the museum and through local educational outreach programming
-Going into greater depth in evaluation and understanding of our own work
-Harnessing the World Wide Web for maximum educational impact, including a digital asset library for teachers, curricula for professional developers, the Pinhole list-serve that allows science teachers to ask questions of each other and get answers immediately, and over 18,000 pages of science content at http://www.exploratorium.edu