School on the BayEvery Summer, the Exploratorium gets visitors from near and far, and also many visits by educators preparing for the upcoming academic year. One highlight of this summer at the Exploratorium was a three-week media production workshop held for local teachers. The workshop, made possible under the auspices of the Science Learning Network, focused on methods by which elementary school teachers are able to use media production tools for inquiry science education in the classroom.
In keeping with the Exploratorium's hands-on philosophy, the workshop kicked off with a field investigation of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Armed with camcorders, tape decks and notebooks (and lunch!), a dozen teachers and Exploratorium staff set out to investigate ideas of scale and structure around the Bay Bridge. And what better way to investigate a bridge than by boat?
Departing near the base of the bridge on the San Francisco side, teachers and staff were joined by Ken Brown and Peter Grossman,CalTrans engineers responsible for overall operations and maintenance on the bridge, and Charles Seim, a consultant involved with the bridge's seismic retrofit. The engineers helped us identify the bridge's multiple structural elements and demonstrated fundamental physics of the bridge's structure.
After a full day of identifying the bridge's structural elements, building materials, and wide variety of geometric forms, we returned to the Exploratorium's Learning Studio to see how we might translate some of our experience into classroom materials.
After reviewing our pictures, notes, and recordings, several areas of interest emerged. One group of teachers was primarily interested in the seismic retrofit and the impact of earthquakes on the bridge. Another group was interested in exploring why certain shapes, especially triangles, were prevalent in the bridge's architecture, while yet another group took particular interest in a smaller bridge we encountered on our way out into the bay.
The Exploratorium has long been at the forefront of educational innovations and we are inspired by the enthusiam of teacher participants in our hands-on workshops both at the musuem and in the field. All in all, our field experience and our access to experts proved to be good starting points for inquiry in many directions.