The Exploratorium offers a wide range of science programs for Bay Area learners of all ages, engaging them in creative and collaborative undertakings involving investigation, reasoning, and communication. Of particular note are programs for children and youth that provide opportunities for learners to be teachers. We find that children and youth respond to opportunities and expectations to teach others by taking responsibility for their own learning and their ability to articulate what they can do and know.
The High School Explainer Program has two intertwined purposes: first, to enhance the experiences of our visitors; and second, to provide training in communication, inquiry-based learning, and leadership, and to deepen the science knowledge of the Explainers themselves. The training enables the Explainers to serve the visitors well and provides them with valuable knowledge and skills that they can use in their education or careers beyond the Exploratorium.
Explainers can authentically model learning in the museum because they are constantly engaged in learning themselves. Since the museum’s founding, about 3,600 high school Explainers have been helping visitors interact with exhibits in satisfying ways. Our Explainer programs have become models for museums and science centers worldwide.
XTech works with middle school youth from San Francisco neighborhoods. Participants spend up to three years in the program, focused on a design and engineering curriculum that incorporates an extensive use of machine shop tools and materials. Participants develop confidence, science understanding, and design skills in a socially supportive peer community. As they move into high school, they become XTech facilitators, taking on teaching and mentoring roles with incoming middle school students, with children in afterschool programs participating in our community tinkering work, and at community family science nights. In the process, they gain valuable job skills. XTech participants and facilitators develop a passion for science and engineering as well as for teaching and learning.
Community Outreach Programs offer family science nights at schools, work with individual patients at UCSF Children’s Hospital, participate in neighborhood events, and host Engineering Day events at the museum. These programs bring interactive, hands-on science activities to multigenerational audiences in settings primarily within their own communities. Led by a team of experienced educators supported by high school Explainers and XTech facilitators, this work makes science more accessible, inclusive, and exciting for a wide range of audiences.
Our Tinkering in Afterschool Program works in partnership with the San Francisco Boys & Girls Clubs to bring new forms of science learning opportunities to children and youth participating in Clubhouse programs. Children can develop their science interests and understanding in a context that is personal, creative, and joyful. Children learn about electricity while building squishy circuits or sewing with conductive thread. They take apart old battery-operated toys and mechanical tools to understand and explain the mechanisms that make them work. They use science journals to capture their ideas and work collaboratively to share and develop their vision for things they have designed and created. The program employs and trains high-school age tinkering facilitators who serve as near-peer mentors.