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High School Explainers Program

High School Explainers Program

Program Overview

High School Explainers, the Exploratorium’s youngest employees, are a diverse group of students who engage visitors at exhibits, lead demonstrations, and run many museum operations. Some are interested in science; all have a spark for learning new things. In keeping with the Exploratorium’s philosophy, they build their own skills while learning to help others.

The High School Explainer Program makes students part of the museum staff, giving them the important responsibility of being the museum’s primary point of contact with visitors. The Explainers learn about exhibits and facilitate visitor-exhibit interactions; open and close the museum; run daily demonstrations (including cow’s eye, heart, and flower dissections); find lost children; evacuate the museum during emergencies; and more.

Three groups of High School Explainers fill over 130 paid positions a year. More than 3,500 students have participated in the program since its inception in 1969, when the Exploratorium first opened.

Explainers are trained in a variety of subjects and are given a lot of responsibility for handling complex interactions and museum operations. Two or three times a week, they meet with science educators, exhibit builders, and other staff. They’re trained in many subjects and are given a lot of responsibility for handling complex interactions and museum operations. The training is focused both on science content and exhibit facilitation. As part of museum operations, Explainers also learn how to effectively respond to visitors’ needs and safety.

Two Explainers with goggles on putting away chemicals
Explainers being trained
an explainer looking at the camera through binoculars
Explainer explaining something to a group of kids around a table
two explainers holding a cows eye and smiling
Explainers hanging out and having fun together

Explainer diversity is a crucial part of the program and one of its greatest strengths. Each group of Explainers is comprised of teens who are very different from each other. They come from a variety of cultures, sexual orientations, and ethnic, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds, reflecting the population of the Bay Area. This diversity offers an enriched learning environment where teens can explore science, gain job skills, and learn how to work with people they might not otherwise meet.

For many students, this work-based learning program is a first-time work experience. Their interests vary. Some Explainers are knowledgeable in the sciences while others have strong skills in dealing with the public. The program directors look for students who have a spark for learning new things and a desire to work with people.

Facts and Figures

  • More than 3,500 students have participated in the High School Explainer Program since its inception in 1969 when the Exploratorium first opened to the public.
  • High School Explainers receive a total of approximately 60 hours of training. They receive 24 hours of training before they begin working with the public on the museum floor, where their shifts range from 4 to 6.5 hours.
  • During 2009–2010, 86 percent of the High School Explainers completed their work in the program. (Some left the program because of heavy school workloads; others left to attend college.)
  • In 2010, Explainers made up 15 percent of the Exploratorium’s staff.
  • Most High School Explainers reside in the Bay Area; a majority live in San Francisco neighborhoods. This chart tracks where they lived from September 2009 to August 2010.

History and Alumni

Exploratorium founder Frank Oppenheimer created the Exploratorium as a place where visitors could comfortably explore exhibits and phenomena. Frank didn’t want to staff the floor with scientists who would tell visitors the “right” answers. Instead, he wanted enthusiastic young guides who could encourage visitors to play with the exhibits and discover their own questions and answers. Explainers are constantly learning themselves, so they authentically model this type of learning in the museum.

When the Exploratorium opened in 1969 with a handful of exhibits, there was one high school student to help visitors explore them. By 2009, when the museum turned forty, about 3,500 High School Explainers have been part of the program, helping visitors to interact with exhibits in a variety of ways. The Exploratorium’s Explainer programs (there is also a Field Trip Explainer program for young adult educators) have become models for museums and science centers worldwide.

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How to Apply

Students who are accepted come from a variety of cultures, backgrounds, and interests. Some Explainers are knowledgeable in the sciences while others may display strong public relations skills. The Program Director looks for students who have a spark for learning new things and a desire to work with people.

A key factor in the selection is reviewing where students are in their development and how this experience will make a difference. In selecting a new group of Explainers, the Program Director’s main focus is to choose individuals who can work together. A lot of care is taken to achieve a balance of strengths so that each student can benefit from the group dynamic. Because of this diverse culture, each group has its own personality. We are also interested in finding students that speak more than one language.

The High School Explainer Program welcomes all high school-aged students, including students that attend alternative schools. To be eligible to apply, students in alternative education programs must intend to attain a GED or take the High School Proficiency Exam. The program does not represent itself as a rehabilitation center for high school dropouts, but it has consistently demonstrated its capacity to kindle interest and enthusiasm for learning where normal channels have failed. We believe that the Explainer experience can have a deep, formative impact on a student’s personal development.

High School Explainer Employee Badges
Minimum Requirements
Candidates must:
  • be at least 15 years old and have completed the first year of high school
 (but not more than 18 years old)
  • be open to learning new ideas

  • be interested in working with people within a museum structure
Want to be an Explainer?
Applications can be found on the Exploratorium jobs page when positions are available.
Contact Information
High School Explainer Program
Pier 17 Suite 100, Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94111

The Exploratorium is a nonprofit equal opportunity museum of science, art, and human perception.

Job Description

Eligibility and Overview

Eligible candidates are high school students between the ages of 15 and 20 (but no older than 18 when they apply) who have basic communication skills, are curious, mature, open-minded, and eager to learn more about science, art, and perception.

High School Explainers work between 12 and 19.5 hours per week.

The school-year schedule for Explainers is Wednesday and Friday 1:00 p.m.–5:30 p.m.; Thursday 3:15 p.m.–10:15 p.m., or 3:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m., or 5:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. or 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.

The summer schedule for this position is Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. or 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; and Thursday 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m., 12:00–7:00 p.m., or 2:15 p.m.–10:15 p.m.

Shift length is determined by age, according to labor laws for minors.

High School Explainers are paid the San Francisco minimum wage, which is much higher than the state's, for their service to the museum. A background in science is not required.

Essential Functions

  • Participate in up to 60 hours of training. Topics include working with the public, conducting informal conversations with visitors, sharing information with visitors at exhibits, gaining an understanding of informal methods of learning as they relate to science, and other activities as required.
  • Set up and monitor the museum for daily operations: Open and Close museum, move exhibits and stools to proper locations, and assist staff during emergency procedures.
  • Greet and orient individual visitors and groups.
  • Oversee activity on the exhibit floor.
  • Serve as a guide or facilitator, initiating contact with visitors to enrich the museum experience.
  • Perform scientific demonstrations and engage visitors in the process.
  • Assist visitors with special needs through the museum when requested.
  • Monitor museum exhibits to be sure that they are in good working order. Troubleshoot and report malfunctioning exhibits and perform minimal exhibit maintenance as instructed.
  • andle visitors’ lost items and respond when children become separated from their parents or groups; provide assistance to reunite families.
  • Staff the Information Desk on the museum floor. Perform other duties as assigned.