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Four takeaways from ASTC 2023!

Four takeaways from ASTC 2023!

Steph and I recently got to visit Charlotte, North Carolina for the annual Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) Conference. While we were there we co-facilitated a couple of sessions, attended many more, and caught up with friends, new and old. Having been to a few conferences this year, these are some of my takeaways from my experience so far.

A scribbling machine with large eyes


1. It’s hard to tell which one I enjoy more - a Pre-Conference Session or a Conference Session

This was my first time co-facilitating a pre-conference session and a conference session. I really enjoyed both, for very different reasons. For the pre-conference session we had 4 hours with 23 participants. For a conference setting, this felt like a really solid amount of time. 

We were able to experience two different computational tinkering experiences, spend time investigating emerging ideas around facilitation cards, engaging in reflection on the overall experience, and then relaunching our investigations around computational tinkering. It felt really good to deeply engage across a range of activities. Plus, it gave us time to get to know our participants in greater depth.


On the flip side, our conference session was limited to 1 hour but we had 90+ people in the room, all collaborating and creating a diverse range of Scribbling Machines. The 60 minute time frame meant that the session was really snappy, as we moved from introduction, to activity, to share out and reflection. 


I came away feeling confident that a meaningful hands-on tinkering activity can be done in a short time frame, as long as you’re well prepped. Moving forwards, I look forward to opportunities to host more pre-conference and conference sessions…maybe one day I’ll have an outright favorite but right now it’s too close to call.


2. I hate lugging a giant check-in bag across the country but it’s definitely worth it.

Every time the Tinkering Studio Team travels for a workshop or conference, it feels like the entire Tinkering Studio Materials Wall goes too. ASTC was no different and every time I’m standing in line at the airport, waiting to check my giant bag, I question whether we really need to bring this much stuff. The answer is probably, no, we can make do with less, but when it comes time to actually facilitate a Tinkering activity away from the Exploratorium, I’m always grateful for the supplies we have. Even if only one participant uses a material that we’ve taken across the country, it feels good to provide the option. After all, materials, and an abundance of materials, can be vital to a tinkering experience. Being able to create meaningful tinkering experiences away from home makes the extra-baggage fees a no brainer.

Three educators prep materials at a large table


3. There’s nothing better than co-presenting. 

Co-presenting with Tinkering Studio colleagues is fun, but co-presenting with partners from outside of the Explo is the dream. Across our two ASTC sessions, Steph and I were lucky to co-present with four amazing humans from four different institutions. Beyond bringing a diversity of experience and knowledge to the sessions, I was also able to learn a lot from them. I learnt different facilitation strategies, gained deeper knowledge of the technologies that we were working with, and learnt how other institutions talk about and facilitate tinkering experiences. It was a very fun way to continue developing my practice but beyond all of these professional benefits, the true highlight was being able to hang out in person with people who care deeply about informal education and museum education.

Co-presenters for ASTC 2023


4. It’s the opportunity to see people in person that makes conferences valuable.

Presenting with our friends from across the US was an amazing experience because we were able to work together in person. This also applied to other ASTC participants and presenters who we weren’t working with. The biggest value of attending an in person conference is getting to be in person with people! While we were in North Carolina, Steph and I got to catch up with a lot of people that we rarely get to see in person. We had a lovely lunch with some collaborators from the LEGO Playful Learning Museum Network, met new and old friends at the Poster session, and even chatted with people who had attended previous workshops that we had run at other conferences. It’s opportunities like these that make me so excited for ASTC 2024 in Chicago!

Rupal smiles while introducing an OctoStudio project


National Science Foundation Official Logo


This project is generously supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 2005764.