Curriculum

Museums, Researchers Shifting to Online Science Ed. Outreach

By Benjamin Herold — August 27, 2013 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

From the Smithsonian Institution to a small, do-it-yourself aerodrome in Brooklyn, the nation’s cultural institutions, researchers, and “makers” are using technology to overhaul the way they partner with K-12 teachers and students to deliver science education.

Waning are face-to-face outreach and prepackaged curricular content meant to supplement existing classroom lessons.

In their place are massive open online trainings, accessible to thousands of educators at the time and place of their choosing; interactive experiences meant to push students from being passive consumers of information to active producers of content and conductors of experiments; and tech-enhanced projects that seek to blur the boundaries between the classroom, the real world, and virtual environments.

See Also

For more on how institutions are engaging students in science learning, see “Linking Real-World Science to Schools,” August 28, 2013.

“I think [these shifts] are happening in education across the board, and in informal education in particular,” said Lynn-Steven Engelke, who has overseen teacher programs and services for the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, since 2002.

Ms. Engelke’s office, formerly known as the Center for Education and Museum Studies, previously worked with about 2,000 K-12 educators each year, mostly through face-to-face presentations and courses. This year, the office was rechristened the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access.

The new name reflects the center’s new approach. A recent online conference called “Problem Solving With Smithsonian Experts” has reached almost 30,000 participants and counting, according to information the institution provided.

Lynn-Steven Engelke of the Smithsonian Institution monitors presentations on a projector at the Space Telescope and Science Institute in Baltimore. Cultural institutions are among those helping teachers use technology.

“Nothing beat spending two weeks with a group of 20 motivated teachers who wanted to dig deeply into how they could use our resources,” Ms. Engelke said. “But it was discouraging to know that, in the course of a year, you could only reach a limited number of people.”

The Smithsonian’s “Problem Solving” conference also highlights a more profound shift: Instead of focusing on how to share its collections, Ms. Engelke said, the institution now strives to help learners—both teachers and students—connect with experts housed at its more than two dozen museums, galleries, and research centers.

The new approach is a mash-up of the massive open online courses, or MOOCs, that are sweeping higher education; the new Common Core State Standards, which are shaking up the K-12 world by emphasizing critical thinking, analysis, and synthesis; and the popular “maker movement,” which stresses informal learning-by-doing sparked by students’ own interests.

For teachers, making it all work requires a “secret sauce,” said Al Byers, the assistant executive director of government partnerships and e-learning for the National Science Teachers Association. Models that allow for self-directed learning, that create communities of like-minded educators, that stress local relevance, and that focus on cultivating “citizen scientists,” said Mr. Byers, “are beginning to take off.”

Partnership Hurdles

But making the shift isn’t easy, cautioned Christopher Dede, a Harvard University researcher who is helping lead a project that seeks to combine “immersive virtual environments” and new “augmented reality” technologies to help middle school students conduct environmental science experiments that take place both online and in the real world.

Emerging partnerships in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math hold tremendous learning potential, Mr. Dede said, but the logistics of partnerships between school-based educators and outsiders remain challenging.

“School leaders say, ‘Show me where this is part of the high-stakes tests our teachers and kids are being judged on,' " he said, while many outside organizations don’t make the effort to understand the real constraints that teachers face.

Those groups’ attitude, Mr. Dede said, tends to be, “Kids love it, so why not just make room for it?”

Despite the hurdles, evidence of change can be seen across the country.

At the Learning Technologies Media Lab at the University of Minnesota campus in St. Paul, for example, researchers who have been at the forefront of the “adventure learning” movement for a decade are now revamping their approach. Instead of connecting classrooms with scientists on expeditions around the world, the lab has developed a new virtual environment that lets students and teachers conduct and share their own learning expeditions.

“We’re putting the power of knowledge-seeking and creation, the power of asking questions and finding answers, into the hands of teachers and students,” said the lab’s co-director, Cassie Scharber. “I think we may be getting close to the tipping point, where technology is helping press forward the idea that we are all co-teachers and co-learners.”

Coverage of informal and school-based science education, human-capital management, and multiple-pathways-linked learning is supported by a grant from the Noyce Foundation, at www.noycefdn.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the August 28, 2013 edition of Education Week as Museums, Researchers Shifting to Online Science Ed. Outreach

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Management Webinar
Build a Digitally Responsive Educational Organization for Effective Digital-Age Learning
Chart a guided pathway to digital agility and build support for your organization’s mission and vision through dialogue and collaboration.
Content provided by Bluum
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Drive Instruction With Mastery-Based Assessment
Deliver the right data at the right time—in the right format—and empower better decisions.
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Profession Webinar
How Does Educator Well-Being Impact Social-Emotional Awareness in Schools?
Explore how adult well-being is key to promoting healthy social-emotional behaviors for students. Get strategies to reduce teacher stress.
Content provided by International Baccalaureate

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum Photos PHOTOS: Connecting the Classroom to the Real World of Aviation
A curriculum designed to teach students the skills necessary for careers in the aviation industry connects the classroom to the real world.
1 min read
Students in the aviation program at Magruder High School in Rockville, Md., practice flying on flight simulators.
Students in the aviation program at Magruder High School in Rockville, Md., practice flying on flight simulators located in the school.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Curriculum Want Students to Become Better Problem Solvers? Then Teach Them to Fly Planes and Drones
A free, relatively new curriculum that teaches students about the concepts of flying planes and drones is growing quickly nationwide.
10 min read
Sophomore Byron Barksdale, left, and classmates from Magruder High School’s aviation program examine the inside of a charter plane at the Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Md., on April 6, 2022.
Sophomore Byron Barksdale, left, and classmates from Magruder High School’s aviation program examine the inside of a charter plane at the Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Md., on April 6, 2022.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Sponsor
Engaging Students in Innovation
Inventionland Education leverages the process of inventing in a stimulating, multi-disciplinary course that promotes the real-world skills of creativity, problem-solving and entrepreneurship.
Content provided by Inventionland Education
Curriculum Florida's Math Textbook Brouhaha: Your Questions Answered
Florida rejected several math textbooks for 'indoctrination.' But what do we really know about them—and what happens next for districts?
9 min read
Conceptual Illustration of a chalkboard with math equations, where many are blacked out and unreadable
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and E+/Getty