Tag Archives: science education

My Path to Informal Science Education

It seems as though how one gets into informal science education is different for everyone. I’m going to share my experience of how I became an educator with Zooniverse at Adler Planetarium. I feel very lucky to be in my current position, and there was a lot of researching and networking involved in getting to this point.

My background is in Astronomy and Space Physics. I went to University of Kansas for my undergraduate career and earned Bachelors of Science degrees in Astronomy and Physics with a research certificate. During this time, I was engaged in outreach opportunities and practice presentations through departmental organizations and internships. We were asked to present our research for a variety of audiences, including professionals, school children, and the public. My advisors had taught me that it was part of the job of being a researcher to be able to communicate my work to anyone.

I went on to graduate school at University of Michigan for Space Physics. My graduate advisor was quite supportive of us participating in education and outreach, but I quickly learned that this is not the case with all advisors. After spending three years in a science program geared toward becoming a researcher, I changed my academic goals. I wanted to work primarily on informal science education.

I had been so focused on conducting research for the past six years of my life that I was not sure how I make such a jump to another path. I started by looking for volunteer opportunities and working on my graduate advisor’s NASA Education and Public Outreach (EPO) grant. I also asked everyone I met at museums and through NASA EPO about how they got into their informal education positions.

Some of the career paths I heard from informal educators involved graduate programs in education or museum studies, participation in teacher training programs, and employment or volunteering throughout high school and college at informal education institutions. I did a search for programs (programs I found are included below), but I ended up finding out that there was a graduate certificate program at Michigan that could be completed in one year. Within two months I had found the program, applied, met with the director, and was accepted for the following year’s program. No one from my department had been involved in this program and as it turned out very few science or engineering students ever had. I felt very lucky with how things worked out.

The Museum Studies Program at University of Michigan seems quite thorough for a program that can be completed in one year. The program includes museum seminar courses covering all aspects of museums, several museum visits to experience different types of museums, elective courses involving the museum area of your interest, and a practicum or museum internship. The practicum is where your networking skills really come in handy and was how I found an internship at Adler Planetarium. I interned in the citizen science department where I now work, and some of my fellow museum studies students also found work at the institutions they interned at. Most museum internships are unpaid, but the museum studies program at University of Michigan tries to help people out with funding during their practicum. Volunteering can also give you experience though, since some volunteers work on a particular project in an area that interests them.

From my experience thus far, I recommend a few things. First, volunteer, even if you only have 3 hours a week to help out. It shows that you are interested in being a part of that field and gives you experience. I also recommend taking advantage of as many opportunities as possible to learn more about informal education, because it happens in many places that you would not always suspect. Finally, make sure you get out there and network. It could be through workshops, volunteering, or even online sites such as LinkedIn. Meet other people in informal education to hear about the path of their career and to gain a connection with other institutions and people in the field.

Museum Studies Programs

Museum Education Programs

Informal or Science Education Programs

There is a group of informal educators at Northwestern University that have been putting together resources like this, you can find these resources at: https://sites.google.com/site/stembridgenetwork/home

NSTA Denver – Day 2

5:45  – Woke up. Decide to swap order of presentation.

7:00 – Breakfast, it is the most important meal of the day after all.

8:00 –  Final presentation adjustments done.

8:45 – Public speaking makes me nervous sometimes so put on my favorite dress and purple tights for confidence.

9:30 –  First session of the day –  Effective Approaches for Addressing Next Generation Science Standards in the Earth and Space Science Classroom. This workshop was facilitated by members of the National Earth Science Teachers Association  (NESTA)  and began with an overview of how earth and space sciences fits in the NGSS. The presenters nicely summed up the NGSS Performance Expectations as – “involving a lot of action verbs.”  Instead of statements beginning with “students will understand” or “students will identify” these new performance expectations begin with statements  like “students who demonstrate understanding can develop and use a model to describe…” and “students who demonstrate understanding can analyze and interpret data to determine…”.

The remainder of the workshop focused on Windows to the Universe, NESTA’s learner and educator portal. There are a variety of activities available for use in the classroom. There is a yearly subscription fee if you want to download and print PDFs but activities and worksheets can be printed for free from your browser.

11:00  –  Second Session of the day –  Making the Connection Between Formal and Informal Education.  Staff from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Denver Zoo, and Denver Public Schools overviewed two long-term collaborations running in the Denver metro area. Passport to Health is a bilingual school-year program targeting at 5th graders and their families.  Through classes and events in school and at the museum, over 3,000 participants receive tools and knowledge promoting healthy living.  Urban Advantage Denver , the second program highlighted, is an in-depth collaboration between local school districts and the City of Denver’s scientific cultural institutions.  This program aims to empower every 7th grade student to think and explore like a scientist.

12:30  – Time to present.  A small but enthusiastic group of 15 came to learn about a variety of Zooniverse projects and the educational resources available to bring them into the classroom.  Sadly the internet decided to be uncooperative, but luckily I had a back-up plan and plenty of screen shots.  There were lots of great questions and contact details exchanged. I can’t say much more because I tend to suffer from “post-presenting amnesia”, but it was a great session.

2:00 – Stroll around the second half of the exhibition hall successfully found candy to temporarily relieve my hunger rage.  It was great to see the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center and Cornell Lab of Ornithology promoting their excellent programs.  Totally have science education crushes on those two.

3:00 – Starving.  Back at the hotel waiting for delivery while catching up on email.

It was a great meeting, but it will be nice to be back home in Chicago.  ‘Til next time NSTA!

NSTA Denver – Day 1

5:45 –  Up and atom (sorry, I can’t resist a good Simpsons reference).  To the hotel gym for a little wake-up exercise.   Criminey, altitude does make exercise harder.

7:00 – Caffeinating and fueling up for a day of science education. Mmmm.. Oatmeal.

7:45 – Checked in and all official. Check out the fancy presenter ribbon 🙂

Science Runs Through It!
NSTA Denver- Science Runs Through It!

8:00 am –  First session of the day!  Understanding the Vision for Science Education from the NRC Framework and the Next Generation Science Standards from Brett Moulding. My takeaway from this was the idea of a “science performance”.  Just as students showcase the skills they practice in music class at a concert or a performance, so must students with science.  Students need opportunities to try out what they’ve learned by applying them.

9:00 –  Found a bench and an unoccupied outlet to catch-up on emails and work on another conference proposal.

10:30 –  Random conversation with fellow conference goers about inflatable planetarium domes. Evoked horrifying flash back of nearly being trampled by preschoolers trying to get to the front of the dome to see Elmo at outreach event several years ago.

11:30 –  Strolled through first half of the exhibit hall.  Nearly gave in and bought an I Heart Science t-shirt.

12:00 – Conference going is hard work, grabbed a bento box to fuel more science education networking!

12:30 Second session of the day – STEM! How to Create Rigorous, Authentic Learning for All.  An overview of the transformation of Preston Middle School in Colorado into a STEM-centered school.  The stand-out point was the importance of engaging faculty in STEM.  Specifically, when creating a STEM-focused school, build around the passion of the teachers. Their enthusiasm and passion will draw students in.

1:35 –  Realization that in fact I didn’t finish my slides for tomorrow’s presentation.

2:00  – Third and final session of my day – Building Collaborative Partnerships to Advance K-12 STEM Education.  A panel discussion of creating collaborations to strengthen STEM educational initiatives.   My biggest take away from this session was learning about the National Girls Collaborative Project .

3:30 – Search for afternoon coffee (thanks 7-11).

4:00 – Slides, slides, slides.  Put together the last portion of tomorrow’s presentation – Bringing the Zooniverse into the Classroom.

6:00 – A dinner of subpar Mexican food.  Perfectly good guacamole ruined by olives.

7:00-  Slides done, now to blog.

8:10 – Blog done!

More from NSTA tomorrow.