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Smithsonian Affiliations at 25: Chapter 3: 10 Years of Reaching for the Stars Together

Affiliations Anniversary Series: 25 Years in Your Neighborhood
Chapter 3: 10 Years of Reaching for the Stars Together

By: Tricia Edwards, Deputy Director, Smithsonian Affiliations and Natalie Wimberly, Management Support Specialist and Universe of Learning Project Manager, Smithsonian Affiliations

A young boy crouches in front of a telescope next to an adult in a bright green shirt seated next to him.

Student astrophotographer at Carolinas Aviation Museum (Charlotte, NC). Photo credit: Carolinas Aviation Museum.

“Working with Affiliations over the last 10 years has been one of the most productive collaborations for our Science Education Department,” says Mary Dussault, a STEM education program director at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Cambridge, MA. Since 2012, with generous support from the Smithsonian’s Youth Access Grant program (YAG), Smithsonian Affiliations and Affiliates have collaborated with SAO to bring astronomy and astrophotography education to their communities through the Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos program (YCCC). Dussault adds, “Right from the get-go, we realized that the educational goals of the YAG program, the strategic partnership capacity and national network of Smithsonian Affiliations, and the scalable and accessible technology resources of SAO’s MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Network were a case of the stars aligning.”

YCCC introduces communities, especially students, to the wonders of the universe. Participants can access SAO’s robotic telescopes, take images of the cosmos, and manipulate the photographs to produce their own artistic and scientific interpretations of the stars and galaxies. Along the way, they gain important technology skills and engage in—and apply—science, technology, engineering, art, and math content. As one young participant said, “I loved editing the photos. It grew my imagination and made me want to do more with it.”

A black and white image of the moon is pictured to the left of a brightly colored red, green, yellow and blue interpretation of the moon on right.

Photo captured by the MicroObservatory robotic telescope (left) alongside a student’s interpretation of the image.

Many Affiliates have participated in the program for multiple years and used YCCC to reach new audiences or forge deeper partnerships with existing collaborators. One Affiliate commented, “As a direct result of implementing the program we have already begun discussions with [our local] high school to develop a more intense astronomy program for next year.”

Since 2012, YCCC has grown to include 29 Smithsonian Affiliates and has reached more than 7,000 participants across the nation.

“Each Affiliate brings particular expertise and knowledge of their local community to adapting our SAO resources and materials, thereby creating wonderful program models that we never would have anticipated on our own,” says Erika Wright, SAO Education Specialist. For example, arts educator Annette Eschelman from the Springfield Museum of Art (Springfield, OH) was able to combine visual arts and astronomical imaging techniques to engage incarcerated youth. Starr Kelly from the Abbe Museum (Bar Harbor, ME) developed a summer camp program in which indigenous knowledge of the Wabanaki Nations informed the experience of students in the local Indian Township School.

Pieces of the Astronomy Kit rest on a table

Astronomy Kit for virtual NASA UoL 2020 Programming at Cape Fear Museum (Wilmington, NC). Photo credit: Cape Fear Museum

The successful collaboration model itself has also expanded, as SAO and Affiliations have teamed up to pursue a number of other astronomy-based education programs funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA. NASA’s Universe of Learning (NASA’s UoL), for example, connects the science, technology, subject matter experts, and adventure of NASA Astrophysics with STEM concepts, education standards, and 21st century skills central to science understanding and literacy. Resulting products, programs, and professional development experiences span a spectrum of environments and applications, enabling a rich learning “ecosystem” across the traditional boundaries of education. The goal of the program is to create and disseminate education products, programs, and professional development experiences that use NASA Astrophysics science, technology, and subject matter experts to advance NASA’s Science Mission Directorate education objectives on a national scale.

In partnership with Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, 15 Smithsonian Affiliate partners, over the course of 3 years, were identified to join the national network of collaborators for this project. The majority of the Affiliates who participated were already building on the long-term partnerships and successful implementations of the Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos program. Growing from these past project relationships, NASA’s UoL is able to extend its reach through Affiliates and the communities they serve.

“We have great content that we’ll share in our virtual portfolio and will gladly share with any other organization that can make use of it. I also hope to do other projects with Universe of Learning when possible.” Nathan Meyer, Cosmosphere, Hutchinson, KS

NASA’s UoL project asks 3 main questions: How does the Universe work? How did we get here? Are we alone? The project creates and delivers science and audience-driven resources along with experiences designed to engage and immerse learners of all ages and backgrounds in exploring the universe for themselves. Its main goal is to expose astrophysics content to a wider underserved audience as well as create a Community of Practice within the Affiliate partners to document, share, and discuss ideas about how this information could translate into their own institutions.

Astronomy resources are placed on a table at the Anchorage Museum

NASA’s UoL Science of Light Program at Anchorage Museum (Anchorage, AK). Photo credit: Anchorage Museum.

“Students wanted to spend more time doing these activities and engaging with astronomy related STEM resources. For some of the students, it was their first time in a planetarium, and being able to go there twice was their favorite part of the program. Others really enjoyed learning about the MicroObservatory resource and said they would continue using it on their own.” Aaron Slonecker, Anchorage Museum, Anchorage, AK

Within the 3-year program period, our Affiliate partners have created long-term NASA UoL community programs and are actively still engaged with Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory to help broaden the scope and reach of NASA’s UoL future programming.

Through both YCCC and NASA’s UoL, Affiliates have helped to broaden access to SAO resources and magnify the reach of their expertise, all while engaging young learners in their communities in astronomy. Affiliates have also built their capacity. They have bolstered their astronomy knowledge and expertise, while also learning how to implement public workshops and programs for audiences of all ages. They have created a community of learners through online discussions and webinars, brainstormed programming ideas, and learned with and from one another.

Later this year, Smithsonian Affiliations and SAO will debut the Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos toolkit, developed in collaboration with the Abbe Museum, Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum (Honolulu, HI), and Springfield Museum of Art. The toolkit will provide how-to instructions for accessing the MicroObservatory, along with successful YCCC program models implemented by Affiliates with different audiences and in different settings, enabling even more Affiliates and their communities to explore the wonders of the cosmos. We also look forward to rolling out the Observing with NASA program soon. Affiliates will have the opportunity to apply to host Observing with NASA kiosks that allow public audiences to request their own telescope images and to practice image processing skills. Stay tuned for more details on these two exciting projects!

Stay tuned next month for another chapter in our 25th Anniversary Series! Until then, catch up on stories you’ve missed:

the Moon is rising in Affiliateland in April 2019

Great events at Affiliates as spring starts blooming!

NORTH CAROLINA
The National Air and Space Museum has loaned three Apollo-related artifacts for the exhibition One Giant Leap: North Carolina and the Space Race opening at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, 4.5.

WASHINGTON
Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission exhibition, organized by the National Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, will open at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, 4.13.

ILLINOIS
As part of the Smithsonian Year of Music, the DuSable Museum of African American History will host A Celebration of Ella!!, a tribute event honoring the music and legacy of Ella Jenkins. At 94, Jenkins is one of the most revered singers and songwriters of the past century, with dozens of albums released through Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, in Chicago, 4.13.

PENNSYLVANIA
A protest armband from the 1960s, on loan from the National Museum of American History, will be part of the The Vietnam War: 1945-1975 exhibition at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, 4.13.


NEW YORK

Katherine Ott, curator at the National Museum of American History, delivers the last talk of the Questioning Identity lecture series, Poking at Normal: Museums and the History of Real People  at the Rockwell Museum in Corning, 4.24.

WASHINGTON, D.C.
Teens from five Affiliate communities will visit Washington with museum staff and parents, to meet with Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton and participate in person in the final meeting of the Secretary’s Youth Advisory Council. Thanks to the Rockwell Museum, Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Arab American National Museum, and the Upcountry History Museum, for helping us to include national teen voices in the work of the Smithsonian over the last two years!, in D.C.,  4.24.

IOWA
Smithsonian Affiliations Director Myriam Springuel and National Outreach Manager Aaron Glavas will participate in the affiliation announcement at new affiliate, the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids, 4.26.

MASSACHUSETTS
Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory will present the April talk Moon Race: The U.S.-Soviet Competition to Put a Human on the Moon as part of the year-long Moon Landing in Context lecture series at Framingham State University in Framingham, 4.27.

 

Join the Universe of Learning

Universe of Learning logo

Smithsonian Affiliations, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and funded through NASA’s Universe of Learning, is launching a new, two-year science literacy pilot program and looking for participants. Funding is available–up to $2,000 per year– for seven Affiliate organizations to use resources from the Universe of Learning site to develop programs exploring  art, history, and natural science. The goal of the pilot is to create sustainable models of innovative STEM learning for youth, families, and lifelong learners.

To participate, interested candidates must complete three of  seven professional development online webinars.* The webinars are hosted by astrophysics scientists and educators and discuss NASA’s three main questions: How does the Universe work? How did we get here? Are we alone? An accompanying online forum will further strengthen the discussion topics and address how your organization can best use the available resources to develop and share your program model.

Webinars are every two weeks on Wednesday at 2pm EST (the next one is on Sept 13th). *Two out of the seven webinars have already occurred. However, they were recorded and we encourage for your institution to partake in this great opportunity.

The application opens in November and is only available to Smithsonian Affiliates.

For any inquiries, please email Patty Arteaga at ArteagaP@si.edu.

October 2016 is BUSY in Affiliateland!

Thanks to all our Affiliates for such great work!

CONNECTICUT
Affiliations program Director Harold Closter will announce the new affiliation with the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford, 10.5.

IOWA
The Dubuque Museum of Art will hold a videoconference on En Plein Air with the American Art Museum in Dubuque, 10.11.

LOUISIANA
The Smithsonian Associates will be working with three Affiliates – the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, the St. Louis Science Center and the Museum of Arts and Sciences on GEAR UP, a science education program for 8th graders in Lafayette, 10.11-13.

MISSOURI
National Outreach Manager Aaron Glavas will announce the new affiliation with the St. Louis Science Center, and National Air and Space Museum educator Tim Grove will present a book talk at a Member Open House event in St. Louis, on 10.13.

HAWAII
The Pacific Aviation Museum will host an astrophotography workshop with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, in Honolulu, 10.13-14.

ARIZONA
The Heard Museum will open the exhibition Kay WalkingStick: An American Artist from the National Museum of the American Indian, in Phoenix, 10.13

GEORGIA
Staff from the National Museum of Natural History will be giving talks at a private event for the Atlanta Regional Host Committee at the David Sencer Centers for Disease Control Museum in Atlanta, 10.13.

NEVADA
The Las Vegas Natural History Museum will open the SITES exhibition Titanaboa in Las Vegas, 10.15.

NORTH CAROLINA
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences will host the Board meeting and associated activities of the Smithsonian Science Education Center in Raleigh, 10.17.

WASHINGTON, DC
Over 120 Affiliate staff will help celebrate the 20th anniversary of Smithsonian Affiliations at the annual conference in Washington, 10.17-20.

TENNESSEE
John Franklin from the National African American Museum will announce the new affiliation with the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, 10.20.

OHIO
National Outreach Manager Jennifer Brundage will give comments at the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology groundbreaking, dedication and dinner event in Akron, 10.22.

American Art Museum curator Virginia Mecklenburg will present a talk on Seeing America with Norman Rockwell at the Springfield Museum of Art in Springfield, 10.25.

COLORADO
The Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the Smithsonian Science Education Center will collaborate on workshops on Building Awareness for Science Education in Denver, 10.24-25.

DELAWARE
National Museum of American History curator Katherine Ott will attend and offer commentary at the Making of Modern Disability conference at the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, 10.28.

 

 

Is this exhibit on your event horizon?

The exhibition Black Holes: Space Warps & Time Twists pulls visitors in to the modern search for real black holes–the most mysterious and powerful objects in the universe.

A view from the Black Holes exhibition.

A view from the Black Holes exhibition.

Developed by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, this 2,500 square-foot exhibition consists of 13 interactive components that captivate audiences and increase their understanding of core ideas in physical science, including gravity and light, the tools and techniques of astronomers, and the nature of theory and evidence in science. Visitors are able to:
– Collect and record their discoveries into a personal web journal
– Take an immersive interactive journey to the giant black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy
– Explore gravity and the effects of unseen forces
– Collect and weigh evidence for black holes.

Evaluations of this NSF and NASA-sponsored exhibition document strong visitor engagement and significant gains in visitor interest and knowledge about black holes and how they are studied.

Smithsonian Affiliates are eligible for a significant discount on the cost of renting this exhibition from ASTC this fall, plus free program materials and training for host-site educators from scientists and educators at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

For more information, contact Mary Dussault at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at 617.496.7962 or mdussault@cfa.harvard.edu

Also visit these websites:
ASTC description of Black Holes
BlackHolesExhibit.Org (Exhibition Website)

Playing in New England

#FindingNEMA - the Boston Terrier mascot for the conference.

#FindingNEMA – the adorable Boston Terrier mascot for the conference.

The New England Museum Association conference is one of my favorite events of the year.  It always takes place in November – when the air is crisp and Thanksgiving is right around the corner.  What could be a better time to visit New England?

This year’s conference took place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was the biggest to date with about 1100 participants.  Even with that number, the conference feels intimate, and I was so delighted to run into so many Affiliate colleagues during the week.  The theme of this year’s conference was Health and Wellness – so appropriate as museums play such a critical role in the health of their communities.

The keynote panel set the tone for the week.  The panel brought together three local museum directors and two physicians, an interesting mashup that revealed all the ways that museums heal people and communities.  They talked about museums being among the most trusted community resources, and places of respite and beauty, which is why people tend to flock to cultural institutions in times of crisis.  The doctors for example, discussed the importance of careful looking when making a diagnosis – a skill they teach in part by taking students to museums.  What a great discussion.

Looking through a 19th century telescope at SAO.

A colleague from the Abbe Museum looks through “the Great Refractor” telescope at SAO.

IMG_4661

Looking directly at the Sun.. or live images of it anyway, at SAO.

A few Affiliate colleagues and I got an opportunity to hang out at an amazing research center near the hotel, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory [SAO].  There, a Smithsonian educator showed us the Great Refractor, built in 1847 and once the largest telescope in the United States.  We all got the chance to try out the unique seat designed for looking through the telescope, an elegant 19th century solution.  From the old to the new, we then visited SAO’s state-of-the art control room for studying the Sun, and “saw” it at several different temperature iterations in close to real time.  It was beautiful and flaring in a way we’d never seen before.

Conference attendees also had the great fortune to visit the USS Constitution Museum for an evening reception.  The Museum, an Affiliate since 2011, is a trailblazer in terms of research into family learning. They have already published the Family Learning Forum website  based on research and testing on engaging exhibition techniques.  The Museum is now turning its attention to programming with the same vigor, and funds from an IMLS National Leadership Grant.  One

Which role would you play?  Learning the importance of teamwork at the USS Constitution Museum.

Which role would you play? Learning the importance of teamwork at the USS Constitution Museum.

of the activities under testing asks visitors to be part of a 4-person team required to fire cannons from the USS Constitution ship, a much more difficult process than I imagined.  With a blue tarp as the ocean and a print of an enemy ship on the other side, my team fired an “alka seltzer cannon” and learned about the teamwork required to be successful in those conditions.  The Museum staff is refining a body of knowledge about family learning and best practices that will ultimately and undoubtedly benefit the entire museum field.

On the last day of the conference, I was honored to speak in a session with colleagues from our other New England Affiliates, Mystic Seaport and Plimoth Plantation.  Titled, It CAN be all Fun and Games, we looked at Affiliate examples of incorporating games and physical activity into museum interpretation.  The best part was that the directors of interpretation and education from Mystic and Plimoth brought actual games that they play on their 17th and 19th century living history sites, like skittles, Wampanoag football, stoolball, stilts, hoop games, harpoon throwing, marbles and even stilts.  I was a little anxious that audience members might not want to “play” on the last day of the conference.. but I was wrong.  It reminded me of an important lesson – adults also want to play and have fun like kids do.  Give them an opportunity – at a conference or at a museum – and they will literally run with it.

This game from 17th century Plimoth is harder than it seems!

This game from 17th century Plimoth is harder than it seems!

I attended so many useful sessions and heard so many great ideas.  Here’s a quick roundup of the highlights:

–    Think socially responsible or responsive programming might introduce mission creep at your museum?  But what if your mission wandered into a place that made you more relevant to your community?

–    Think it’s hard to engage millennials (ages 21-40)?  Think again.  They are visiting cultural institutions in droves, and there are about 80 million of them in America right now.  Don’t know how?  It’s easy.  Ask them.  And then empower them to create the programming they want to attend at your museum themselves.  For a great example, check out the Portland Museum of Art’s Contemporaries group.

–    Do your public spaces achieve the magic power of 10?  That is, can people find 10 things to do in your plazas, courtyards, front steps, etc.? (eat, people watch, see a performance, access wifi, meet friends, etc.)  For ideas, check out the Peabody Essex Museum.

–    Attending a conference is a great opportunity for a networking game. It’s super fun when it’s easy and for example, on your cell phone.  The one we played at NEMA had us asking questions of each other like “have you ever lived abroad?” and snapping photos for extra points.  Thanks Museum Trek.

Given the breadth, depth and richness of the conversations I attended last week, it’s abundantly clear that the museum community in New England is very healthy, and helping to make their communities amazing places to live.  A big thanks to the small but mighty staff at the New England Museum Association for bringing us together and expertly facilitating such enriching dialogue.  And Happy Thanksgiving to all!