Thursday, September 21, 2023

Full STEAM Ahead – Part 2


In Part 2 of Clara Rice’s interview with The STEAM Journal Editor, Sara Kapadia, Sara actually becomes the interviewer, asking a few of her own questions of Dr. Ron Rohovit of California Science Center (view Part 1 here).

Clara Rice: Do you think STEAM activities will become more prevalent in children’s museums moving forward?  Is it a fad, or is it here to stay?

Sara Kapadia: I had the honor of leaning on a museum expert to help me answer this question. I turned to Dr. Ron Rohovit who is the Deputy Director of Education at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Prior to his current position, Ron was the Director of Education at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. He has been in the informal science learning field for over 20 years, managing education departments; researching learning experiences; and developing and delivering programs for educators, school groups and the general public. Before getting into the science museum field, Ron taught in public schools for three years. Ron has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a master’s degree in secondary science education and museum studies, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership.

Sara Kapadia: Dr. Rohovit, I sometimes think we live in a world of acronyms. What do you think about the terms STEM and STEAM?

Dr. Ron Rohovit: Names and acronyms will come and go, and what is important is that STEM or STEAM can represent an interdisciplinary approach to learning that is inclusive of all disciplines and not just an artificial selection of 4 or 5. To be true to the nature of the Sciences and the Arts and also to how we learn, all disciplines need to be acknowledged as is done in the museum context in order to promote more opportunities for visitor engagement and learning.

Sara Kapadia: How does a museum optimize the learning invitation for children and or museum visitors to be more curious? Do you believe curiosity is one of the keys to learning more?

Dr. Ron Rohovit: The beauty of museums is that they incorporate all the disciplines. This is especially true in children’s museums, which haven’t sliced and diced content into different artificial buckets. The beauty of museums is that the visitors choose to learn what they want to learn. Take this example from a children’s museum, where they may have a post office or supermarket exhibit that is interactive.  The children can add up the stamps or the cost of food; they can discuss what is healthy to eat; but they can also try on the clothes of postal workers.  The children can understand how mail is delivered, and they can categorize packages and foods.  So many different things can be explored when driven by the curiosity of the children, and that is when best learning occurs…

Sara Kapadia: In what ways does your museum engage all visitors?

Dr. Ron Rohovit: There are several things we do at the California Science Center: We create immersive environments that stimulate all the senses. We post questions in the text, to promote interest and stimulate curiosity in people, so they look at the exhibit to find answers to the open ended questions. This allows more in-depth thinking. We have Discovery Rooms – children under 7 years of age and their caregivers have a discovery box, and in the box are a multitude of objects and books with questions that the caregiver may ask the child… so there is engagement not only with the exhibit but also between individuals. We want the conversation to go on, so that learning will go on. We learn best in engaging, hands-on, social situations. The learning is also sensory, and we have rooms for toddlers where they can interact with objects that stimulate sensory engagement. We aim to make the situations engaging and relevant to the visitor by making the experiences connect to their lives…this creates interest and curiosity. We provide different kinds of ways to learn with text, hands-on materials, objects than can be manipulated… it is very multi-model in that sense… if you want to explore by yourself you can, but if you want to explore in a group you can, too.  There are different kinds of relationships, so the participation in the museum is purely voluntary most of the time.  At the California Science Center, we try to make sure we are meeting the needs of all science center visitors, especially as they are there by choice to learn and be stimulated.  The museum needs to accessible physically, emotionally and mentally, as the experience you are providing at a museum is doing many things and is a great source of experiential-based knowledge for multiple reasons. You cannot always limit it to one kind learning, which is what schools tend to do though teacher-centered, reading and seat-based instruction. The museum visitor is intrinsically motivated to come in and learn, whereas in schools, the students are extrinsically motivated to learn.  Museums can promote curiosity and engagement particularly through real objects.  The visitors whenever possible can hold an object, and if not, they can behold it.  The space shuttle Endeavour for example, cannot be touched, but it is a powerful object that stimulates curiosity and inspires awe and learning because it is real!

Sara Kapadia:  Do you mean that it is the real object instead of a model of a real thing?

Dr. Ron Rohovit: Yes, the space shuttle Endeavour, at 78 feet wide, 57 feet high and 122 feet long has been into space completing 25 missions, with a total of 122,883,151 miles traveled! Children and adults can see the actual real thing in person and experience the real size, shape and reality of the space shuttle. To truly appreciate the space shuttle Endeavour and what it represents as a national treasure and one of our greatest accomplishments, one needs to be able to grasp more than just the science, technology, engineering, art and math, but also be able to grasp the history, psychology and sociology of the space race and what motivated the United States to take on the challenges of the exploration of space. The space shuttle Endeavour, like many real objects, is a great example of the importance of having instructional programs that embrace all disciplines. In order to motivate and promote our next generation of innovators, no matter what discipline the students are in, there needs to be a motivating and stimulating instructional program that doesn’t artificially limit the student’s curiosity and explorations.

Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki owns and publishes InPark Magazine. Started in 2004, InPark Magazine provides owners and operators the perspective from "in"side the "park." Martin has also written for publications like Sound & Communications, Lighting & Sound America, Attractions Management and others. Martin has been featured in Time Magazine, and Folio. Martin lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

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