Last Friday, Nancy Steinberg, a freelance science writer, and I held a Science Pub Dialogue Event at Rogue Ales across the street from HMSC.  We had about 50 folks in the audience, pretty normal for the science pubs sponsored by HMSC.  But Nancy and I didn’t want to do a traditional scientist presentation. Instead, following up a project we did earlier this year in Yachats, Oregon, we wanted to create a dialogue between us and the audience around how what we know about free-choice learning can help scientists communicate their work.  The audience was probably about 1/3 scientists, 1/3 educators and 1/3 interested folks, and the dialogues worked great.  We talked together, the audience talked with us, the audience talked with each other, and the conversations continued for almost an hour after the program officially ended!

The next morning, I left to spend the week of the 15th in Vancouver, British Columbia attending the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Conference and the Vancouver Aquarium. The conference is always useful, but frankly at about 12,000 attendees, too big.  This year to make the conference more doable, I primarily attended talks and sessions sponsored by the Informal Learning Environments Special Interest Group.  Special interest groups allow you to find a home and strand of presentations within the mass of papers and talks spread out over a quarter of the downtown of the city. As a shameless plug for the Informal Learning Environments group, I’ll point out that the number of slots given to informal education and free-choice learning talks is determined by the number of folks who join the SIG and submit papers each year…

At the conference, I delivered the next in a series of papers outlining the findings from the work Jim Kisiel and I have been doing on family interactions at touch tanks for the last several years.  This talk specifically detailed the types of scientific reasoning families are engaging in, unprompted by aquarium staff, arguing that live animal encounters provide a context for scientific reasoning that may be even more productive for families than typical interactive physical science exhibits, where families’ scientific reasoning has been documented before.

After the conference, I got to sit in on a couple of education programs at the Vancouver Aquarium and gave a lunch time talk on the Free-Choice Learning Lab projects that are the subject of this very blog.  In the afternoon, I led a 2-hour workshop for staff from the aquarium’s education and interpretive staff on supporting visitor dialogues that can lead to learning.  The workshop is a combination of tools we use in the Communicating Ocean Sciences to Informal Audiences class and strategies Heidi Schmoock developed in workshops she’s been running at Cal Polytech in San Luis Obispo.  The goal was to introduce the idea of a dialogue or discussion map – a questioning strategy that helps ensure families are talking with educators, rather than being talked at, and that is specifically designed to promote the kinds of conversations that may lead to meaning making and learning.