About Susan Roberta O Brien

I am a marine educator from Brazil, an Environmental Education Ph.D. candidate who is passionate about the fascinating world of ocean sciences, informal education, and capacity building for science communication. I am also a mom, just as passionate about experiencing nature through the curious and adventurous eyes of my two daughters. I am a diver and the ocean is where I feel most at home.

Shawn and I will be going to the National Association for Interpretation Workshop this week in Reno, Nevada. We will be talking to interpreters about bridging the gaps between Free-Choice Learning research and Interpretive practice, “mining the nuggets” for cross-communication and visibility among professionals in both worlds, discussing potential benefits from interdisciplinary use of concepts, principles and research findings towards the shared goal among both communities of practice.

Museums are informal education settings where Free-Choice Learning (FCL) takes place and where educators and practitioners are also interpreters. FCL in such settings draws from strong learning theories and their contextual application, targeting audiences such as museum educators, evaluation staff, exhibit designers, program developers, volunteer personnel and volunteer managers. These are also the targeted practitioners mediating learning in museums through use of interpretive tools, principles and resources.

Given the complimentary nature of practice in both FCL and Interpretation fields, understanding cross-disciplinary potential and dissemination are ways to create collaborative resources and further the research and understanding of how learning takes place in museums, how the theoretical discourses relate to/build upon interpretive principles and use of interpretive tools. This confluence can have meaningful implications on interpretive program design and implementation in museum settings and others alike, as to promote valuable learning experiences for visitors.

This is what we will be brainstorming at the workshop. So bloggers please respond with any insights you may have on possible collaboration avenues and links you consider important to be made here.



For my first blog post, I used my space to be a Make evangelist. This time, I thought I would tell you a bit about why I am such a fan, and what I think Make has to share with other educators- both formal in informal.

Maker Spaces, both in community and school settings, are spaces that nurture innovation and experimentation.  With an emphasis on coming up with ideas or projects and then tinkering with materials in hands-on ways to find solutions, Make is a philosophy that embodies the notion of valuing process over product.  There is also a perception that ideas and creations can always be improved upon, so even when you are done making something, you could probably still tweak it to be better, more aesthetic, more efficient, or more interesting.  There does not have to be an “end goal”.

There is also a strong culture of mentoring. As community spaces, there is an emphasis on open sharing of skills as well as tools.  People regularly offer their expertise to someone else who is struggling with a project.  As part of the Maker Education initiative, Make is partnering with AmeriCorps to offer training to a MakerCorp so there is a population of young adults comfortable with the Make principles as well as some of the materials who are prepared to go forth and mentor young Makers.  If you are curious about some of their resources, here is a link for you http://makered.org/resources/.

One of the most important features, to me at least, is the interest driven nature of Make experiences.  While MakerSpaces do offer workshops for members to gain new skills with tools and such, if you walk in to one of the spaces during an open work time, you will find a wide variety of projects out as each person explores ideas and activities they are curious about.

I am hopeful that Make is here to stay and will continue to offer collaborative, hands-on experiences for all of us to become more active as producers, as well as consumers of technology!

This past week was about sharing, learning and networking.  A few of us in the Free-Choice Learning Program participated in the North American Association for Environmental Education  (NAAEE) Conference in the so-called “Charm City” of Baltimore.  Many presentations, keynote speakers, round-tables, social networking and casual conversations later, I (at least) came back home with refreshed energy and feeling empowered to really do better.

The kick-off keynote speaker was a major realization about the outstanding environmental education (EE) work that really happens out there and how ideas do materialize and are successful in changing lives and reconnecting people to nature.  One of the most engaging and provocative speakers I have ever heard, Stephen Ritz is a South Bronx teacher who received the U.S. EPA award (among many others) for transforming landscapes and mindsets in New York City. His classroom contains an indoor edible wall that feeds students healthy meals and trains the youngest nationally certified workforce in America. His speech was engaging, super electric, and very passionate, as he tells the story of how he moves generations of Bronx students into a better life and academic success while rebuilding the Bronx neighborhood. As he said, “it is easy to raise a healthy kid than to fix a broken man”, we are “AmeriCANs (http://greenbronxmachine.com)

There were many other outstanding speakers I could be talking about as well, including the founder and president of Spitfire Strategies, a public relation firm that works with non-profit organizations to create positive social change. Shawn would love her thought provoking, hilarious and yet very effective presentation on communicating messages. I will leave the details of that for a lab meeting, after all, it was not just about the speakers and sessions, but about self-discovery and fitting my work with the work of others, discovering great programs, realizing some bad ones, learning from lessons learned and critically applying academic knowledge.

When environmental educators get together it is about celebrating the true power of environmental messages. What we do matters and it is indeed transformative. Seeing such wonderful examples of powerful dedicated work towards a more environmentally literate society is energizing and reassuring, so that we don’t catch ourselves looking at the “glass half empty”, but fill that glass with hope and empowerment.

      My name is Zach and I’m a graphic designer working at the Hatfield Science Center.  I handle all kinds of work that needs to be done for exhibits, posters and signage for the center.  Its a new field for graphic designers and I’m very excited to be a part of it.
     My work with the Tsunami exhibit started with a need to build some posters to explain the content and material the exhibit was focused on.  That remains the primary focus of my work, but the idea of the exhibit has changed to that of a whole experience and how to adequately handle the volume of people that move through the exhibit, making it easier to understand, easy to follow and easy to interact with the various activities.  All of this goes into how I design the visual material.  Its like telling a story and having all the material presented in a way that the viewer can follow through and learn systematically.  I also really enjoy working on changes to signs because observations are giving the organizers feedback as to how people are interacting with the signage, allowing me to design them better.
     It has been a unique experience for me and one that is not just limited to making decisions on a poster as a stand alone unit.  My design work has to fit into a bigger and broader picture and I learn quite a bit about how people respond to design and signage through the observations, which influences my design decisions.


Did you know?

…In the deep open ocean, tsunami waves can travel at speeds approaching a jetliner (500 mph)?

…The States in the U.S at greatest risks for tsunamis are Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California

These are some of the interesting information pieces we have been working with in our signage work for the wave lab exhibit. It is such hard work and require great interpretive skills to decide what bits of info to include in what signage piece and how to keep it all cohesive, attractive, while still conveying the overall message of the exhibit. In this case, the message is that “waves affect human life in a variety of ways”.

Then we brake into three sub themes to explore the topics of beach erosion, coastal living/tsunami challenge, and wave energy. Before she left to her new job in California, Laura Good had been working on the overarching themes and sub themes, while designing signage pieces meant to represent those themes.  She came up with this construction zone idea to tie all three spaces together as belonging to the same exhibit. Below are some photos showing some of these area signage pieces as they have materialized. Note the yellow bar with black stripes symbolizing the construction zone.

Lego Table Sign    Caution wet floor sign   Beach Erosion Warning Sign   Coming together

Keep in mind this is a work in progress and in prototype phase. I will keep post on the wave lab as we progress. Wait until you see the big banner being designed to go in the back blue wall for prototype next week. It is all coming together, although not at the speed of a jetliner :).




Last week I returned a few purchased Cyberlab cameras back to the store.  Some were already taken off the exhibits and a couple others were just removed from the computer kiosks at the wave laboratory. Apparently they were not working well as images were coming through very blurry.

I wonder how much of the problem had to do with visitor interactions…WAIT…everything at a visitor center has to do with visitor interactions doesn’t it? The shape of the little camera stroked me as very inviting of the oily digits exploring the visitor center everyday. We all know visitors love to push buttons, so what happens when a camera placed at eye level at a computer kiosk looks like a button? … CORRECT, it gets pushed and pushed many times, and the finger oils get transferred to the lenses (that is a possibility). I can only imagine the puzzled looks of visitors waiting for something to happen, what would the “button” activate?

It didn’t activate anything but a little frustration on our prototyping side as we continue to seek optimal interfaces to obtain great quality video for our learning research goals while maintaining the aesthetically pleasing characteristic of the exhibits. Jenny East, Megan Kleibacker, Mark Farley and I walked around the visitor center to evaluate how many more cameras we need to buy and install keeping the old, new and oncoming exhibits in mind. How many more and what type of cameras to buy depended on the possible locations for hook ups, the surfaces available for mounting and the angles we need to capture images from.  Below is a VC camera map and a screen capture of the camera overview to give a better idea.

HMSC VC Camera Map

Screen Shot

While this is all a challenge to figure out, a bigger challenge is to find and/or create mounting mechanisms that are safe and look good. Camera encasing systems that minimize visitor touch and avoid any physical contact with the lenses. These will probably have to be custom built to fit every particular mounting location, at least that would be ideal.  But how do we make it functional? how do we make it blend within the exhibits and be aesthetically pleasing at the same time? It may seem easy to think about but not so easy to accomplish, at least not if you don’t have all the money in the world, and certainly not at the push of a button.

Nevertheless, with “patience in the process” as Jenny talked about in her blog last week, as well as practicing some “hard thinking” as Shawn discussed a few blogs ago, we will keep evolving through our camera set up, pushing all of the buttons technology allows us to push while working collaboratively to optimize the ways in which we can collect good data in the saga of understanding what really pushes the visitors’ curiosity buttons… towards ocean sciences.