Ok, I guess I am following suit and forgot to post on Friday! I don’t have quite as good of an excuse as Katie. Instead of prepping for conferences I was recovering from a vacation.

I thought it might be nice to provide an update about the Exploratorium project, where NOAA scientists are embedded on the museum floor with the Explainers (Exploratorium front-line staff consisting of young adults). I have collected so much data for this project I am beginning to feel overwhelmed.

Here’s the data that I have collected:
– Formal Interviews with each of the four groups of scientists, both before and after their experience.
– Informal interviews with all of the scientists. These were done in the time walking back to the hotel or when grabbing lunch. Both great times to collect data!
– Interviews with the two Explainer managers plus a survey with open- and closed-ended questions at the end of year 2.
– Interviews with each of the lead Explainers, 8 total. Also, lead Explainers during year 2 completed a survey with open- and closed-ended questions.
– Pre- mid- and post- data for what Explainers think atmospheric sciences is and what atmospheric scientists do. This was not done during the first year topic of ocean sciences.
– I also provided an optional survey for all Explainers so they could share their thoughts and opinions about the project. This provided a reflection opportunity for the Explainers that were not lead Explainers during the project.
– Visitor surveys about their experience in the scientists’ installation. During year 2 these were collected in both paper form and using survey software on the iPad.
– Field notes during meetings and time on the museum floor. During year 2 the field notes were taken on the iPad using survey software.
– And lastly…personal daily reflections.

So the question is “now what?” This data provides opportunities for triangulation but where does one start? I’m spending my final month of summer trying to figure that out.

Hopefully my next blog post will showcase my progress and some findings.

Marine Science Day was a huge hit.  Attendance far exceeded any event I’ve personally witnessed at HMSC.  Researchers and educators did a fantastic job of communicating what goes on at our strange and wonderful workplace.

A few highlights:

-Bill’s public sea turtle necropsy (with power tools!)

-A six-person life raft doubling as a bouncy castle in the Barry Fisher building

-Kids trying on a microphone-equipped full-face SCUBA mask at the Oregon Coast Aquarium‘s dive program kiosk

On a somewhat-unrelated note, if you missed last Monday’s xkcd graphic, you should probably check it out.


We are half way through the severe storms scientists’ residency at the Exploratorium and all is going well. We are testing many new ideas during this residency, some of them changes based on the evaluation from the last year. The scientists and explainers are working together at exhibits in the main thoroughfare of the museum. In the space is the storm chasing vehicle, a van de Graaff generator, the tornado exhibit, and the outdoor cart (a bike designed for explainers to ride around the Palace of Fine Arts, stop anywhere, and do an activity). Visitors of all ages are engaged within the space with some of them staying for an extended time (upwards of 20-30 minutes).

One thing the explainers are working on for this project is a floor walk. A floor walk allows explainers to lead visitors around the floor and give them a more in-depth experience with exhibits around a central topic. At the end of last week, the two lead explainers (those working with the severe storms scientists) practiced their floor walk with their fellow explainers, the scientists, and me. One exhibit that we explored more deeply was the tornado. We used tinsel to see how the air is flowing and therefore forming a tornado. We also explored how bubbles would act within the exhibit (http://www.flickr.com/photos/hmscvisitorcenter/6989941183/). I learned that the Exploratorium has a room devoted to bubbles. Yes, a closet that is filled with everything bubble related. Hmmm….

Day 2’s sessions ended up focusing on the Communication side of Education/Outreach/Scientific Workforce, and I think that framing it that way drew a bigger audience. One presentation on how to create a video was very similar to Ari Daniel Shapiro’s Education talk on producing radio programs or podcasts the day before, with how-to’s, but the audience was much bigger. Is it that “education” and “outreach” are scarier terms than “communicating”? If so, we educators need to think about how to make education more “do-able” for scientists if we want them to do the education to at least some extent, rather than leaving it all to education professionals.


We wonder, however, why education and communication are separated? Perhaps we have slightly different goals, but perhaps not: communication may have a specific outcome in mind, such as motivating people to think a certain way or do a certain thing, where education might more broadly want learners to understand how science works.


One afternoon talk pointed out that between science and communication, at least, it depends on your audience. For example, scientists focus on what we don’t know, whereas policymakers need to know what science does know. So in communicating and educating, we have to decide whether we’re trying to convey what science is and how it works, or whether we’re trying to convey where science is at the moment.


Throughout the week COSEE is hosting a series on how to do education/communication of your science. These lunch workshops that have had about 100 participants, or roughly 2 percent of the conference attendees. Again, by a show of hands on Tuesday, many of those, however, were graduate students.


Last night there was a panel discussion on Bridging the Cultural Gap between Scientists and the Public. I overheard one scientist at the COSEE exhibitor booth pooh-pooh the need for him to attend the panel, as he basically said he knew there was a gap but that it was the public’s problem. COSEE staff made a valiant effort to convince him that he was actually a vital part of bridging the gap, but regardless, there was still a relatively small audience for the program. However, attendees seemed to skew a little bit more toward the early- to mid-career scientists than the other education sessions (perhaps because the grad students had all run off to get beer). We had mixed feelings about the presentation because we walked away a bit more confused about what we could do. The researchers on communication and communicators on the panel offered us ideas about what the communication breakdown was, but we didn’t get a chance to discuss many practical ideas.


The basic premises were that it’s not a problem of literacy, but of people tending to affiliate with groups and basically only attend to information that those groups agree with, in order to maintain that affiliation. The other presentation highlighted peculiarities of the journalistic process that complicated the communication picture, such as editors who focus on minor details to up the drama factor and sell their products. So on the one hand, we need to remove the threat that holding a position on a subject would automatically mean you’d no longer be part of a group that’s important to you, that is, we have to change the “meaning” that accompanies the facts. How to do this, however, is what remains for us to figure out.





Okay, so I started things off as a bit of a downer. Considering this is only the third Oceans conference to include education strands, it’s great that it’s being supported.


However, I wonder if a large scientific conference is the best place to sell outreach to scientists for a number of reasons. For one thing, the education research sessions basically competed with the scientific sessions, almost as if it was a parallel conference, scheduled at the same time so one physically could not attend both. Shawn noted that the evening and lunch workshops on outreach are often well attended, for example (at least by graduate students), but that doesn’t get our research out there.


For another thing, the education presentations focused a lot on specific program evaluation results, as I mentioned yesterday. In that way, they really were not speaking to scientists who were looking to get involved in outreach, at least beyond trying to make the case for it in terms of the personal fulfillment results and opportunities for increased funding. The sessions were by and large not aimed at delivering the skills to a broad audience that people could take back to whatever institution they worked with. The specificity of many projects showed more that such programs were possible and rewarding, without offering opportunities for people at other places ways to get involved. On the other hand, Ari Shapiro of Woods Hole (and often heard on NPR) gave many how-to examples for either partnering for general media publishing or do-it-yourself podcasting and multimedia presentations. The low-cost, do-it-yourself options of course appealed to the educators in the audience as well.


Nevertheless, for those of us that are going back to our institutions and hoping to help the scientists we work with there, there were several interesting findings from the sessions:


1) Scientists are still largely unaware of the work we do, especially that there is educational literature out there about what works.

2) All participants in these programs, educators, scientists, and the ostensible “audience” each play roles as both teachers/facilitators and learners at various times. Educators and public audiences both have frequent opportunities for reflecting on their experiences during programs. Most of this occurs via feedback to each other as both groups are fairly familiar with their roles in these situations. On the other hand, the scientists often lack such opportunities outside of program evaluations, to reflect on either of their roles, or even the fact that they play both of those roles during the experience. They probably also need tools to help them do that reflection.

3) There are a lot of great programs reaching maybe 50 teachers at a time. If each of those teachers reach say 200 students each per year, that’s still only 10,000 students, with perhaps a little more via “trickle down” to other teachers that the program teachers work with. In a country with maybe 100 million students, we have a lot of work to do. And we need a lot of money to do it. And we need evidence of these things working and ways to can scale them up wherever possible.

4) We have a bit of work to do even among our education community about the value of qualitative data and what it can tell you, including the fact that there are people out there that can help analyze that data if you have it.

5) We need more research that’s applicable to a lot of situations, not just evaluations of great projects.


I love being in an emerging field, but some days it’s not emerging fast enough.