Beyond the Classroom

Liberty Science Center, Jersey City, NJ

Children explore an exhibit at Liberty Science Center.

JT: Is there something distinctive about science centers in comparison with other professional development opportunities?

EB: There are many workshops available that provide training in contemporary pedagogical techniques, including learning styles, multiple intelligences, cooperative learning, inquiry-based learning, formative assessment, and others. However, these techniques are almost always presented in a generic fashion with the expectation that the participating teacher will find ways to apply the training to a specific discipline. Our professional development programs are designed specifically to help participants teach science. For instance, our program in “Multiple Intelligences for Science Educators” illustrates the intelligences with examples from science and includes demonstration lessons that incorporate all eight of the currently recognized intelligences in a single lesson.

JT: What role should science centers play in teaching students?

EB: Science centers are different from museums in that they provide a more tactile, kinesthetic experience. Museums have artifacts and archives that, because of their historical value, must be isolated from the wear and tear of constant handling. Science centers are designed to be more hands-on and interactive. When students come to the Center, we want them to feel the experience rather than simply look and wonder. After a nearly two-year shutdown, a renewed and expanded Liberty Science Center reopened last July, with 80% of its exhibits being completely new. These include a skyscraper exhibit in which students can get the experience of an iron worker by walking (with all appropriate safety equipment) on construction beams 35 feet above the floor. A giant head sneezes on them when they walk into the “Infection Connection” exhibit, and they can actually handle live sea creatures in “Our Hudson Home.”

We pioneered a program entitled “Live From,” in which student classes observe live surgeries via an interactive link between a moderator from our staff and the surgeon and his or her team. Many students have indicated that this program stimulated them to go on to careers in medicine or health. We also provide supplemental education for those groups with limited science facilities, such as charter schools, home-school programs, and special-needs schools. Our “Enhanced Experiences” enable students to take an in-depth look at specific exhibits or the unique habitat of the Hudson River estuary, which surrounds the Center. There are several other on-site programs for students at Liberty Science Center, and we offer continuing off-site programs at schools as well.

In New Jersey, one of the most densely populated states in the country, we currently have less than a dozen college students majoring in physics education! The country is in a crisis in science, technology, engineering, and math. If all the foreign-trained scientists, technicians, and engineers were recalled to their native countries, the United States would be in a very serious predicament. We need to stimulate our young people to take an interest in these areas. Science centers can play a key role in bringing this interest about by both educating the general public and providing support to schools through teacher training and stimulating programs for youth.