The Space Station Explorers team is excited to participate in the annual conference of the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) this weekend in Hartford, Connecticut. Large and small science museums from around the world are gathering at the Connecticut Convention Center to share and reflect on their successful (and not-so-successful) exhibits and programs.
The International Space Station (ISS) National Lab shares some important goals with science museums. Both want to help cultivate a workforce that will keep the U.S. globally competitive, which requires improving Americans’ competence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Space Station Explorers seeks to influence STEM education both within and outside the classroom and support K-12 education by providing standards-aligned resources and teacher professional development. At the same time, we are broadening our reach by developing innovative learning experiences for out-of-school settings including after-school programs, libraries, camps, clubs, makerspaces, and more.
Like museums, we build these learning experiences around the facilities and personnel that make us unique. For a museum, that means designing programs that engage learners with its particular collections, exhibits, and education staff. For Space Station Explorers, it means connecting learners with the research activities and astronauts on the ISS National Lab. Like museum programs, we emphasize inquiry-driven, hands-on activities that help people recognize the importance of science and engineering in everyday life.
Another major parallel between Space Station Explorers and science museums is the kind of engagement we value most. Although we certainly want to teach people about the research happening on the ISS, we don’t judge our success by how many new science facts people take home from our programs. It’s much more important to excite and inspire learners and to engage them in the processes of experimentation and engineering design. We empower learners with the motivation and tools to pursue their own investigations.
All these commonalities show why Space Station Explorers is such a good fit for the ASTC conference. We will interact with hundreds of museum professionals, sharing ISS resources and learning about best practices for developing new programs and scaling up existing programs. We will hear how museums have dealt with the challenges and setbacks they’ve encountered. We will get glimpses of the newest, most innovative exhibits and programs around the world. We will see how museums are engaging their local communities and addressing topics where scientific, social, and political interests intersect. And we’ll learn about their digital strategies and how they are adapting to the shifting social media landscape.
The ASTC conference will let us continue the momentum we’ve been building all year. We’ve added new members to the Space Station Explorers Consortium and have participated in new events, including the wildly popular Maker Faires in San Francisco and New York City. We now have more than ever to offer science museums, and we look forward to learning from them.