AAfter 18 grueling months of closures and pandemic protocols, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas had started to see signs of returning visitors, bringing their children for hands-on science experiments and schools planning field trips.

“We are clearly seeing pent-up demand,” said Linda Silver, CEO of the Perot Museum.

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Schools are feeling the pressure, she said. Grade 5 science grades dropped sharply last year. Not only was science on the back burner while schools double to save reading and math, what happened in science education lacked grip.

“Science is best taught in practical, experimental and participatory ways,” said Silver. It just couldn’t happen with half the class in distance learning, as it did in many schools.

Teachers will be under immense pressure to help children gain traction, and quickly. With that in mind, Texas museums present themselves as a great asset for teachers by offering lesson plans and guides to help visiting classes get the most out of the exhibits. But with the pandemic and the more contagious Delta variant as unpredictable as ever, museums are also providing videos and other tools when field trips are not possible.

Regardless, museum officials plan to continue promoting curiosity, an attribute they believe will help children get the most out of STEM education in the classroom.

At the DoSeum, a children’s art and science museum in San Antonio, vice president of education, Dr. Richard Kissel and his team are preparing a series of lesson plans based on the curriculum standards of the Texas.

Online lesson plans help teachers prepare for upcoming field trips, so the various exhibits can be used primarily as lab equipment designed to effectively teach concepts, but also to build curiosity and awareness. wonder that will propel learning.

Even when news of the Delta variant broke, Silver and his colleagues remained committed to getting their hands on STEM experiences from kids this year. Unlike the chaotic cancellations and unknowns of spring 2020, Silver said, the museum has contingency plans ready to go, and they’re good.

In fact, some of the tools they developed specifically for the pandemic will continue regardless of what Delta has in store. “We are planning several scenarios,” she said.

If schools do not organize field trips this year, the Perot Museum will still reach around 300,000 students through its outreach programs. Hands-on STEM projects often require more materials and personnel than low-cost after-school programs can afford, so the museum sends TECH (Tinker, Engineer, Create, and Hack) trucks to vendors in the Dallas area. During the pandemic, TECH Trucks also distributed Wonderkits, take-out boxes containing projects and experiments for children to do at home.

The Perot Museum TECH Truck takes the science museum experience to the community, a way for kids to get their hands on the STEM experience, even when school trips aren't happening.  (Courtesy of the Perot Museum of Nature and Sciences)

The Perot Museum TECH Truck takes the Science Museum experience to the community, a way for kids to get their hands on the STEM experience, even when school trips aren’t happening. (Courtesy of the Perot Museum of Nature and Sciences)

It doesn’t matter if science education takes place outside of the classroom, Silver said. This was the case long before the pandemic. She cited several studies on the role of informal education in providing children with the kind of positive science experience that leads to a lifelong love, if not a career, in STEM fields. Primary school seems to be the prime time for these experiences, Harvard researcher Philip Sadler has found.

Of course, this raises the question of fairness, and who has or does not have access to these informal positive experiences, especially if field trips resume.

With reduced capacity and security protocols, the Perot Museum plans to remain open for now, and while field trips may not be safe, family tours have been safe since the summer. latest.

The Perot Museum wants more families to enjoy the experience, especially those who may not see themselves as the museum’s target audience.

In collaboration with 16 community partners like the North Texas Food Bank and neighborhood groups, the museum offered free memberships to 5,000 families in the Dallas area. The partners usually organize the first group trip to the Perot Museum, and Silver said many return and bring their children.

This first trip is essential, she explained, as it removes non-financial barriers related to culture and level of education that could keep families away.

Currently, participants in the community partnership program make up about 10% of daily museum attendance, as well as those who qualify for $ 1 admission anyone who can prove they are enrolled in a program. public aid.

Whether or not informal tours and field trips may take place during the upsurge in Delta variant cases, Texas students are learning in person and museums are ready to help teachers cultivate curiosity and wonder in the classroom. .

The Perot Museum produced a bilingual scientific show, the Whynauts. Each episode covers topics required by Texas curriculum standards for a given grade range and is available for free on the museum’s website. To date, the program has approximately 60,000 subscribers.

Images from the Perot Museum's online web series, The Whynauts, (Courtesy Groove Jones)

Images from the Perot Museum’s online web series, The Whynauts, (Courtesy Groove Jones)

Silver said, and the museum offers it to schools across the state. Even if a show is not necessarily practical, the Whynauts the episodes create whimsical narratives with real-life uses of things children will learn in class.

Since opening in 2015, The DoSeum has provided professional learning opportunities for teachers to cultivate curiosity and enthusiasm in their classrooms. In addition to numerous one-day programs, the DoSeum has partnered this year with several other local museums to form the Museo Institute, where 40 teachers per year will learn the various tools and techniques used in informal learning environments.

Teachers learn not only to get the most out of a field trip, but also to translate the methods in the classroom.

With a “slight turnaround” in the way it’s taught, Kissel said, so much is possible in STEM education.

“If you don’t have (the curiosity and wonder) you won’t get as far as you would like,” Kissel said. It can be difficult, he knows, because the content and history of science – definitions, names of scientists, etc. – are just the beginning.

Even more critical is the ongoing process of understanding, he said. The more interested the students, the more they will appreciate and absorb this content.

While these open, inquiry-based experiences are important, Kissel said, teachers don’t need to feel the same pressure they feel when it comes to presenting grade-level content to children. Children don’t “fall behind” in wonder and curiosity. In his experience as a researcher and educator, he said, “Scientists are just those kids who never stopped asking, ‘Why? “”

The scientific process can come to life for any child at any time, he said, and museums will be there to light the fire.

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