Update from our CEO January 9, 2014

Dear Friend of the Museums,

Why is there a doorway in the woods at The Discovery Museums?

Surprising things, little discoveries, can be the sparks that ignite curiosity, imagination, and exploration.  Here is the story one mom told us about the encounter she and her almost 4-year-old had with that doorway in the woods.  We will call him "George":

Says Mom, "George discovers the door in the woods, goes through it to the other side, closes the door (with me on the side we had approached, which I presumed to be the outside) and says, 'Now you're shut in the cage!'  I said, 'Wait!  You just went in!  I'm on the outside!'  He said, 'No, Mommy, you're on the inside.  I'm on the outside!' and proceeded to walk around the door frame to my side, as proof that he was on the outside and 'free.'  After a few minutes of playing, without changing sides, George says, 'Now I'm on the inside!'  This was very interesting interaction for me, and evidence that there are all kinds of assumptions we adults make about our world that in fact constrain our view of things---and are not naturally shared by children.  I'd never thought that George and I didn't define 'inside' and 'outside' using the same standards...and without that door in the woods I'd never have learned it!"

One of the best things about this story is that both George and his mom discovered something.  George discovered a bit about relative points of view and how perspective matters. Mom discovered the complex and creative ways in which her son interprets the world around him.

This kind of open-ended experience--an unexpected doorway on a wooded path--is exactly what we try to create with all our exhibits.  Experiences that prompt thinking, that allow visitors (kids, parents and caregivers) to not only react to an exhibit, but to also bring their own experiences, understanding, and knowledge to the moment. They have the chance to manipulate physical items (George tried both sides of the door) and see how that alters their insights.

We love hearing stories like this. Unfortunately we don't have easy way to count discoveries, insights, inspiration, and similar moments. We are left to count concrete things. On those counts 2013 a very successful year at The Discovery Museums.

Last year was our second best year ever in terms of the number of people we served (we served more people in 2012, our 30th Anniversary year).  Almost 172,000 people came through the doors of the museums or were served in schools, preschools, or community sites.  We continue to try to make sure we reach all who could benefit, and through our Open Door Connections program we served 40,431--24% of the total--either for free or highly subsidized.  Our Traveling Science Workshops program had its most successful year ever, reaching more than 27,000 students with more than 1,200 workshops delivered in elementary schools, preschools, and middle schools.  Financially the museum grew revenue by 6.3% over 2012, and has grown by 41.1% since 2009, allowing us to serve more families in more ways. 

We are proud of the growth in many of our existing efforts, but also with the launching of some key new initiatives in 2013.  These include:

AirPlay - Our newest exhibit lets kids explore the fascinating properties of moving air in fun and surprising ways.  AirPlay was developed in collaboration with museum colleagues and exhibit professionals in the Exhibit Lab collaborative funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. The exhibit is generously sponsored by MEFA's U.Fund and Fidelity Investments.

The Discovery Museums Speaker Series - These free events bring together expert voices on matters of importance to children and families for engaging dialogs with the community.  Topics relate broadly to our aim to inspire creativity and curiosity in children, expose kids to inspirational and memorable STEM experiences, and serve as a resource to parents on the developmental needs of young learners. The series is presented in partnership with the MIT Club of Boston.

Portal to the Public / Science Communications Fellowship - Our Portal to the Public program offers scientists and researchers the opportunity to learn how to present

and discuss their work to the public, in order to promote a greater appreciation and understanding of science, technology, engineering and math. They receive training and support to develop a hands-on activity that showcases an area of their work, and then deliver it to visitors during a public program called Meet the Scientists. Scientists from MathWorks, Tufts, Brandeis University, Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard University, Fitchburg State and Boston College participated in the 2013 inaugural session and became our first group of Science Communication Fellows.

Natural Connections - This new program, piloted with 3rd to 5th graders enrolled in the Maynard Excel after-school program, gives students the

chance to explore, experience and connect with the woods and conservation land around the museums--and all that inhabits these areas--to learn more about the natural world. It is generously funded by the Sudbury Foundation.

Make A MESS - The Make a MESS (Math, Engineering, Science, & Stuff) program series engages preschoolers, families, and teachers in a variety of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) concepts through exploration, imagination, and fun.  It is generously funded by the Ramsey McCluskey Family Foundation.

We have some important plans for 2014 and look forward to sharing them with you throughout the year. We intend to create new opportunities for all parts of our community to make use of The Discovery Museums.  We want to continue to expand the ways in which people of all ages can learn and discover new things. And we want to move our plans to expand and renovate the museum ahead in a big leap.  For all of these things, we need your continued engagement, encouragement, and support, for which we thank you.

All the best in 2014!  Happy New Year!

Neil H. Gordon

Chief Executive Officer