Update from our CEO, October 2014
"Imagination is more important than knowledge."
These words by Albert Einstein appear on the wall of the Science Discovery Museum. What is not there is the full explanation Einstein gave: "For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand." Imagination--and how to stoke and nurture it in our visitors--is at the core of our focus at the Museums.
Not far from the wall with the Einstein quote sits a very large amethyst, right at eye level for our young visitors. It is a spectacular specimen that visitors can touch and explore. Recently we overheard a conversation between two boys about 6 or 7 years old. They were leaning into the amethyst, their faces inches away from the surface. One had a magnifying glass and said to the other, "Can you imagine if we were really, really small and we could walk in there?" "We'd need special shoes!" "The crystals would be slippery."
"What would we do when we got to the top of one?"
The boys' moms were across the gallery by the sand pendulum, chatting, clearly feeling comfortable that their boys were a few steps away and safe. Because the boys had time to settle in with the crystal and examine it at their own pace and in their own way--touching, feeling, and leaning into it physically--their imaginations were firing. And, they were learning. All of the core foundational skills of great learners and scientists--curiosity, creativity, exploration, experimentation--were getting a healthy workout, and it showed from their conversation.
Our imaginations have been getting a healthy workout as well, as we consider ideas for the future of The Discovery Museums. One idea we have been pursuing is how best to connect the work we do with the latest professional work in early brain research. We are working with a team of early childhood researchers and other experts to develop an exhibit we are referring to as the Brain Building Zone. It will be an exhibit comprised of activities known to shape the developing brain and have a lasting impact on literacy, IQ, and school performance. Parents will find stimulating, creative play opportunities beneficial to the brain development of their children as well as practical advice and hands-on experiences to support their own parenting needs.
We've received strong validation on the importance of this idea, both locally and nationally. We are thrilled that the national Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the
Sudbury Foundation have awarded a combined $300,000 to The Discovery Museums for the development of this important new space. The Sudbury Foundation's support provides an indicator that an exhibit such as this will be an important contribution to our region; selection for the highly-competitive IMLS grant is a sign that our colleagues in the museum industry--the grant is awarded through a 9-month peer review process--think we will develop something new and important in the field.
One of the most imaginative groups we work with is a group of preschoolers and their family day-care providers associated with Acre Family Childcare in Lowell. We recently held our
2nd annual Lowell Community Pre-K STEAM Fair at UMass Lowell. More than 160 children, families, and caregivers turned out to explore displays and hands-on STEAM activities on topics ranging from buoyancy to creative recycling to kitchen chemistry. The exhibits were created by the providers and the children they care for. It was a terrific showing of how the childcare providers had embraced what they'd learned in a series of educational workshops delivered by our staff. It was wonderful to see how they'd brought those concepts to the children they care for, giving them early access to hands-on science that they otherwise may not have experienced.
Support from organizations that share our goal of helping kids to be great learners and future leaders is crucial for our success. We were thrilled that our partnership with one such supporter, MathWorks, was honored recently by the Boston Business Journal. At the BBJ's
Corporate Citizenship Summit last month, The Discovery Museums
and MathWorks received a "Partner of the Year" award for our long-time relationship. Only six non-profits were chosen for this honor. While the public conversation about the critical importance of early childhood education drives forward, we have been acting on this need by partnering with MathWorks, for the past five years, to bring hands-on science into more than 1,300 Pre-K through 8th grade classrooms throughout New England each year. "It fits our big-picture goal of supporting and inspiring students in the area of STEM education. The Discovery Museums are a great example of an organization that aligns with that," said Kevin Lorenc of MathWorks.
The past few months have seen lots of terrific support from others in the community as well. Among our recent supporters: Greater Worcester Community Foundation, Middlesex Savings Bank, Emerson Hospital, Next Step Living, IBM, 3M Company, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Nypro, Deluxe Corporation, Boston Bruins Foundation, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Foundation, and the Yawkey Foundations have all helped support important initiatives at the Museums. With their support, we will be able to do things such as offer free events for families with children with autism spectrum disorder or hearing loss; deliver hands-on science to schools that otherwise would not be able to afford our programs; offer energy conservation programs to visitors; provide free admission on the first Friday night of every month during the school year, and much more.
I very much enjoy the chance to get out and tell our story to the community and to potential partners. Recently I addressed both the Rotary Club of Acton-Boxborough and the Rotary Club of Concord. During these conversations, I inevitably learn that the scope and reach of The Discovery Museums is a surprise to most in the room. The important benefits of our core approaches--putting fun back in learning; providing family-based learning experiences; and emphasizing and supporting the critical foundational skills that all kids need to be successful--truly resonate with the people I speak with. If you belong to or know of a group that might like to hear more about our work, please send your idea along to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy the beautiful Fall!
Neil H. Gordon
Chief Executive Officer