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a young girl wearing a face mask drops stones into buckets suspended on a pulley
September 22, 2020

Dear Friend of the Museum,

It would be a huge understatement to say this is a September unlike any other.

As schools have re-opened, parents are facing the challenge of being more involved in supporting their child’s learning. Families have experienced emotional distress, financial challenges, threats to basic needs, and unprecedented disruption of their daily lives. Just how school will work remains a big question for many. Since many systems are still in flux, parents may not know how much of their child’s school year will involve full-time at-home learning, partially being in schools (hybrid), or a full-time return to the classroom. 

There is great uncertainty about the academic year even as educators put together resourceful strategies to try to meet educational goals. We know that both parents and educators are concerned about social and emotional learning for kids in a distanced learning environment. How will developmentally appropriate relationship building take place for kids? How can stress-relieving, restorative fun happen? What about interactive, hands-on learning? Parents and educators are looking for new opportunities to help overcome some of the limits presented by this unprecedented school year.

How best can the Discovery Museum help? We have been working to answer this question. The Museum has always been more than a rainy-day destination. It has always been an important supplement and enhancement to the formal education system, a place that extends and expands kids’ learning—particularly STEAM learning. Our hands-on engagement methods have always helped kids make connections between school and the world around them. These things have not changed, but the ways in which we enable them to happen must. Our commitment is to be here for parents, children, and educators this school year—as always.

To that end, the Museum has developed Parent-Assisted STEAM Experiences (PASE). The PASE program builds on the STEAM learning inherent in the Discovery Museum’s exhibits and programs, enhancing familiar, fun, and inviting Museum experiences with new resources to help parents to support appropriate learning goals for their children. PASE experiences are designed to support families during their visits to the Museum and while learning at home, and to provide educators with enhancements to their own classroom lessons.

Supporting Families: in the Museum

A cornerstone of PASE will be Exploration and Learning Guides as a resource for adults who want prompts for ways to explore each gallery’s STEAM topic with their child. The short, easy-to-read Guides contain suggestions for observing, questioning, investigating, predicting, and discussing content found in the Massachusetts State Science and Technology/Engineering Framework and the Massachusetts State Mathematics Framework, but their primary purpose is to help caregivers co-navigate their child’s explorations and learn together. The Guides will be available as a free resource that can be explored before a family visits the Museum, during a visit to the Museum, and post-visit for the important follow-up conversations and activities that reinforce learning. The Guides will be supported by visual cues throughout the Museum in easy to recognize and follow prompts.

Museum staff will receive extra Helping Parents Help their Kids training which will allow and encourage them to be available to parents throughout their Museum visit, to help model learning supports. Staff will be trained to help empower parents to take a lead role in guiding their own and their child’s learning—a rewarding experience that feeds a sense of wonder and engagement with the world beyond even the Museum walls. Staff will be available to jump in and help answer questions or make suggestions, but parents will feel supported to provide their child with a successful learning experience.

The Museum will also offer Discovery in Depth, staff-facilitated deep dives into specific exhibits or science topics. Museum staff will help families engage in an exploration organized around age-appropriate learning standards. These deeper dives will provide children with more time and materials to investigate the connections among the experiences and key concepts they are likely exploring with their teachers. Discovery in Depth experiences might include manipulations of the harmonograph exhibit in the Yes! It’s Math gallery, woodworking in the da Vinci Workshop, or an examination of forces in the Simple Machines gallery.

Supporting Families: at Home

Equally important are ways to extend the learning after a Museum visit, as well as for those who are not able to visit. Our free Discovery at Home learning activities outline fun and educational STEAM explorations that can be done at home with simple household materials. Organized by topics including math, engineering, the outdoors, kitchen science, and more, the activities are outlined through video, brief and clear instructions, and links to other educational resources. 

Exploration Kits that support certain Discovery at Home experiences or favorite science topics will be available at the Museum or through online ordering. Unique activity kits with detailed instructions will be structured around a Museum gallery (Light & Color, Water, Air, Sound, Yes, It’s Math!, or the da Vinci Workshop) and include select materials and tools for children to use to explore their home and its environs. The kits will include both open-ended exploration ideas and project-based activities.

We are also exploring offering Talk To an Expert video chat sessions, where kids and parents can share their learning experiences with a Museum staffer and explore additional ideas, ask questions, or just get a chance to brag about what they have learned or done through our Discovery at Home or Exploration Kit resources, or their own explorations.  

Supporting Teachers and Students Virtually: in School or at Home

Since 1992 we have supplemented the school experience with our Traveling Science Workshops: fun, hands-on, interactive, MA state-curriculum aligned STEM workshops taught in the classroom by a Museum educator. Recognizing the restrictions of the 2020-21 school year, this summer we worked with teachers, administrators, and specialists who helped us to re-envision our in-class workshops as Virtual Traveling Science Workshops, with COVID-19 protocols and safety standards in place. We are thrilled to continue to offer unique Discovery Museum experiences that provide fun, hands-on, material rich learning; reach all students, both those in the classroom and at home; support grade-specific STEM curriculum needs, grades PreK to 8; and offer low cost, high-value enrichment.

Virtual Traveling Science Workshops preserve our greatest feature: live workshops with talented STEM instructors, offering engaging, hands-on experiences. Workshops are streamed live to encourage interaction and as with all our workshops, students are enjoying all the fun as active participants. Individual student materials will be safely packaged and delivered to the school well in advance of the workshop to allow for timely distribution to students. These workshops are available for booking now.

We are also developing a new way for teachers and students to experience some of the learning that takes place during a class Field Trip to the Museum. In consultation with teachers, administrators, and specialists, we are creating Field Trips on Tour. Kits of materials paired with teacher curriculum guides and student activity guides will enable students to learn through hands-on experiences with everyday materials and explore some of the science content in our Museum galleries. We are currently looking for schools to help pilot this new offering, with curriculum-themed student kits that will be delivered to schools.

In late spring we launched our Teacher Resources for Distance Learning content series to support teachers and students grappling with the move to remote instruction and learning. These resources provide fun, hands-on, MA state curriculum-aligned explorations—using common household materials—modeled after beloved Museum exhibits such as Sisyphus, Pour & Explore, Pipes of Pan, and Bernoulli Blowers and popular Traveling Science Workshops including Sound, Force & Motion, Weather & Climate, and Simple Machines. The explorations are written for independent learning by an older child, or for younger children with the help of a caregiver or sibling.

Continued Support of Parents

Drawing on experts from outside the Museum community, the Discovery Museum Speaker Series will continue into 2021 as a virtual series. An upcoming October event will focus on back-to-school concerns:

Virtual Event: Coronavirus and Family Mental Health

Thursday, October 8, 2020 - 7:00pm to 8:30pm

Speaker: Gene Beresin, M.D., Executive Director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Beresin lectures widely on behalf of the Clay Center’s mission to promote and support the mental, emotional, and behavioral well-being of children, teens, and young adults. The Center is experienced in supporting families with both neurotypical and neurodiverse children. 

In this event, Dr. Beresin will address the realities of the start of the school year by addressing questions submitted in advance by event registrants. Click here to learn more and register.

Other upcoming Speaker Series events include Climate Change and Mental Health on September 24 with Dr. Jay Lemery, and The Psychology of Artistic Behavior in Children on October 21 with Dr. Ellen Weiner. More information and registration links can be found on our website. 

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This fall we'd like parents and educators to take a fresh look at the Museum and see the “Discovery Museum way” as an impactful support for them in their support of our young learners. We hope our new set of resources and offerings will do just that, but we will continue to gather feedback and adjust and expand as needed. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, please let me know at ngordon@discoveryacton.org.

Aside from all these efforts to support learning, it is important to remember that the Discovery Museum is an effective respite from the confusing and disorienting world of Zoom classes and unfamiliar interactions. The Museum’s exhibits and programs provide a fun exploration that, while educationally valuable, is also a social and emotional relief valve. The simple joy of having fun together is more important than ever for families.

Be well,

 

Neil

PS If you’d like to help support our work, please consider buying a membership or even renewing an existing membership early—we are currently offering 25% off all memberships!—or if you are able, please consider a donation. We very much need your help to address the severe financial effects of our closure for four months due to COVID-19.