April 15-18, 2009
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Demonstrations: Description

Merging the physical and the virtual in science education

Angela McNew, Children's Museum of Indianapolis, USA
Rick Crosslin, The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, USA

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is the largest children’s museum in the world. The museum’s mission is to provide extraordinary family learning experiences. In recent years, the museum has explored using technology to create new opportunities that extend beyond physical exhibits, utilizing the web to create new programs that enhance and extend visitors’ museum experiences. One such program called SciencePort® combines distance learning with hands-on science investigations.

In 2007, the museum launched SciencePort® - an innovative science investigation center located within the nationally-recognized ScienceWorks in the Dow Science Center exhibit. Designed for both schools and families, SciencePort® consists of virtual activities that can be accessed via the web at home or school, as well as staff-led investigation activities at the museum. Participants register and receive a "mission" online through the museum's SciencePort® website where they have the opportunity to explore content including videos and virtual activities. Families and school groups visit museum to begin their experience at the SciencePort® Headquarters (HQ), working with staff to explore special areas of the museum's galleries, participate at activity stations and take part in facilitated scientific investigations. Once they return home or to their classroom, schools and families can conduct further experiments and activities to extend their learning. SciencePort® participants exercise free choice in when they learn, where they learn and what they learn.

SciencePort® Headquarters is filled with state-of-the art multimedia equipment including a digital microscope, HD Video Camera, digital presenter and a Smart Board. At the heart of SciencePort® is a learning management system called Angel Learning, a learning management system typically used by universities and school systems to store and share information that can be accessed by students, their families, etc. SciencePort® uses this interactive online system so that teachers and families can connect with museum staff and share their findings from their investigations with other participants. The investigations use video and animation to teach scientific concepts like biotechnology. Participants watch video presentations online to orient to their learning module, to meet scientists and other professionals, and view storylines that make informal science education exciting, fun and engaging.

Once participants have completed a science investigation at home or in school, they are invited back to visit the museum’s SciencePort® Headquarters to celebrate their success. Visitors to SciencePort® Headquarters can create videos in a studio, or create animations with a stop action camera, and post them online in the learning module’s web site. Following their visit, they can continue to conduct further experiments and activities to extend their learning from home or the classroom and share those findings online with other SciencePort® participants.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is continually working to build on the success of the first series of sciences investigations and to develop more virtual investigations focused on science and humanities that complement the museum’s family learning exhibits.

Demonstration: Demonstrations 1 [Close Up]

Keywords: LMS, distance, education, science, children, family