Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

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Youth Exploring Science


Conference: 
MW2008
Institution: 
The Youth Exploring Science program at the Saint Louis Science Center
Designer: 
in-house, no official budget or programmer. 150 amazing YES teen authors and contributors, though. It all equals out in the end.
Why: 

I nominate the YES site for the best on-line community category because I feel it accomplishes something unique: it represents the authentic voice of an audience that is underrepresented in museum visitorship AND the field of science. Youthexploringscience.com showcases this audience and their engagement with the 'content area' of a museum that can be difficult to capture online (a science museum with limited collections on display, as opposed to cataloging reactions to certain objects or collections.) It should also be noted that the audience represented by the community (YES teens) is traditionally labeled with 'science avoidance.' In the YES program, teens demonstrate confidence in various scientific disciplines by engaging in inquiry-based Learning Labs and work-based skill workshops. Teens also demonstrate their understanding of core STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts by facilitating hands-on activities, workshops, and demonstrations to a variety of public audiences. YES projects and activities are captured through multiple Web 2.0 avenues that are aggregated on the drupal-based site, including weekly blog posts, Flickr pictures, Instructables, Blip.tv, and del.icio.us. Although I'm not nominating this site for the Educational category, the educational foundation of the site should be considered (as part of fostering the community). The blogs are written and posted directly to the site, without a 'queue.' One important pedagogical benefit of blogging is the immediacy that it provides to users: by making the teens wait for someone to 'approve' posts, the advantage is negated. In addition, this creates an atmosphere of suspicion: what might you post that is inappropriate? This may seem like a tiny detail: it isn't. With the population of students that the YES program works with (urban students facing multiple risk factors, overwhelmingly attending dangerous and failing schools) suspicion and mistrust comprise the atmosphere traditionally associated with learning. The YES program constantly strives to reshape the students' perceptions: of learning, learning environments, their own 'smartness,' relationships with adults, their future orientation, etc. We have adopted the policy of 'radical trust' with our teens, and it has yet to be even minimally violated. Teens are also allowed to post unedited: although this leads to grammar errors, content inaccuracy, and spelling mistakes, it is a more respectful way to honor and therefore encourage the teens thoughts. Coaching YES teens towards the formal register is part of the blogging process. However, all thoughts, reflections and contributions are given the same value. Growth in blogging skills (and underlying literacy) is a process, stunting this through making certain articulations 'incorrect' would be shortsighted. This would simply feed back into negative associations with formal education. Is the site about being 'right' or fostering the intellectual development and engagement of our academically fragile teens? It was an easy decision. The goals of youthexploringscience.com are: 1) Create a vehicle for showcasing and deepening the science inquiry of YES teens, both to internal and external audiences 2) Create a community within the YES site with active participation from YES teens, youth volunteers, program staff, grant evaluators, parents and collaborating science, technology, engineering and math professionals. 3) Introduce authentic technology experiences to YES teens through participation in viable web communities, and aggregate all of those artifacts in one place 4) Provide a relevant forum for literacy growth of site participants, including reading, writing and critical thinking by way of publishing personal, academic, and work-based reflections 5) Contribute to the collective imagery and artifact of African American and other minority groups engaged in STEM, providing associative models for other urban youth to see 'their own' reflected within the culture of science. Some representative posts that should not be missed: http://youthexploringscience.com/blog/ariel001/physically-handicap (teen blogging a connection between an activity and the design process for their community site) http://youthexploringscience.com/blog/natalie001/inquiry-should-help-develop-learning-places http://youthexploringscience.com/blog/najma001/changing-the-classroom (blog posts on science inquiry incorporated into space design) http://youthexploringscience.com/blog/kiontey001/yes-2-tech-saving-energy-and-meeting-new-people (blog post on wind turbine research and and the making of an outside connection) http://youthexploringscience.com/blog/dominic001/patience-is-a-virtue http://youthexploringscience.com/blog/robyn001/the-right-way-to-teach http://youthexploringscience.com/blog/jamiah001/teachers-kids-teacher-kids-teachers http://youthexploringscience.com/blog/andrea001/i-have-a-new-blog-check-it-out-coming-from-a-teachers-point-of-view (blog posts about the teens' teaching experiences)

Nominated By: 
Year: 
2008