The Sciencenter's Quarterly Education Newsletter
Working Together to Think Critically
Sciencenter educators are helping professors and researchers at Cornell University to communicate their research to a broader audience. According to researchers like
Meena Selvakumar and Martin Storksdieck
, science museums are well-suited to help the public to understand current scientific research. At the same time, scientists are looking for ways to communicate their research through one-on-one engagement and activities with a public audience. Using the
Portal to the Public model
, Sciencenter educators lead science communication workshops for Cornell professors and researchers. These workshops provide attendees with both a venue to share their research, and training tools on effective communication with public audiences.
During the training workshops, researchers learn to engage a public audience through hands-on activities. For example, experiencing discrepant or unexpected events can lead to questioning assumptions and making new inferences. At the end of the workshop, researchers share their activities with Sciencenter guests through programs like
Participate in collecting scientific data and conducting research by engaging in a citizen science project, o
r experiment with discrepant events at home! Then, talk about your discoveries with your family.
Science for All Ages
How children learn about the world around them
Early Explorers (ages 0 - 5)
To think critically, it is crucial to first have an understanding of how the world around us works. Children develop these skills over time so thinking critically can be a challenge when toddlers experience an event, action, or reaction for the first time. As Roberta Golinkoff, PhD, and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD, say in their book
Becoming Brilliant, it is difficult for toddlers to understand that there is more than what meets the eye and that seeing is not always believing.
Theory of Mind, or the ability to recognize that other people can have different thoughts and beliefs than our own, explains how for children, seeing is believing.
from MIT's Early Childhood Cognition Lab and the Lookit project further explains what Theory of Mind and false beliefs look like in young children.
Adults can assist children in the quest to think critically by supporting exploration through play.
Here are some activities
that adults can facilitate to help children build their critical thinking skills as they discover the world around them.
Young Scientists (ages 5 - 11)
Sciencenter educators have a special responsibility when interacting with guests. When communicating science content to children, Sciencenter educators try not to be viewed as experts who are on-hand to tell museum guests everything they need to know, but as experts in helping them tap into their own critical thinking skills so they may make their own scientific discoveries. The Sciencenter's educators encourage children to explore, experiment, and ask questions so that they learn to trust their own ability to find information and think critically.
In the same way, parents and caregivers are crucial mentors for their children in developing the critical thinking skills needed to explore and analyze scientific evidence. Simple, everyday conversations and interactions can build the critical thinking skills that children will use later in life to help them choose a mortgage lender, diagnose an illness, or identify a reliable news source.
Current psychological research
supports the idea that when a child explores a museum exhibit alongside their caregiver, the child spends more time and care weighing the relevant evidence to form scientific arguments, than when the child explores the same exhibit alone. The gentle, playful conversations that children have with their caregivers at Sciencenter exhibits can inspire them to think more thoroughly about the topic at hand.
Challenge your child to a riddle game like
Green Glass Doors
. Once they know how it works, encourage them to make up their own riddle to challenge you!
Future Science Leaders (ages 11 - 14)
Making Discoveries through Prototyping
In middle school and beyond, teenage children are increasingly expected to engage in critical thinking. At this developmental stage, the
National Education Association
states: "Significant intellectual processes are emerging. Adolescents are moving from concrete to abstract thinking and to the beginnings of metacognition (the active monitoring and regulation of thinking processes). They are developing skills in deductive reasoning, problem solving, and generalizing." These skills all relate to and support the development of critical thinking.
Here at the Sciencenter we support the development of critical thinking skills in our middle school Future Science Leaders (FSL) by engaging them in the exhibit prototyping process. We challenge our FSL members to explore and research an area of STEM such as local invasive species or ocean currents. They then use what they have learned to develop an interactive exhibit as a way to share their knowledge with others. They build and test multiple versions of their exhibit and make modifications
based on guest and peer feedback. This process allows the FSL to create a clear and focused message that guests of all ages can understand while engaging with the FSL's prototype exhibit.
Many of our Future Science Leaders join the program first as a Counselor-in-Training at our summer camp sessions. Learn more about the
FSL CIT+ program
, open to students entering 7th through 9th grade in the fall of 2018.
Collaborative for Early Science Learning:
A Sciencenter-led partnership of museum
professionals working with Head Start
Creating a successful professional development plan for educators takes careful planning. Being
intentional in the structure of your program increases the likelihood that you will achieve your desired impact.
Host organizations should plan to test and retest techniques to find what works for your particular site or set of teachers. Thinking critically about your practice from the start is the best way to ensure the attendees leave the program with the confidence and knowledge to take lesson plans back to their classroom.
It is also important to be intentional about how teachers learn the material. One strategy that may help your teachers absorb the material is the jigsaw strategy. Attendees are broken into small groups and program leaders assign each table a different topic. Attendees are then asked to present their topic to another group. This gives them experience setting up the activity and presenting the new topic -- skills that are necessary in the classroom. Additionally, this method allows the educators to discuss how they could implement the lesson and decide if they need to make any adaptations. Using this strategy allows each teacher to think critically about the content and how they would implement the lessons so they are better equipped to take the information back to the classroom.
The Collaborative for Early Science Learning was made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Save the Date for
Sciencenter Summer Camp Registration!
Sciencenter Summer Camp combines fun and games with exciting, hands-on science activities, experiments, field trips, visits from special presenters, and museum exploration.
Sciencenter Summer Camp is open to children entering kindergarten through grade 6 in the fall.
Science enthusiasts entering grades 7 - 9 are invited to apply for intern positions in the Future Science Leaders Counselor-in-Training+ Program.