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Program policies and procedures

EXPLORIT SCIENCE CENTER
PHILOSOPHY AND PRACTICE

QUICK START GUIDE

This version created January 2006 as a result of a conversation at a S.C.I.E.N.C.E. committee meeting and updated at intervals. Similar official guidelines are provided in the 30 page document "Why, What & How" produced in 1990.  

SOURCES - For reference for further information:

  • “Articles of Incorporation” and “Bylaws”
  • “Long Range Plan 2000 – 2005”
  • "Proposal for Development of the Southern Portion of Central Park " submitted to the City of Davis in 1985
  • “Strategic Planning Board Retreat, February 1992”
  • “What Why and How” official reference for all education and exhibition programs last updated 1996.
  • “Explorit’s Board handbook” (updated periodically)
  • Explorit Program Handbook 

EXPLORIT'S MISSIONS

• 1987: To present important concepts of science in a friendly and involving way to children and adults 
• 1990: To present important concepts of science in a friendly and involving way to children and adults  
      -to involve people in the process of science 
      -to communicate the excitement of science
      -to inspire young people to pursue careers in science
• 1992 & 2000: To involve people in science experiences that touch our lives.
• 2012: To ignite and foster curiosity about science and nature through inquiry and discovery.

INTRODUCTION

Explorit Science Center was founded in 1982 to address an on-going need in the community for informal science education opportunities for children and adults. Originally called the Davis Science Center, this dynamic non-profit organization has grown into a regional center for science learning that serves people throughout Sacramento, Solano, Yolo and surrounding counties. From the beginning, our focus has been on science, math, and technology education using our distinctive hands-on style that engages people of all ages and backgrounds in the joy and rewards of learning.

The following statement, an early expression of our philosophy was initially formally expressed and approved in written form in February 1985:

"The Davis Science Center (sic) is a place for recreation and a place where wonder and curiosity can be stimulated, but it is much more than that. It is charged in its Articles of Incorporation with providing instruction in and dissemination of information about science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. The Davis Science Center provides access to information about science in a public facility to people of all ages. Its particular emphasis is to present science through the practical reality of experiment and personal experience. Its programs emphasize the inter-relatedness of the sciences and their relationship to, and impact on, our everyday lives. The Davis Science Center's programs are a way of obtaining informal education which can contribute significantly to formal education by encouraging attitudes of questioning and logical, disciplined thinking which are integral to good science and to all other intellectual pursuits." 

WHAT ARE EXPLORIT’S STATED PURPOSES

A. From the Articles of Incorporation (1983)

"The specific purpose of this corporation is to establish and develop a nonprofit community science center for the purpose of instruction in, dissemination of information about, and stimulation of interest in science, mathematics and engineering."

B. From the Bylaws (1984 through current version)

Article I, Section 1. Objective and Purposes:

 The primary objectives and purposes of this corporation shall be:

1. to operate a regional public science center, initially located in Davis, California that will promote and sustain an interest in and an awareness of science, mathematics, and engineering among children and adults;

2. to offer classes, workshops, and lectures that provide instruction in science, mathematics, and engineering for children and adults;

3. to purchase or construct exhibits that illustrate principles of science, mathematics, and engineering through a discovery process involving active ("hands-on") participation;

4. to arrange and/or sponsor special events that have a science, mathematics and engineering emphasis.

C. From the "Proposal for Development of the Southern Portion of Central Park " submitted to the City of Davis in 1985 as a response to an RFP published by the City.

The Davis Science Center will:

1. Offer a wide variety of activities and programs about science to the community: school children, teens, university students, adults, seniors.

2. Provide a community place for discovery about the multifaceted world around us.

3. Encourage active participation in learning and "hands-on" manipulation of materials and equipment.

4. Awaken an appreciation of the natural laws which link us to the world around us.

5. Bring together all facets of science - biology, chemistry, physics, geology, mathematics, technology, engineering and architecture, art music, or photography.

6. Be a place where people of all ages and all levels of knowledge may come to question and seek answers through discovery as it is related to their own interests and experiences.

7. Provide a bridge between experts and the general public who come together in an informal learning environment.

8. Provide resources for ideas and training for teachers and parents eager to augment children's science education.

9. Offer programs that complement and supplement K-12 science education in schools.

10. Provide a place where community members may volunteer their knowledge and skills for the benefit of others. 

WHAT IS OUR SPECIAL APPROACH?

 Explorit’s goal is to spark a lasting curiosity and interest in science. We believe the most effective way to do this is through interactive, inquiry-based learning. Since Explorit’s beginning, we have developed and refined a distinctive approach to science education:

HANDS-ON AND MINDS-ON

Participants in Explorit’s programs engage in the process of actively doing science - children and adults formulate questions, devise ways to test them and make observations using familiar everyday materials as well as the tools of science. Through this unique approach, program participants are at the center of activity and become fully engaged in learning.

INFORMAL AND ACCESSIBLE

Through thoughtful design, we create an atmosphere that is informal, comfortable and appealing to families. Multi-generational interaction is encouraged and various programs create a bridge for shared learning between the general public, amateur enthusiasts and professional scientists. By taking programs “on the road” we make them accessible to diverse audiences.

RELEVANT AND INTERDISCIPLINARY

Program topics are selected to relate to the personal interests and experiences of people of various ages, backgrounds and levels of knowledge. Our interdisciplinary approach brings together all facets of science - physics, chemistry, biology, geology, mathematics, technology, engineering - and draws upon the unique science resources of our region.

COMPLEMENTING FORMAL EDUCATION

Explorit’s various programs for school age children are designed to supplement and extend formal science education in schools, support state and national science education standards and provide resources and training for teachers and parents eager to augment children’s science education.

WHAT IMPACTS DO WE WANT OUR SERVICES/PROGRAMS TO HAVE?

Through our variety of programs we strive to:

nurture understanding of the science in our lives

stimulate curiosity in people of all ages

instill confidence in people that they can do and understand science

increase public access to science resources, experts and information

improve attitudes toward science and scientists

spark interest in science careers among youth

enrich people’s lives through the joy of learning

inspire appreciation of the wonders of our world

empower individuals to make informed choices

encourage stewardship of the earth’s resources

WHAT ARE EXPLORIT'S CORE PROGRAMS?

We offer a wide range of programs involving science, math and technology.

Core program activities at Explorit include:

permanent and changing public exhibitions

tours and classes based on exhibitions

tours and classes on various subjects or topics

weekend family programs,

presentations by visiting scientists,

children’s classes

science clubs 

Core program activities that travel to other sites and localities include:

classroom outreach lessons,

After-school programs

family science nights in schools,

science assemblies

teacher workshops

WHAT IS EXPLORIT'S SPECIAL STYLE?

In what way is Explorit different from many - perhaps most - other science centers?

Explorit has a particular style and it developed it on purpose! It developed its style because it fit the philosophy of the founders, because it made Explorit stand out from the crowd, and because it works! This style matured slowly over a period of years in response to the expressed and demonstrated needs and interests of clients as well as to the capabilities of the staff and the facilities in which the Center operated. The style described here has been defined, approved and formally adopted as a pre-eminently guiding force for Explorit's programming.

An excerpt from something that our very first Program Director wrote will help describe Explorit’s adopted style.

"Back in the 1980s, what principles did this science center decide it would use to address both the general concerns about the level of science literacy and the burning need to share the sense of wonder and awe about our world? Perhaps we remembered that, in the 13th Century, Roger Bacon wrote, ‘There are two modes of acquiring knowledge, namely, by reasoning and experience.’ Anyway, as we started to put our enthusiastic program guidelines down on visionary-grade paper we said to ourselves:

Let’s use open-ended hands-on experiences

Let’s re-integrate the sciences into everyday living to reflect the real world

Let’s use real science stuff whenever possible

Let’s use generally familiar materials too

Let’s bring Socrates into the classes

Let’s get out to other communities

Let’s include families

Let’s do science for all ages (just figure out how to reach them all!)

Let’s share our enthusiasm that science IS fun

Let’s leave out our personal agendas."

 EXPLORIT'S STYLE AS OFFICIALLY OUTLINED - in 1990

1. To appeal to ALL ages and interests but not every program or activity has to appeal to or be understood by all.

2. To be an appealing place to visit because there is always something intriguing to do no matter what your age, experience or interests.

3. To engage people's involvement by asking questions rather than by making statements. We do not often say, "Here is ..." or "The facts are ...". Instead we tend to say, "What if..." or "Have you wondered about ...?" or "Where, how many, which, how ?"

4. To help people learn "how to discover" so that they can say to themselves not simply “Now I know,” but rather, “Now I know HOW to know.”

5. To draw upon and acknowledge human and material resources at the University and in the community of the region.

6. To provide a mixture of activities - some very basic and easy to relate to, and some quite complex requiring, in the case of exhibits, carefully thought out interpretive signage.

7. To provide plenty of information in varying amounts of detail and at various levels of understanding. In the case of exhibit signage this means using a range of signage sizes and styles.

8. To develop each education or exhibition program topic to be scientific while also being recreational.

9. To develop carefully thought out interdisciplinary themes that help to connect apparently disparate ideas (patterns of change, symmetry, scale, energy, and stability are examples of such concepts);

10. To prepare a different changing exhibit program at least every three months. Each exhibit program to present a carefully chosen and publicized topic.

11. To present itself and its programs in a visually appealing, low key, comfortable way. Colors, textures, signage and information are used to create an atmosphere that is emotionally and intellectually captivating with an appearance that is unique to each topic and draws visitors into the room, creates a visual context for the topic as a whole, offers an alternative focus for those slow to respond to "hands-on", is colorful but serves to intrigue, focus and involve, not distract.

12. To employ experiments, problem solving activities, demonstrations etc. which use the stuff of science and allow the user creative control (within sensible and safe limits) over the use of the materials and equipment.

13. To design exhibit/activities in such a way that a user:

      a. is asked a question and invited to formulate other questions pertaining to the topic

      b. is encouraged to answer these questions by using the materials and apparatus provided

      c. has some control over the way in which he/she interacts

      d. is not directed to a conclusion predetermined by the designer

      e. is given information in a range of formats from simple to complex

      f. can relate the exhibit-activity to every-day life.

14. To avoid activities or exhibits which have predetermined, limited interaction and outcomes.

15. To not rely upon commercial "fabrication" or "construction" as a method of making exhibits. Instead, everyday materials should be gathered and set out to be used to elucidate the concepts. For example: A few wooden blocks and a couple of rectangular pieces of wood can be made by a visitor into slides to experiment with friction.

16. To include opportunities for visitors to leave their mark in an exhibit activity by adding to it in some way. This may be as simple as data added to a chart or as complex as an intrinsic change to an exhibit because the effect of each person's involvement is cumulative.

New programs and Exhibitions - Process and Procedures

PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT PROCEDURES

The following policies and procedures are closely based on those of major museums:

They were derived through intensive discussions with program directors at science centers and museums including those at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and the Oakland Museum.  

Ideas for programs are generally staff generated but are accepted from anyone so long as they have substance and are in written form with substantiation of the idea.
All ideas of substance will be reviewed by the program, exhibit and education directors and by the board public programs committee.
 
In order to be taken seriously an idea must:
    1. appeal to staff and ultimately to trustees but staff interest usually drives the development of a proposal which is then presented to the board which becomes responsible for the funding.
    2. fit into the institution's master plan.  A "trendy" idea that does not exactly fit the master plan might very well be developed as a temporary program or exhibition.  It is not wise to build for long-term use unless the subject and its content are going to be of long term interest and scientific validity or technological currency.  
    3. be of intrinsic interest to our audiences or be an issue that needs to be addressed.
    4. fit the resources of the museum - physical/material resources and staff and other human resources.
    5. be marketable or else affordable out of general funds.
Staff generates the initiative to research an exhibition theme or program topic.  This works best when there is a master plan and the staff is well aware of the general guiding style and content principles (written or unwritten) the Board expects them to abide by.  Staff will of course listen to relevant opinions or suggestions from Board Members at any time.
A written and illustrated proposal is developed for any exhibition theme or program topic that is seriously brainstormed and researched by education, exhibition and science specialist staff.

Explorit Policy and Procedures for Introducing New Exhibit Activities

 (LWJA - 2016)

Background and Purpose 

Explorit’s activity stations (Explorits℠) are foundational to the mission of the center.   They embody the philosophy, style and the mission of Explorit.  These stations serve as key components of our on-site spaces: Exploration Gallery, Discovery Den and Challenge Center, and outdoor activities. They are also the foundations for our traveling programs:  Classroom Adventures and Family Science Night (Science in Your World and Green World Healthy People).  

Explorit staff relies heavily on these activities to conduct their various programs and to help communicate the overall topics of the programs whether on-site or in traveling programs at schools or other venues.   They must be familiar with the activities and be able to incorporate the Explorits℠ in their lesson plans (e.g. for Discovery Lessons).   Similarly, “public hours” staff need familiarity with all activities in order to be most effective in their interactions with the public. Therefore, the process for installation of new activities must integrate staff input at the front-end coupled with pre-installation evaluation and critiques with revisions as needed. 

Successful Explorits℠ in our Exploration Gallery have the following hallmarks and components:

1. They encourage and engage children in nearly un-supervised discovery and open-ended experimentations.  

2. They are attractive, robust and often utilize “everyday”, familiar materials and objects, which help children (and adults) connect to the activity. 

3.  Signage and any related information are very short, very simple and take the form of a question or  “puzzle”.   The signage and other text are not “instructions”, or hints “leading to expected outcomes”, or other “directions” that may detract from the process of discovery, creative problem solving and open-ended experimentation. 

 4. They can include more in-depth content for adults such as broader, contextual materials (e.g. reading or graphic representations).  But these materials and media should not be necessary in order to interact with, and actually  DO the activity.   They should not be the prominent “visual” at the activity.  The diminished use of these materials is extremely important because 80-90% of the total contact time with an Explorit℠ is with groups of children on “field trips”.  During those class field trips, there may be one or a few teachers and a few parents.  In other words, the primary audience is NOT adults for nearly 90% of the time.   

5. Most should have enough universal appeal and interest to work well during Public Hours where families, adults, children all may interact in the Exploration Gallery.   This is a challenge but also an opportunity to use creative approaches.

6. They may have very simple illustrations or photographs that help participants in starting the activity- not in detailed instructions or outcomes.

7. The suite of Explorits℠, or “clusters” of Explorits℠ should provide a common thread within a main topic or a few related topics.  This is especially important because it provides a context and focus for DL’s.  It also provides for gradual or major changes in the focus of activities and thereby helps keep the Gallery “fresh”.     
 

A 2016 “flow-chart” provides a step-wise process for Exploration Gallery Activity (Explorit℠) Incorporation.  It encompasses 6 key actions in order of the process:

1. Topic or Theme Development:  Staff & Program Committee, Workshops and Board input and approval Implemented by Program Director.

2.  Explorit℠ concept and idea development and vetting: staff, volunteers- all based on approved topic or theme.

3.  Explorit℠ design:  objective, materials, signage, maintenance (Staff, volunteers, out-sourcing if necessary)

4. Explorit℠ internal evaluation and vetting: staff; revisions as needed

5.  Approval of timing and methods of installation “on the floor”: Staff  

6. Secondary evaluations and refinements (usually 2-4 months)  

 
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