September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Informal Science Learning with Space Shuttle Endeavour – California Science Center / Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center

Posted: Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Kenneth E. Phillips, Ph.D

Learning inside and outside the classroom:

Museums and science centers offer a unique opportunity for learning across generations and age groups. Unlike formal classroom environments in which 5th graders, 10th graders, and graduate students learn separately, great exhibits engage people of all ages around a topic of common interest. Rather than being an exception, learning together is the rule in science centers! This means that informal learning (or free choice learning) involves entire families that encompass a wide range of interests and familiarity with the subject matter. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge with the former being the chance for entire families to explore the world of science together and the latter being the challenge that confronts curators, exhibit designers, A/V specialists and others to create something that is both challenging and accessible by everyone—no small order, indeed!

Of course, STEM learning encompasses both informal and formal settings with the latter being the structured classroom environment with which we are all familiar. The difference isn’t subject matter; rather, it is more a matter of breadth and time. In the science center guests can experience a wide range of subjects in an afternoon and learn a great deal by selecting their own pathways through the subject matter delving in more depth into those areas of greatest interest. In the classroom students have the opportunity for protracted periods of inquiry-based learning but usually within a structured and, often, linear presentation. The two methods of learning are not in conflict but compliment each other remarkably well if each is executed appropriately.



California Science Center 25-year Master Plan:

With the award by NASA of Space Shuttle Endeavour on April 12, 2011, the California Science Center entered the third phase of its 25-year master plan to interpret a world of science through four themes. The first two areas, Creative World and World of Life, opened together in 1998 with Creative World addressing the human-built environment offering hands on learning in the areas of structures, communications and transportation. The second area, World of Life, addresses the five common processes shared by every living organism whether a single-cell life form or a trillion-cell human being.

Phase 2 of the master plan, Ecosystems, takes guests on a tour of eleven different regions of the world. Although each of the 11 has a different theme, the exhibit highlights the common features among ecosystems that appear very different at first glance. This area opened in 2010 and is an innovative blend of hands-on interactive experiences and living collections including many species of animals ranging from desert tortoises to dozens of species of salt water fish. The curator of the salt water tank, Dr. Chuck Kopczak, is experimenting with the growth of live kelp in a captive environment.

Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center:

Science center 1With Endeavour’s arrival the Science Center has embarked on its most ambitious project to date, the 2018 opening of the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. It will feature approximately 200 exhibits, 100 artifacts (including Endeavour) and 10 simulators distributed over three galleries (Air, Space and Shuttle) and four physical levels. This $250-million campaign will result in 70-thousand square feet of exhibit space and the opportunity for numerous informal learning opportunities. Chief among the exhibits is the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Displayed in launch configuration with gantry and circular ramp, guests can ascend the entire length of the vehicle and walk 360-degrees around the vehicle while on the launch pad.

Exhibit Development for Informal Learning:

The process of exhibit development begins with a clear definition of the key education messages that define the gallery along with those education messages that accompany individual exhibit experiences. Conceptual designs capture the experience itself and show how a particular scientific or engineering concept will be interpreted to facilitate learning. For example, see the concept development drawing (left) that shows a science center visitor looking through a mockup of the aft flight deck of a space shuttle orbiter while operating the robot arm that is used to maneuver payloads in and out of the orbiter’s payload bay. Science Center 2Science Center 3This exhibit reinforces education messages about the use of robotic devices to help humans in space. The experience itself requires dexterity and teaches the participant how to manipulate the payload within a three dimensional coordinate system. The drawing on the right is a design development rendering that provides guidance for prototyping the experience to assure that it actually works and communicates its intended education message. The primary education message is the same but the prototype rendering helps designers make the right selection of the robot and assure that its range of motion and lift capability will support the experience.

The difference between this informal experience and a more formal learning environment is the means by which the participant learns about the functioning of the robot arm and what that implies for a 3D coordinate system. The informal learning experience is under the direction of the participant who must map the movement of the payload to the direction in which the joystick moves. Through a fun, hands-on experience and a little practice the participant will develop a familiarity with the 3D space through which the payload moves and can thereby mentally construct this space without the need for a formal treatise on coordinate systems and how shuttle robotics perform.

Of course the ideal experience would blend the science center learning opportunity with STEM learning inside the classroom. For example, students might modify the robot’s design or otherwise change its capability as part of a structured curriculum with formal lesson plans. Again, the difference is time and breadth as opposed to subject matter with the science center offering a kinesthetic experience combined with an actual flown spacecraft so students can learn basic science concepts through hands-on learning and links these to real world applications using flown artifacts.

To learn more about the California Science Center and the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center visit Be on the look-out for field trip options to see Endeavor during the 2014 NSTA Long Beach Area Conference – in Collaboration with CSTA.

Kenneth E. Phillips, Ph.D. is the Curator for Aerospace Science and was invited to contribute to CCS by CSTA member Jill Grace

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

Leave a Reply


California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.