September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 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:

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.