Learning Lab: Science Museum of Virginia

This post is part of a series where YALSAblog takes a closer look at Learning Lab grantees from museums and libraries to learn how they engage middle and high school youth in mentor-led, interest-based, youth-centered, collaborative learning using digital and traditional media.” To read more about the context of the Learning Labs, visit the first post in the series here.

Science Museum of Virginia logoToday we will read about a Learning Lab with the Science Museum of Virginia (http://www.smv.org/) from Chuck English, Director of Playful Learning and Inquiry, and Matt Baker, Outreach Education Coordinator.

KC: If you have named your Learning Lab, can you share what you are calling it?
MB/CE: The MiX

KC: What is the target age for your Learning Lab?
MB/CE: High School Students (9th-12th grade – strongest focus on 9th and 10th grade students).

KC: What makes your Learning Lab unique?
MB/CE: The MiX is unique because it is housed in a Museum that is working on a lot of Digital Content. The participants will be able to work with some of these experts and assist in the development of digital resources if this becomes an area of interest.

KC: What theoretical framework are you applying to help inform the design and activities in the space? How, if at all, does Connected Learning play a role?
MB/CE: The IMLS Program is tied to several different programs that would help bridge the Connected Learning aspects. The Museum already works with a large Out-of-School Time (OST) crowd with numerous community partners such as Boys & Girls Clubs, regional schools, YMCA organizations and libraries. Through this outreach we are building a collaborative effort that would get participants excited and interested in learning – specifically STEM. The only extension through high school would be the volunteer program at the Museum itself. The MiX will help create an extension of existing programming, help tie students in the volunteer program, and hopefully evolve into satellite programs that can, at least in part, grow into our partner organizations.

KC: At the heart of most learning labs is the concept of community. How do you anticipate your Learning Lab creating community where it didn’t previously exist in the same way before?
MB/CE: The Science Museum of Virginia has not typically been seen as a space for the local community to congregate because we charge an admission fee for all guests. This space will be the first open “hangout” space at the Science Museum of Virginia and member teens will not be required to pay admission when they come to The MiX. It will encourage local teens and their families to view the museum as a valuable resource for exploring STEM subject matter and occupations related to STEM.

KC: What advice are you taking into consideration in approaching this project-either from libraries/other organizations who have completed or are in the process of similar projects, your own experience, or otherwise?
MB/CE: We are involving our “Teen Council” in most of the decision making. This strategy will allow the space to be more authentically teen centric. On the same note, we are leaving the programming very open so that teens have the ability to explore their own interests and offer suggestions for “workshops.” After hearing from other Learning Lab’s we are trying to let the space remain flexible and let it evolve as the teen participants see fit.

KC: What components will make your Learning Lab a Learning Lab?
MB/CE: Our space will follow the HOMAGO model, allowing teens a “low floor” for initial entry into the program but “high ceilings” to aspire to should they choose to do so. Our Learning Lab will promote Project Based Learning to allow students to expand their STEM interests organically. We will also provide “near peer” mentors by involving local college students from Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU’s) da Vinci Innovation Center. Additionally, we plan to reach out to local businesses so that the teens can interact with professionals in STEM related fields.

KC: What types of activities and/or technology do you anticipate being a part of your Learning Lab?
MB/CE: As stated earlier, The MiX will be an extension of existing OST STEM programming. Our OST STEM programming has a audio/visual focus with students making movies, taking pictures, and creating digital products over the course of a six week session. Therefore, The MiX will be an extension of this AV focus, but will allow students to work with more advanced techniques, equipment, and technology.

KC: What are your plans to keep the Learning Lab dynamic, fresh, and moving forward?
MB/CE: We plan to remain as flexible as possible and let the teens guide the evolution of the space. Since their interests are so varied (and constantly changing) this should naturally lead to a very dynamic environment. Also, our institution makes every effort to evolve with new technologies and stay current and relevant in an ever changing world. The MiX will be a natural extension of this institutional directive.

KC: For libraries or similar organizations that haven’t received funding to build their dream Learning Lab, what suggestions do you have where they can start to get ideas or create a similar experience?
MB/CE: A Learning Lab can really be anything. For those without much funding, start with low-tech activities and projects. These could be anything from building things with cardboard to creating rockets out of drinking straws. Having a physical space for your Learning Lab is, of course, ideal. Learning Labs can be mobile as well. By taking demonstrations and “make and take” activities to community events you can foster excitement surrounding STEM and your institution.

About Kelly Czarnecki

Kelly Czarnecki is a Teen Librarian at ImaginOn with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. She is a member of the YALSA blog advisory board.
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