Monday, October 28, 2013

ASTC 2013 Takeaways. Making Good (not "Breaking Bad") in Albuquerque.

The annual gathering of the international clan of Science Center professionals descended on the beautiful desert locale of Albuquerque, New Mexico last week.

While the sessions and presentations during the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) conference (and in the hallways, bars, and exhibition hall!) were eclectic and varied, there did seem to be clusters of topics that kept popping up.

And chief among those topic clusters was the whole Make/Maker Making/Tinkering "movement."  There were several sessions that dove into both celebrations and concerns about how, or whether, to bring a Maker Space to your museum. 

One session that I was part of entitled "Is There Science in a Maker Event?" chaired by perennial gadfly Hooley McLaughlin of the Ontario Science Center raised issues of content over process that were ably countered by two thoughtful Making/Tinkering advocates in Karen Wilkenson from the Exploratorium and Lisa Brahms from the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.  There was lively interaction with the audience, but ultimately no firm resolutions (other than suggesting that Hooley needs to visit some more Maker Spaces!)  Other Make-minded sessions explored whether the Maker "buzz" was just a fad, as well as the best ways to work with local communities to create Make spaces and events.

Personally, I find the whole Maker movement an exciting opportunity for museums if pursued with strong community input and realistic expectations about internal logistics (As two simple examples: YES, Maker Spaces should be staffed!  NO, Maker Spaces aren't just a place for a bunch of 3D printers!)

Speaking of 3D printers, there were several vendors in the Exhibit Hall, and several museum colleagues as well who were talking about ways to use 3D printed versions of natural history objects (including scaled-up models of microorganisms!) in really interesting ways.  I'm working on a Discovery Room project that could really benefit from that.

Lastly, another place where I think the Maker/Museum intersection is really going to explode (aside from the current Children's Museum and Science Center booms) is inside History Museums.  If there was ever a place to tie together the making process with actual "made" products, in context, History Museums are it!

Another big thread throughout ASTC 2013 was thinking more carefully and critically about engaging various communities, from the early stages of the process, in our museum work.

Rather than replay all the sessions regarding community engagement, I'll share three links to resources worth checking out in this regard:

Sparticl is an online resource building a community to share the best science resources.  Sparticl has been designed primarily for teens, but it's really a great resource for everyone --- providing access to the best science on the web, curated by experts.

An excellent session about European collaborations between museums and community groups and governmental organizations introduced me to the PLACES project.  Check out their website to see the wide-range of ways that museums are finding to create cities of scientific culture.

Another great online community (which I'll be writing a more-detailed post about soon) comes from CAISE (Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education) in the form of the Web portal called, which is sort of the "one stop shop" for STEM information, evaluation reports, and resources.

In a way, I'm still digesting all the thoughts and conversations from Albuquerque, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that ASTC 2014 will be in Raleigh, North Carolina from October 18 through 21, 2014, and that session proposals for the Raleigh conference are due this November 15th, 2013.

You can check out the ASTC website for more info, and I hope to see you there!

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