In designing learning experiences for young people at the Adler, we often grapple with how we as educators and mentors can provide opportunities that are in-depth, youth-driven, and accessible to as wide an audience as possible. We are not alone in this conversation.
AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy member Dr. Hannah Jang-Condell recently blogged about helping her son and his Boy Scout troop earn their astronomy merit badges. The requirements for earning the astronomy badge are in-depth and rigorous, but when Dr. Jang-Condell looked for an equivalently sophisticated astronomy badge for Girl Scouts, she came up short. Though commenters on her blog post point to good information about the Girl Scouts’ existing badge opportunities in space science, the perceived exclusive nature of the scouting badges speaks directly to this issue of access in learning.
Because we are not confined by classrooms or standards, museums are in an ideal position to experiment with new, open learning models. In this spirit, the Adler is a proud participant in the inaugural Chicago Summer of Learning (CSOL), a citywide effort to engage young people in hands-on learning while schools are on vacation.
Through CSOL, youth of all ages can log on to an online portal and explore science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) learning experiences that take can take place both at home and at organizations throughout the city. As students engage in CSOL opportunities, they earn digital badges in recognition of their developing skills.
The Adler’s youth programs team has developed both entry- and challenge-level opportunities for learning through and at the museum. For example, Chicago students can make Oobleck, a non-newtonian fluid, at home and investigate its properties; then, they will design and build a vehicle that can safely land on, rest, and take off from a hypothetical lunar surface. They will bring their completed lander to an event at the Adler at the end of the summer to test their design alongside other young people. In this exercise, the students practice scientific inquiry and designing within constraints and receive a badge for their exploratory activity.
Learners can level up by completing a combination of entry-level activities and unlocking access to more challenging opportunities around the city. The Adler partnered with the Chicago Botanic Garden, the Field Museum, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and Project Exploration to develop the All Access Pass Challenge, in which students take on deeper exploration of Chicago’s museums through blogging.
The badging model allows young learners to work at their own pace and choose the experiences they are most interested in, whether those activities are creative, technical or analytical. Open enrollment and dedicated and public computer lab spaces ensure that no one is excluded. We hope that this model proves empowering and accessible for Chicago’s young people, and that it is an era, not just a summer, of learning.
Written by Nathalie Rayter, digital youth coordinator, Adler Planetarium