Bay Area Museum to Launch Mobile Engineering Lab for Students

The Discovery Museum’s lab will travel to pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms in Marin and the Bay Area starting in January 2017.

by Janis Mara, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif. / January 19, 2016 0
The imagination playground area at the Bay Area Discovery Museum. Flickr/Niall Kennedy

(TNS) -- Sausalito, Calif.’s Bay Area Discovery Museum has received a $380,000 grant to launch a mobile engineering lab to bring to local schools.

Funded by the 100Kin10 organization, the lab will travel to pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms in Marin and the Bay Area starting in January 2017. Two or three museum educators will bring lesson plans and projects and show teachers how to use them to teach engineering.

“This was the biggest grant (100Kin10) awarded. It’s a real validation of our leadership and our innovation in how children learn a subject like engineering, which typically gets overlooked in early childhood,” said Karyn Flynn, the museum’s executive director.

“We’ll be looking to hire a math and engineering specialist to create curriculum for the mobile engineering lab,” Flynn said. “One of our goals is to put things in the van that will be unusual and push the boundaries of ways to teach.”

Problem-solving is a central component of the science, technology, engineering and math studies known as STEM that are one of the latest educational approaches. 100Kin10 focused on the engineering element with the grants it gave the museum and nine other entities in December.

Flynn said no decisions have been made as to what materials and lessons the lab would use.

A museum expert detailed some of the common approaches to teaching engineering to students.

“It could be anything from Erector sets to fulcrums and levers. When teaching kids about physics, it’s popular right now to use pasta bridges,” said Valarie Kinkade, principal of Museum and Collector Resource, a Massachusetts company. “If you give a kid a box of spaghetti and a box of macaroni and a box of ziti and say, ‘Build a bridge,’ that’s a very popular project.

“You would bring the types of supplies that would teach the teachers about these things and go into depth about the laws of physics,” said Kinkade.

Kinkade said that typically, museum education departments will follow the California state education system and school district’s guidelines, “looking for topics they can dovetail their materials to.”

Bringing museums to the community instead of expecting the community to go to the museums is an idea that has been around for some time, Kinkade said.

“They (museums) started out with things called education kits. They would send an education kit or trunk into the classroom with objects from the museum,” Kinkade said. “If you had a class studying California Gold Rush history, the history museum might bring in gold pans and equipment to interest the kids.”

This has expanded to information kits for teachers, Kinkade said.

“These kits are used to instruct teachers. A lot of museums offer programs for teachers and bring the programs to the school,” Kinkade said. “It’s a natural partnership. It also serves the museums. It gives them a chance to educate the teachers about the programs they have in the museum.”

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has been using traveling classrooms “for almost 20 years now,” said Sarah Jesse, associate vice president of education at that museum.

“We have two trucks that go out, the Ancient World Mobile and the Maya Mobile,” Jesse said. “We park on campus. Kids learn about our collection and make a tile and they visit the museum following the visit from the truck. The idea is to break down the barriers of visiting a museum and expose people to what a museum is about in a non-intimidating fashion.”

The Discovery Museum’s idea of reaching out to the community with the mobile engineering lab made a big hit with 100Kin10, its funding director said. 100Kin10 is an organization whose goal is to recruit and train 100,000 science, technology, engineering and math teachers by 2021.

Though the nonprofit is not a grantmaker per se, in December it awarded $1.9 million dollars in grants to help teachers learn how to teach these subjects.

“The Bay Area Discovery Museum went out to schools, parents, teachers, to find out why engineering was relevant to their lives. What came out of this was the mobile engineering lab,” said Ayeola Kinlaw, director of the Funding Collaborative at 100Kin10. “This museum was authentically engaged in the process and wanted to learn from educators and the young people they served. They came up with a solution that was really responsive.”

©2016 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.