The National Air and Space Museum’s approach to education encompasses a variety of audiences, from the support of formal education to assisting lifelong learning, both at the Museum and around the world using video and internet broadcasts. The Museum’s unique collection and broad subject matter expertise use the universally engaging topics of aviation and space exploration to illustrate and inspire learning in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM).
The Museum’s educational impact is impressive. Over 1.2 million personal educational experiences were shared with Museum visitors during FY 2016, including, but not limited to, activities such as astronomical observing, story time reading for younger visitors, art projects, docent-led tours, science demonstrations, planetarium shows, interactive video conferences, and teacher professional development. Special-themed day-long programming events amplify learning opportunities and cross-support them across the institution.
Highlights from the educational programs offered in FY 2016 include the continuation of the popular Family Day program sponsored by Northrop Grumman, aligned with the institution’s Heritage Month celebrations; the STEM in 30 series of live educational webcasts, including one from the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta; and a new program called “Making STEM Magic” (see Spotlight).
STEM is Magical at the Udvar-Hazy Center
Making STEM Magic, a new program at the Udvar-Hazy Center, has been introducing young visitors to engineering in a fun and creative way since the program began in July 2016. The program is aimed at families with children in the 8-13 year-old-range, and provides an opportunity to collectively brainstorm, design, build, and test potential solutions to a design challenge. Participants work together, learning by doing, to discover for themselves that the process of design involves many iterations and that failures along the way are merely learning opportunities.
A typical Making STEM Magic activity might include, for example, a wind tunnel challenge, where participants are tasked with making an aerodynamic shape that can ride wind currents smoothly. Activity staff can coach the participant teams in analyzing and testing their design and in making changes to improve performance.
Programming is led primarily by members of the Museum’s Explainer corps, paid staff comprising local high school and college students. They gain valuable educational and professional experience, while sharing their enthusiasm for STEM topics with the next generation.
Making STEM Magic is generously funded by Micron Technology Foundation, Inc. The program is offered every Saturday at the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The theme changes monthly — past topics included forces of flight, airplane design, electricity, and design innovation — giving local residents a strong incentive to visit again and again.