Partner Highlight: Adventures in Exploring Earth and Space at tag! Children’s Museum in St. Augustine, Florida
When Michele Wiles, Director of Play and Discovery for the emerging Children’s Museum of St. Augustine spearheaded our partnership with NISE Network last winter, it paved the way for bringing truly unique STEAM-based learning experiences to our community. Held April 27, our first Exploring Earth and Space workshop was a family event, where children and their adults could explore our home planet, our solar system, and the vast universe of stars and distant galaxies.
“Mother Nature provided a brilliant spring day for us,” says Michele. “Play, exploration, and discovery were the order of the day as families enjoyed hands-on, interactive experiences and amazing NASA imagery that connected them with current NASA science research.” With the help of the tag! team of staff, board members and volunteers, and members of the Ancient City Astronomy Club, 20 families made their way through a dozen hands-on experiments viewing the sun and moon, making their own electroscopes, designing, building and testing their own sounding rockets, exploring Earth’s water systems by mapping rising seas and Earth’s temperatures, creating a pocket solar system, and exploring the sun’s surface. At the end of the day, everyone was equipped to serve as Citizen Scientists with the GLOBE Observer app, a NASA visualization resource that connects families to ongoing efforts to monitor Earth’s dynamic systems and become part of the NASA scientific community.
This first event was a huge success! The guest’s enthusiasm was infectious. And our volunteers and facilitators were truly inspired. One of the delightful dividends of our NISE toolkits is how they have equipped us to develop new partnerships and reach out to new collaborators, like the Ancient City Astronomy Club, and one of their members who also serves as a NASA Ambassador to the community.
Energized, our ever-growing team of helpers eagerly jumped into more training and prep sessions for our June 15 event for Big Brothers Big Sisters and their littles. Museum board member Ben Platt loves assisting with the events. “Kids are constantly being told ‘don’t touch that’, but at the Earth and Space workshops, the kids touch everything. Special equipment even allowed them to look directly at the Sun, safely, and learn how that star 93 million miles away keeps us warm and keeps plants growing. Seeing the spark in their eyes was truly inspiring!”
The activities in the NISE Net Explore Science: Earth & Space toolkits offer something for everyone and every age. The Stomp Rockets activity invited children to build and launch their own air rockets while learning about different kinds of spacecraft used for exploration. Our youngest visitors love Hide and Seek Moon, where they can be hands-on with tools that make distant objects appear closer and brighter, and gain new insights into how NASA scientists use high-powered telescopes to study objects in space.
Some of the activities that provoked the most meaningful conversations among our guests centered on the Earth sciences activities and their implications. “As a coastal community in Florida, the nation’s oldest city, the fastest growing county in Florida, and one of the fastest growing communities in the nation, we are intimately aware of the impact of rising seas, the stripping of indigenous land cover, and the effects of unfettered land development,” explains Michele. “Particularly with the recent devastation caused by Hurricanes Matthew and Irma in 2016 and 2017. Activities like Land Cover and Rising Sea help participants see not just the problems, but also potential solutions.”
The tag! team has found endless uses for the ingenious NISE kits. We obtained the Investigating Clouds activity from the 2017 series, and have been using that right along with our 2019 Earth and Space materials. Our summerSTEAM workshop series celebrated all things space during the month of July, and several of the Earth and Space activities served as launching pads into creative arts and makers projects. And we loved using Rocket Reactions from the Let’s Do Chemistry activities in two of our space workshops. Next up, we’re taking Explore Earth and Space on the road in August to provide hands-on activities for approximately 50 young people participating in St. Johns County (FL) Parks and Recreation Department summer camps.
We cannot overstate the profound and positive impact that NISE Network resources have had on increasing our capabilities to serve our community. As an emerging children’s museum on the cusp of building our permanent home, our community outreach and in-studio playful learning programs help set the tone for what is to come. And according to one inspired Earth and Space participant, “this is exactly what this community needs.”