October 28, 2021Amy Barra, Elizabeth Hall, and Dana Wright, NASA's Wallops Flight Facility Visitor Center, Wallops Island, VA
In March of 2020, after our facility was closed to the public in response to COVID-19, the three staff members at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility Visitor Center peered at each other from our various screens and asked “So, what do we do now?” As one of NASA’s official Visitor Centers, our team introduces almost 100,000 people each year to various NASA and Wallops information through exhibits, events, public programs, tours, and our ever-popular K-12 field trips. So many of our activities and programs rely on hands-on activities using materials that most people don’t have at home - model rockets, a Science on a Sphere, NISE Network kits, and our beloved Rigamajig - how could we modify our activities to offer virtual programs? We knew presenting information would be easy, but the limited resources and ability to provide kits and other physical one-time-use materials to our audiences was the challenge. With our virtual programming, we wanted to offer opportunities for students to apply new information from the presentation by including hands-on activities that used materials parents and teachers could easily find at home or would not be a financial burden. And so, to overcome this, we turned to the NISE Network.
As NISE Network activities are uniquely suited to informal education institutions, we dug into various NISE Network resources for inspiration. We needed short, but powerful activities that would fit within our limited timeframe and had well-crafted instructions with background information that we could send to teachers in advance. The Pocket Solar System activity was easy to modify and would work well to demonstrate the scale of our solar system and this fall we also added a modified version of the Design, Build, Test, activity to demonstrate some of the work that’s done prior to a mission launch.
Inspired and supported by our information from NISE Network, we created a series of virtual field trips. Each hour-long virtual field trip includes an interactive presentation, a Q & A session, and a guided hands-on activity, all led live by a Visitor Center staff member. We launched our virtual field trips on September 18, 2020. Initially, we hoped to have a few programs each week, but once the offerings hit social media, we realized we were going to be very busy. As of October 2021, the Wallops Visitor Center has conducted almost 400 live virtual field trips for nearly 20,000 people across 39 states and multiple countries! Additionally, we have a full schedule through December 2021, as well as a growing waitlist. We attribute our success to the inclusion of the hands-on NISE Network activities, our ability to run programs for free, our small but mighty team, and our affiliation with NASA.
The NISE Network kits, fellowships, and trainings have made it possible for us to provide quality programs, events, and activities for members of our community and visitors from across the globe - both in person and now virtually. As the demand for programming continues to outpace our resources, the support of the NISE Network makes it possible for the Wallops Visitor Center to continue to serve our ever-growing audience. Thank you!