Holly Denman, Manager of Play and Learning Initiatives at Chicago Children’s Museum often travels to workshops in order to bring ideas and concepts to the museum. Recently, Holly took a week-long trip to NASA’s Glenn Research Center and Plum Brook Station. Check out her first-hand experience, what she learned and how it will influence our new programs at CCM!
Chicago Children’s Museum was one of several museums across the Midwest invited to apply for a special education conference hosted jointly by the NASA Glenn Research Center and the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, Ohio. I jumped at the chance to apply and was thrilled to be accepted. In early August, a group of museum educators met at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland to discuss informal science learning and to tour the nearby NASA facilities. A day later, we were driving winding roads to NASA’s Plum Brook Station wearing official badges and holding our cameras. Other educators had been there before and knew quite a bit about space travel. I, on the other hand, had no idea what would be inside the Space Power facility we were about to enter.
Wow. Inside the station, I saw an enormous vacuum chamber that can be as cold as space, a tunnel in the ground as deep as the Washington Monument, and a sound system that can make a room vibrate with the intensity of a rocket launch. Plum Brook is used to test space components before they leave Earth, when there is still time to fix something that breaks. NASA staff greeted us as we moved through the facility, and the amount of specialized knowledge and skill they shared was staggering. Could I follow all the technical details of what the scientists and engineers were explaining? No. Could I read the excitement on their faces and they shared how tests and tools were developed and tested? Yes. And it was contagious.
Sciences can be misperceived as dry and linear, but my time at NASA proves it’s just the opposite. Many times over, we heard stories of using a test failure to prompt a new solution and of the need for passionate curiosity to fuel the space program. At Chicago Children’s Museum, we are constantly talking about creating science and engineering experiences that encourage creativity, curiosity and tenacity. It was inspiring to me to meet NASA scientists and engineers who embody these attributes to a tee. Now it’s time to start thinking about how we might give young children the chance to explore parachutes, planes and rockets at Chicago Children’s Museum. I know our visitors will love the chance to make things launch, fly and soar!