Using Art To Teach Science And Technology
There is no doubt that science fiction is cool. But can all the lasers and phasers, robots and aliens, and starships and time machines be more than just simple entertainment? Can science fiction, with all of its technological wonders and “what if” scenarios, also be educational?
Many moms and dads may not concur that the time their children are spending binge watching something like Lost in Space on Netflix is really helping them learn. Wouldn’t they be better off burying their noses in textbooks?
Absolutely, yes... sometimes., But often, no, because not only is science fiction inherently educational, it also makes learning fun.
That is one of the missions of the Museum of Science Fiction – to motivate learning in STEAM: science, technology, engineering, art, and math. But even more broadly than that, it is to inspire the imagination.
Science fiction is rich with ideas that can serve as a springboard for curiosity and project-based learning, from understanding how warp drive might function to how cyborgs could affect our daily lives.
The Museum believes science fiction holds value for all ages and endeavors to tailor its education and outreach efforts to appeal to a wide range of visitors in an inclusive environment.
“It starts with Escape Velocity,” said Mandy Sweeney, Vice President of Operations for the Museum, referring to the annual convention hosted by the Museum every May in Washington, DC. “We have more than 300 hours of education programming. Most of it is informal for kids, but we have workshops that span all the fields of STEAM.”
“We offer programs ourselves and also partner with a wide variety of groups and organizations from around the country to offer different experiences and informal education.”
Some examples include stop-motion animation and film workshops, writing workshops, and writing contests. The Museum has also partnered with innovative non-profits like Boolean Girl and Pongos Learning Lab to do coding workshops for kids.
“We also sneak in science education in some workshops,” Sweeney said. “We have a workshop with the DC Stunt Coalition where they teach stunt fighting where there’s a hidden biomechanics lesson – where your body is a pulley system and if you shift your weight from here-to-there you’ll get more power to the punch.”
In the Exhibit Hall , the Museum offers different education stations where kids can explore a range of technologies like virtual reality or 3D printing. There are an array of art and technology workshops, and it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that NASA has a major presence at the event.
At Escape Velocity 2019, the Museum will be working with The Great Adventure Lab to offer robotics and engineering workshops for the first time, and will offer new, tech-driven art and music workshops for kids as well.
The Museum has initiated a new partnership with Titan Robotics, the robotics team at TC Williams High School in Alexandria, VA, and is excited to support their endeavors in the FIRST Robotics Competition and beyond. Students from the Titan team will be showcasing their robots at Escape Velocity in May. Afterward, with the Museum’s support, the team will seek to adapt their creations for practical civic implementation in the City of Alexandria.
Connecting with area schools and educational groups is an important part of the Museum’s mission in coordinating Escape Velocity “We offer field trips to area schools and we are working on a merit badge program with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts,” said Sweeney.
There’s also an educator’s workshop every year that aims to show educators how they can incorporate science fiction into their lesson plans for use in a variety of grade levels and classroom settings. In 2019, the Escape Velocity Educator’s Workshop will be presented by NASA’s Afterschool Universe, with astronomy lesson plans focused on the formation of elements in space and how we can identify those elements using light.
The Museum also has partnerships with several universities and offers work study programs for students to gain valuable experience in their majors.
“Last year, our AV team was staffed by students from the Audio Technology department at American University,” Sweeney said. “We also had a group of architecture students from California Polytechnic Institute who designed science fiction inspired buildings that were on display in the Exhibit Hall.”
And while Escape Velocity is an amazing event, the Museum doesn’t just shutter its virtual doors until the next year's convention.
Instead, the Museum's dedicated team of staff members and volunteers search for other grassroots and educational outreach opportunities throughout the year.
“We are out in the community weekly for outreach events,” Sweeney said. “We will go to local schools that are having themed events. We’ll teach kids about batteries, or how to make light sabers, or we’ll bring a writer into a classroom as a guest speaker. Nothing that we do is a traditional science lesson. There is always an element of creativity and innovation to all of it. We want to encourage a mindset of growth and imagination.”
So, as cool as science fiction can be, it offers much more than fun ideas. It’s a way to think about the future. It challenges our understanding of the world through a synthesis of science and art that inspires us to learn about both along the way.