Science museums are leaders in providing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. In 2018, six STEM-related museums were among 14 libraries and 15 museums named finalists for the National Medal for Museum and Library Service for their community programming and services. Awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, this is the highest honor for museum and library outreach in the United States. Read on to learn more about these six museums.
Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo
The Brookfield Zoo is managed by the Chicago Zoological Society and housed on land owned by the Forest Preserves of Cook County. It is a 216-acre nature park housing an arboretum and more than 2,000 animals, including big cats, bears, dolphins, penguins, primates, bison, wolves, amphibians, wombats, giraffes, kangaroos, rhinoceroses, seals, and a bald eagle.
The zoo offers several learning initiatives. One is King Conservation Science Scholars, a college and career readiness program for teens. Students focus on animal conservation and participate in 120 hours of yearly volunteer service. Another initiative is Zoo Camp, available to children ages 4 to 14 with a special emphasis on disability and special needs inclusiveness.
High Desert Museum
Located in Central Oregon, the High Desert Museum is devoted to the wildlife and history of the High Desert region of the western United States. Helping visitors explore the landscape, cultures, wildlife, history, and art of the region, the museum maintains a multidisciplinary approach. Its connection to STEM disciplines is via its wildlife exhibits, which include river otters, Gila monsters, desert tortoises, rattlesnakes, turtles, porcupines, bobcats, and various species of native fish and birds.
The museum offers multiple education opportunities, including visits by schoolchildren to the museum’s outdoor classrooms. Here, students in kindergarten through eighth grade participate in one of 12 classes. The museum also offers educational programming for teachers, such as workshops that show how to enhance outdoor school experiences with lessons on fire ecology and soil science, and how to integrate environmental studies with STEM education.
Orlando Science Center
The Orlando Science Center has plenty of competition with many theme parks nearby. However, it greets 627,000 visitors each year and conducts outreach to 146,000 students and educators annually. The museum includes four floors of exhibits, labs, theaters, and an observatory, with a variety of workshops, hands-on activities, and programming offered in these spaces.
One highlight is the STEM Discovery Center programming available both at the center and at local schools. These programs focus on collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication, and hands-on learning and provide access to the latest technology and learning approaches, such as making, tinkering, and exploring. The STEM Discovery Center offers an onsite preschool, sponsors science competitions, provides professional development for teachers, and hosts events for homeschooled children, among other opportunities.
Science Museum of Virginia
The Science Museum of Virginia is housed in a converted train station designed by famed architect John Russell Pope, designer of the Jefferson Memorial, the National Archives, and part of the National Gallery of Art. The museum is also known for its Dome Theater 3D planetarium, 29-ton solid granite globe of the earth, and SR-71 Blackbird supersonic jet.
In addition to three floors of exhibits, the museum’s educational offerings include a blog, videos, and educator resources. It also provides resources for learning about climate change through the Climate Connections video and audio programming available on its website. In addition, the museum hosts community events, such as lunchtime science-related guest speakers, science-themed cocktail parties, teacher appreciation days, lunar eclipse viewings, and special evening hours for sensory-sensitive individuals and people with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities.
South Carolina Aquarium
The South Carolina Aquarium aims to connect people with water, wildlife, and wild places. It offers opportunities to learn about otters, ocean fish, sea turtles, alligators, stingrays, and eagles. Other animals displayed include horseshoe crabs, sea horses, sea urchins, fiddler crabs, and sand tiger sharks. The exhibits highlight the state’s diverse ecosystems, such as mountain forests, coastal plains, saltmarshes, the open ocean, and a backyard featuring native plants.
The aquarium also has a focus on conservation and education with its Sea Turtle Care Center, where visitors can observe the rehabilitation of ailing sea turtles. It also sponsors citizen science projects that track litter removal, document sea level rise, and count and cull invasive lionfish. In addition, the Good Catch program educates the public about local and sustainably harvested seafood.
University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History
The University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History was not only a finalist for the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, but also a medal winner. It houses hundreds of thousands of ethnographic and archaeological objects, fossils, and biological specimens, with many available online. Its exhibits include a sabertooth salmon, a giant sloth, life-size sculptures of Columbian mammoths, and a native plant courtyard.
The museum also offers 60-minute, interactive classroom presentations focused on the last Ice Age, fossils, rocks, ancient animals from what is now Oregon, and other topics. Similar outreach to libraries and community organizations is also provided, with programs focusing on space, engineering, and mammoths. Via the museum’s website, teachers have access to lesson plans, activities, and worksheets about geology, fossils, animals and their habitats, and Native American history and culture.