AAS 202nd Meeting, May 2003
Session 12 Engaging the Public: from Museums to the Classroom
Oral, Monday, May 26, 2003, 10:00-11:30am, 205/206

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[12.01] Cosmic Questions: Engaging science museum audiences with current astronomical research

M. Dussault, R. Gould (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA), C. Sneider (Museum of Science, Boston), S. Cohen (Lesley University)

"Cosmic Questions: Our Place in Space and Time" is a major new traveling exhibition and education project that will enable millions of Americans to learn how recent discoveries have shed light on-and raised new questions about-our place in the cosmos. Created by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory with funding from the National Science Foundation and from NASA's Office of Space Science, the highly interactive exhibition opened at Boston's Museum of Science this past fall. In February 2003 it began its 3-year national tour under the management of the Association of Science-Technology Centers. Staff from the Museum of Science, in partnership with the CfA, developed a comprehensive set of educational programs, activities and events for museum staff, for teachers and students, and for public audiences. Both the exhibition and accompanying programs involve audiences in learning about the tools, techniques, and research that have allowed us to find some amazing answers to such enduring questions as: What is our place in the universe? Was there a beginning to time? How do we fit in? Evaluation data- including extensive observations, exit interviews, and follow-up phone surveys- suggest that a large majority of visitors could describe new learning and articulate new questions they had as a result of experiencing Cosmic Questions exhibits and programs. Indeed, the evaluation report states that "those interviewed often volunteered an unusual amount of reflective comments compared to visitors at other exhibits."

This presentation will highlight how the content, approach, design, development and implementation of this project were (and continue to be) shaped by the significant involvement and contributions of astronomers, observatories and space science education and public outreach programs.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 35 #3
© 2003. The American Astronomical Soceity.