at the Exploratorium themselves learn as they teach others about science at the hands-on San Francisco museum.Credit: Edutopia
Edutopia, the newsletter of The George Lucas Educational Foundation, spoke with six students from around the world who spent the summer working as Explainers at the Exploratorium, an interactive science museum located in San Francisco.
What is an Explainer?
WES: Explainers basically run the floor of the museum. We roam around, and if people have any questions about the exhibits, we answer them, or sometimes we approach visitors to give them basic information.
What is unique about your learning experience here?
SUSANNA: One of the good things is since you have to explain the stuff you have to know it very well and understand it very well.
BEN: It gives me a better idea of what the concepts are because I have to actually explain it to people in a way that everyone can understand -- it gives me a better idea of what I'm talking about.
DAVI: It gives me a deep sense of satisfaction after learning that somebody understands. I've gotten through to somebody ... and they're like, "I understand this."
ORI: One of the things that I think that the Exploratorium does that the school doesn't is allow you to have that self-taught experience. School is always taught in a group, but life, you face alone. The one thing the Exploratorium does through exhibits is the self-taught thing, particularly in the area of technology. It's kind of like crossing that barrier of group learning into self-learning and individualized learning as well.
IZZY: We got to feel that we were actually doing something for ourselves. You get to learn a lot just by the hands-on experience. That's really important. You also get to learn from your peers, which is really cool, too. You get to teach each other stuff and learn stuff from each other. The thing that bothers me is that a lot of the visitors seem to want quick answers and not all the exhibits can give them that. I mean, the Exploratorium isn't like a one-way street. You have to give, too, if you want to get anything out of it. Because, sure, it's fun to walk around and look at everything, but if you want to learn anything, then you have to put at least a little bit of effort into it.
What are your thoughts on the uses of technology?
ORI: Computers are still not used to their potential. What I do is create 3-D surrealistic worlds and then animate them into movies and take video footage and sounds and put them together and create little movies on a computer, then you can put it onto VHS. I've done poetry, history, social stuff, I mean a whole bunch of stuff. Once I tapped into that I was able to find other interesting things like the Internet.
BEN: I learned about programming and I wrote programs. One was a graphing program for math usage. I kind of applied what I knew in other areas to write programs that could do things like that.
ORI: But the computer is not erasing the teacher. In what we're doing the computer is the teacher. It's someone who has unlimited patience, will never get mad at you, has no biases, will also go at your rate, doesn't have to worry about thirty-five other students, just won't care about all those things that humans have faults in. I mean, teachers are wonderful and teachers are great, but teachers can only handle so many people. I mean, some teachers teach best when they're teaching one on one.
IZZY: It's important to learn from a teacher who has experiences that can be shared.
DAVI: There isn't any computer that can replace the teacher.
WES: A good teacher. That's the key.
ORI: But a good teacher's hard to come by.
WES: A computer's easy to come by.
SUSANNA: I'm really for teachers; I'm really for people making things look attractive to you so that you're interested in them and then making things more understandable to you because by yourself you can't understand everything or discover everything. All of the exhibits, there's always something more to it and what's going on is you're a teacher for that exhibit.
What do you like about having access to online information?
ORI: On the Internet, everyone's computer is offering a different thing. You can have two people on the planet who are interested in one subject, and you already have a discussion group. If you're interested in some thing, there is somebody out there that actually is interested in what you are. The most amazing thing is how far it reaches. You have access to things that they simply don't have in a library.
WES: It's easy to get information for papers. I've done about four papers, mostly science and history. One about pioneers and one about the planets, and it was really easy to get information, highlight it, print it out, and copy it.
SUSANNA: So this is very useful and very amazing that you can find everything, anything ... but it also kind of scares me to be faced with so much data.
IZZY: Well, that's nice and all, but then again, not everybody has access ... because maybe they can't afford to have them because they don't make any money. And once you have lack of information, it's hard to develop as technology becomes more involved.
ORI: But the whole point of the computer is now just almost at a level where all the people can actually reach in and learn.