A couple of years ago, I led a summer camp for middle schoolers called the "Pearson Young Scientists" at the California Academy of Sciences. It was a super fun program to develop and facilitate, taking a group of a dozen middle schoolers from the Bay Area and exposing them to citizen science, local parks, and game design.
I personally learned a lot from this program, including how beautiful and important the Mount Tam Municipal Water District is to the region, how to create geo-located digital games using the platform ARIS, and how to keep engaged and excited a diverse group of middle schoolers for two weeks during the summer.
Here's a neat video about the program created by the Pearson Foundation.
This latest exhibit will focus on all of the things you can learn about an animal from its skull, why we collect skulls and skeletons, and our impressive collection of skulls ... from the tiniest bird skulls the size of a quarter to gigantic whale skulls.
One of my favorite parts of the exhibit will be a live exhibition of dermestid flesh-eating beetles, some of our hardest working "volunteers" at the Academy. These little guys will reduce a small animal carcass to a gleaming white skeleton in just a few days. Check out this time-lapse video of a host of dermestids making short work of a sea otter skull in just four days.
Earlier this week at a staff meeting at the Cal Academy, we did this ice breaker activity called "Back Writes" that was surprisingly insightful. Basically everyone in my department had a piece of paper taped to their backs and you were tasked with walking around and writing some kind of affirmation on it, either about the person's work or the person in general.
We're a pretty tight-knit, friendly department, so of course the comments were going to range from professional to completely silly.
Here's what mine looked like (click to enlarge).
The silly ones really made me laugh, particularly "sweet moves yo". But the ones that emphasized my "positivity," cheerfulness, and fun nature made a deeper impression on me.
Surprisingly, I think I'm a lot more upbeat and positive in my 40s than I was in my 30s and 20s.
On Thursday, the California Academy of Sciences hosted a fun coding workshop for middle schoolers that I helped facilitate. The occasion was the visit of five young programmers from Cork, Ireland to the Bay Area, along with the Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork, and various other dignitaries from Ireland. The sponsoring organization was called CoderDojo, which is a movement of young programmer clubs that is sweeping the world.
It was a blast bringing together our local youth with these visiting kids, who all had a great time despite all of the paparazzi and non-youth-friendly speeches afterwards. I loved seeing kids eyes light up using free tools like Gimp and Scratch to manipulate images, create simple games, and tell stories.
As a youth facilitator, it was also great for me to see how a workshop could be done that was largely youth-led, with only light support by the adult facilitators. Adrian from CoderDojo jumped around and trouble-shooted when kids got really stuck on a problem, but otherwise it was the five Cork youth who were running the show for their peers. And each kid got to tackle the challenges on their own, in their own way.
We talk alot about peer-to-peer learning in my field. Seeing an entire global movement of clubs run on those principles was powerful to see in action. I'd love to explore more ways to build those kinds of practices and norms into my own youth programs that I design and lead.
Check out this video of the day produced by ABC7. Hey, I recognize that guy in the suspenders in the back!
"Another innovator is the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. In January it began offering an online biodiversity course, devised for teachers and high school students, and for parents to teach their children, with Khan Academy, a free online schoolhouse that has over 10 million users worldwide each month.
"Since 2010, the California Academy of Sciences has posted on iTunes U free lectures on ecology, sustainability, natural history, biodiversity, astronomy and space science; it also offers courses there, for middle- and high-school science educators, on earthquakes and how science works."
I've been remiss in keeping up with our awesome Khan Academy course and our other online educational resources we produce. Nice to see them getting wider attention though.
This past weekend, I had the honor of MCing a fun panel discussion among educators in three locales in the US on the topic of fostering youth voice in local learning networks. If you are a local educator and looking for ways to better serve your youth community, I recommend that you check out the video of this session.
When we were planning this session, we were trying to find a way to break out of the typical panel discussion format. Our idea was to present it like a radio program, specifically "This American Life," as a means of telling a story in "three acts." And of course, as the only male in the planning group, I was tasked with playing the Ira Glass character. Ira is one of my idols, so it was awesome getting to play him in front of a live audience. I think I did a reasonably passable impression, although nowhere near as awesome as Fred Armisen.
You can watch the results in the YouTube archive below. (Unfortunately, there was an audio glitch in the opening that doesn't get fixed until around the 8 minute mark.)
The Digital Media and Learning conferenceis one of my favorite professional events of the year. DML gathers several hundred of the leading practitioners, researchers and supporters of the field of digital learning for an intense three days of sharing, discussions, and strategizing. It's like an extended family for me, after many years of participating.
This year DML is taking place from March 6-8 in Boston, one of my favorite cities in the US, and the home of many innovators in the field. Along with attending and absorbing all of the awesome talks and sessions and exhibits at DML, I'll also be on stage for a couple of sessions.
It's been a hectic past couple of weeks, so I completely forgot to mention that February 13th was my two year anniversary of working at the California Academy of Sciences! Originally hired as a program assistant in the brand new Digital Learning arm of the museum in 2012, I'm so honored to be the Senior Manager of Digital Learning now, working with an awesome team and an incredibly community of science teens.
Going into my third year, I'm so excited about all the ways we are going to be expanding what our Digital Learning teens are doing to impact other young people and not-so-young people in the Bay Area and beyond. I'll be sharing some of what our teens are doing and learning at the Digital Media and Learning conference later this month in Boston, which is one of my favorite events of the year.