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Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum Uses Videoconferencing to Teach Students About Science

You won’t find many penguins or polar bears wandering the streets of Ann Arbor, but students participating in an interactive videoconference with the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum have been transported from their warm classroom to the Arctic Circle for a lesson on animals living in the cold.
Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum logo
With blue-screen technology, Charlie Stout, Media Arts Manager for the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, has helped Alex Long, In-House Education Coordinator, turn their Ann Arbor studio into a scene from Antarctica. By using two-way interactive videoconferencing and high-speed Internet2 access provided by Merit Network, the Museum has taken a class from the Reese Public School District on this imaginary journey for “Critters in the Cold,” which allows students to “virtually” play with penguins and ask questions about animals who live on Antarctica.

“The kids love it,” Stout said. “They absolutely love it. It works really, really well too.”

Growing Opportunity

The Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum began interactive videoconferencing three years ago. The Museum’s educational advisory board, consisting of Bill Bushaw, Ann Doyle, Barb Nanzig, Ellen Vaughan, and Karl Zinn, and the Museum staff pursued the video conference program with funds from a grant. During the first year, they did pilot-testing of the technology, and for the last two years, they have offered interactive videoconferences to schools.

The museum offers schools programs that are designed to meet national standards and benchmarks set by the State of Michigan for teachers’ curriculums. Stout, Alex Long (In-House Education Coordinator), and Nancy Bryk (Education Director) coordinate and produce the events.

Early on, it was difficult to find schools that could utilize the interactive programs, but as interactive videoconferencing technology has become available at more and more school districts, the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum is able to reach a greater number of students.

“The technology lets us reach schools in rural school districts,” according to Long. “Schools who are too far away to travel here.”

In addition to Michigan, the Museum’s educational videoconferences have been seen by students in Texas, New York, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Montana. They also receive requests from outside the United States, but the difference between time zones can pose some problems.

Stout noted that interactive videoconferencing is becoming popular with other museums, such as the Gerald R. Ford Museum.

Programs Available to Schools

When a class participates in an interactive videoconference with the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, the teacher receives instructions on setting up the videoconference and a kit that students can use to participate in the program’s activities.

For example, a fun Halloween-related program called “Halloween Slime Time” allows students to make two types of slime while learning about the three states of matter, non-newtonian fluids, phase changes, and polymers.

Another popular program that was only offered in November involved owls from the Howell Nature Center. Students learned about the birds and their habitat and got to dissect owl pellets.

Current seasonal interactive video programs available through the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum include “Critters in the Cold,” “Water Wonders,” and “Eyes and Optics.”

“Water Wonders” teaches students about the properties of water such as surface tension, cohesion, density, capillary action, and more.

“Eyes and Optics” lets students learn about eyes and how they work. The classroom kit includes cow eyeballs that students can dissect while also interacting with the presenter at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.