The last two weeks I’ve been busy preparing my chemistry and astronomy curricula for school this fall and writing a Preliminary Proposal for the National Science Foundation’s Informal Science Education grant. That was submitted last Thursday, and then I’ve been gone to a family reunion over this last weekend at Bear Lake in northern Utah.
My proposal has some changes from what I wrote last year; the core of having high school students work with historians, engineers, and other experts to document the history and uses of the chemical elements is still the mainstay of the Elements Unearthed project, but student-created videos aren’t as unique as they were two years ago when I first proposed this project. The NSF program is also more for informal science education: afterschool, public television, or museum programs outside the regular formal education system. Now that I am back teaching chemistry and multimedia in a high school setting, I have a group of students under my direction that can do much of the video editing and research themselves as part of my classes in a formal setting. What I am proposing for NSF to fund is the museum aspect of the project, thereby simplifying my proposal and making it more palatable. I am attaching the six-page project description here:
Based on what I’ve seen visiting museums across the country that have mining exhibits is that most mining towns are rural and don’t have the wherewithal to host a museum that can really stand on its own. Most small town museums are drastically underfunded and staffed with volunteers; the museums usually have poor Internet presence – if they have a website, it was probably created by somebody’s nephew ten years ago and is usually out of date and ineffective and doesn’t take advantage of Internet video, Web 2.0 technologies, or social networking links. The staff at these museums consists of elderly docents with a passion for local history and a great deal of personal knowledge that has never been recorded; the exhibits usually have faded labels and inadequate signage. So my proposal has three parts to it, all based on enhancing the quality of exhibits and the number of visitors to small town museums with mining exhibits, and all centered around what the museums need instead of what I want my project to do.
The first aspect of this Small Museum Enhancement Program is to meet with museum staff and determine what the museum most needs in terms of exhibit improvements or new exhibits, then provide the funds so that carpenters, electricians, and other contractors can fix up and rebuild the exhibits, such as providing better lighting to displays, building risers inside glass display cases to better display artifacts, cleaning and repairing the artifacts themselves, and in general digitizing and cataloging all the collections.
The second aspect is to improve the museum’s online presence through redesigning the museum’s website and linking it to social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Scribd, GoogleEarth, etc. None of these small museums make use of blogs as a way of promoting the museum and keeping the public’s interest up, so I’m proposing that the staff be trained on how to set up and maintain a blog, including how to convert their photos and documents to be uploaded and linked as .pdf files to their blogs and to Scribd and other sites.
The third aspect of the proposal is what the Elements Unearthed project has always been about: adding to the museum’s collections by interviewing the staff, videotaping their tours of the museums, and collecting photos and oral histories from the community. Teams of local high school students will work with my students at Walden school to set up community nights where local townspeople bring in photos, documents, and other artifacts and allow us to scan or photograph them, then tell us their stories of the town and the mines on camera. We’ll edit all of this into the podcast/YouTube videos as we already have been doing. One addition is that we’ll also create “point-to-point” video segments based on specific locations in the museum corresponding to particular displays and create short videos that describe the display, show the docent explaining it, and add community and other resources beyond what the display can hold. These videos will be placed on iPads and used by visitors as they tour the museum, playing the videos as they reach each stop on the tour.
These are the three main points of the NSF-ISE proposal. Assuming this proposal receives encouragement to proceed, the final proposal must be submitted by early December. Based on my feedback from last year, I need to develop a stronger collaborative team instead of trying to do all of it myself (thereby increasing the probability of success) and I need a stronger evaluation plan, which means actually having a third party firm involved to plan the experimental design. NSF doesn’t want just projects that are worthwhile, they wan them to also enhance the field of informal science education through fundamental scientific investigation of what types of programs are effective for science education in informal settings. These strategic impacts mean a carefully considered methodology, and my attempts to set up a plan last year weren’t seen as strong enough strategically.
Toward that end, if anyone out there would like to comment on my proposal (if you think it is worthwhile, and if you have suggestions for improving it, etc.) then please take a look at the Preliminary Proposal and give me some feedback, either as a comment to this blog or to my e-mail at: email@example.com.