The University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History took its shows on the road this summer. It’s offering hands-on learning through its Oregon Rocks! program, which teaches kids and families about geology. The organization is traveling throughout the state, including stops in Portland, Pendleton and Paisley to bring science discovery to Oregon communities of all sizes. Mia Jackson is the education manager at the museum. She joins us with details about the program and why the museum wants to focus on statewide outreach. You can learn more about where the museum is headed here.
The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. The University of Oregon’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History has hit the road this summer. It’s traveling all over the state to Portland, Pendleton, and Paisley, to Condon, Christmas Valley, and Clatskanie, offering hands-on learning through its Oregon Rocks! program. The idea is to give kids and families a chance to learn about science without having to travel to Eugene. Mia Jackson is the education manager at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History and she joins us now. Welcome to the show.
Mia Jackson: Thank you for having me.
Miller: It’s great to have you on. What’s the big idea behind these programs?
Jackson: Well, the big idea really is just that, getting programming out into communities, access to youth and families that are living either in small communities or far away from cultural institutions, like museums or educational programming, don’t have access to those easily. And also just getting the message about the museum’s work and the University of Oregon out there around the state as well, and providing more opportunities for people to have good and positive experiences with science and culture.
Miller: Distance is obviously one impediment that you have to deal with, because this is a huge stage, anybody who has traveled around it, especially from one end to another, knows that very well. But what are other reasons that people might not think to go to your museum, or any other?
Jackson: Oftentimes, museums can be seen as an intimidating space, not understanding that that access and information is for all. So by going out into communities and making the information and the experiences more approachable and friendly and being in a trusted public space like a public library, just makes it that much more comfortable for people to approach it and to get involved. And to see themselves as somebody that can be interested and learn about these subjects and have interest in knowledge in these areas, just as much as the next person. It just brings it to a point for people to be able to engage easily and happily and comfortably.
Miller: How do you decide where to go?
Jackson: Well, we have a relationship with the public libraries around the state. And usually during the summer, we go out for their summer reading programs, and have built up a trust in those communities that we will bring some wonderful things. We try to serve everybody that calls us and wants us to come out to their community. We build trips into certain areas so that the educators will be on the road in a certain region over a certain amount of days, and be able to provide multiple programs in that area. And we try to make sure that we get to all corners and bits and pieces and parts of the state and don’t focus in just one area.
Miller: I mentioned that Oregon Rocks! is one of the programs that’s happening this summer. What is it?
Jackson: Oregon Rocks! is a fun youth and family program designed for elementary age kids and their families. Their family members might be anywhere from preschool to up to senior citizens, especially this particular subject of geology, everybody seems to really enjoy it. It can be seen a little bit like a small mini museum that gets set up in a community space with hands-on activities and specimens and rock samples to look at. We do a short presentation. The museum educator that comes to the community will do a presentation for about 20-25 minutes, [interact] with the audience, and then set them free to experience all of the hands-on activities at their own pace. Things like pretending to be a rock on the rock cycle, playing a game by rolling dice and finding out what happens to your rock as you melt into magma or cool into igneous rocks or erode into sediment, etc. Or by doing some erosion and weathering experiments with water or wind, and lots of other experiences.
Miller: What does a successful event look like to you?
Jackson: Well, a successful event can really be any size. We have really successful events for just 5-10 people sometimes. And they’ve gone up to over 200 in some communities. It really comes down to people being engaged and interested and excited. And for me personally, I have a big commitment to family education. So for me, the success is seeing the parents and the kids learning together, the adult family members and the younger family members having a good time learning about science, but also engaging together to experience it and to learn about something. And that usually happens.
Miller: Is it hard to get the parents to take part as opposed to thinking of this as a chance when they can check out and not have to do stuff with their kids? Are they just looking at their cell phones?
Jackson: Well, setting up the stations and the activities in a way that have multiple ways for people to interact, such as a sign for the parents to help the kids interact with the activity, interesting things for the parents to read about the subject while the child might be doing a hands on piece of it, the design of the program helps for that. But also reminders during the presentation about parents and kids exploring the room together. And being in the public library space, they are set up for that family learning usually where the parents and kids are coming together. So there is a little bit of that baked into the mix. But it does take a little bit of coaxing, and a little bit of being that role model too, about how to get down on the level with the younger folks and helping them to do an activity, and coaxing those parents in to make a bracelet that shows the rock cycle. And they sometimes have more fun than their kids.
Miller: I understand that the educators who are going around as part of this, they’re normally University of Oregon students themselves. What do they get out of this?
Jackson: They get a wonderful work experience in working with all different types of people and different ages. They learn about presentation and program delivery and the educational aspect of that. There’s a lot of time management and independence, where they roll into a library, they need to work with the librarian and the staff that are there, set up an entire program in a new space, twice a day oftentimes, and pack it all back up again and go do it again a couple hours later. And so it’s a really good skill building for young professionals on their way out into the world. In this particular year, one is a geology major and the other one is an environmental education major. So they also get to bring their information that they know about this topic out into the community as well.
Miller: What’s next in terms of traveling exhibits or programs that you’re working on now that folks can expect in the near future?
Jackson: We will likely put another program together for the summer library circuit for next summer, which will come up again when June hits us next year - that’ll be before we know it. And currently we have another program happening called Museum Adventures, that is a small traveling exhibit that goes to public libraries without education staff, and is used by libraries for a month and then packed up and sent off onto the next library. And the one that is out in communities right now is called Oregon’s Dino-Story. It’s about dinosaurs and fossils. It is actually Scio and Newport at the moment, and it’s heading to Dufur and La Grande mid-month. It has visited quite a few communities already.
And we have another one that’s coming out in the next few months similar to that called The Native Innovation that is about the engineering and science and innovations of Oregon’s First Peoples, and which was created in collaboration with a number of different tribal groups to help us to create a small traveling exhibit that could go to libraries and be available to the general public.
Miller: Mia Jackson, thanks very much.
Jackson: Thank you for having me.
Miller: Mia Jackson is the education manager for the Museum of Natural and Cultural History at the University of Oregon.
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