Nonprofit Notes: Experiential learning at The Discovery
I call it the “Ikea division.” You’re either a reader of instructions, or you’re the type that dives into the parts and pieces, and starts to build. I find people tend to lean one direction more than another when it comes to things like assembling furniture. The staff at The Discovery tend to be the “give me the parts and see what I can do” type of people, but we’re strong believers in the power of hands-on, experiential learning.
The power of experiential learning experiences is why the science and technology museum industry exists. At The Discovery we get to see the excitement people have the first time they are able to solve one of our Brain Teasers, or the enthusiasm our campers show when they are able to test out the rocket car they just invented. As an informal learning center, we can provide opportunities for our visitors to apply concepts they may have learned in a more formal setting, but in a carefree environment where failure is not intimidating. A museum visitor’s rocket car might not always work on the first try, but the learning model at The Discovery encourages them to try, try again.
Connecting museum and life experience
Our exhibits are designed to have visitors actively engaged in a phenomenon and/or specific content, which when coupled with other life experiences fuels further inquiry. We realize learning happens on a continuum: at our homes, online, with friends, and in the classroom. Finding ways to connect what our visitors already know with a museum experience is one of the best ways to make learning memorable and inspire even further investigation. You may have learned about circuits in school, but becoming part of a live, human circuit at The Discovery will have you talking about the concept for years to come.
Get your hands dirty
Getting your hands involved to help build or design something you have dreamt up is almost always a great learning experience. Studies have shown that when students apply abstract science and mathematical concepts to the physical world, their understanding and retention of content increases dramatically. Not only does application prove to help with overall understanding and retention, but it also helps to make concepts relevant to the learner, which improves long-term motivation. This is one of the reasons we work so closely with the Washoe County School District to provide school field trip labs that align with the district’s efforts to provide students with experiences that are only possible at a location like ours. Students need to have the space to fail, try again, and ultimately persevere — grit is an important aspect in a lifelong learner.
So regardless of which side of the Ikea division you reside on, I invite you to visit The Discovery to take part in the power of experiential learning and create your own memorable experiences. One other important note: The Discovery — and learning — are not just for kids. Regardless of your age or interests, you’ll find something at The Discovery that is certain to spark a love of lifelong learning.
Sarah Gobbs-Hill is the education and exhibits director at The Discovery.