Girls STEAM Ahead with NASA: The Power of Partnership

Contributed by Pam Hillestad

The National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) has proven repeatedly that everything is better with friends! Through NGCP, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to work alongside amazing partners like the California Academy of Sciences, the CryptoClub Project, and now NASA’s Universe of Learning. These relationships have taught me a great deal, fostering both new ideas and creativity in my job, reaffirming my belief in the importance of working “smarter, not harder,” and helping me to build a community of experts to help bring new, exciting opportunities to the vibrant community of the Glazer Children’s Museum.Glazer Children's Museum Logo

I was introduced to NASA’s Universe of Learning a little over a year ago, when I read about it in the NGCP’s monthly e-newsletter. We were busy planning for summer, a time when our attendance numbers routinely peak, and I got really excited about the idea of bringing a NASA exhibit to the museum. We had decided that we wanted to provide our guests many “pop-up” exhibit experiences throughout the summer to keep things fresh and give guests multiple reasons to return. The timing was great because I’d recently had a group of 1st graders write appeal letters to the Museum asking us to put up a “Space” exhibit. Universe of Learning seemed like a perfect opportunity to address those needs.

Shortly thereafter I attended an NGCP webinar called Girls STEAM Ahead with NASA. That presentation highlighted the many free resources available and offered the opportunity to apply for funding to help bring one of the NASA exhibits to a collaborative’s location. After reviewing the exhibits available on the Universe of Learning website, we decided to apply to host NASA’s Here, There, Everywhere exhibit. Because most of our audience is under eight years old, this exhibit seemed like a perfect starter for our space.

Glazer Children's MuseumThe beauty of Here, There, Everywhere is that it takes simple processes or ideas that children are familiar with and then shows them how those same things happen in space. Take for example the idea of shadows—children understand that when light is blocked, a shadow is formed. Shadow play is a perfect way to explain things like lunar eclipses and shadows on the surface of faraway planets. Using their own tangible experience is the best way to teach young children about more difficult or abstract concepts. Each of the Here, There, Everywhere physics concepts is easily taught to young ones by activating their knowledge of what happens here in their own world. At the Glazer Children’s Museum we were able to tackle difficult subjects like the properties of light and sound by connecting them to the children’s realities.

One of the great things about NASA’s Universe of Learning is that all the resources are easily downloadable on the website. Instead of applying to host the exhibit, we could’ve simply printed it locally and been able to keep the resources. The exhibit includes beautiful, free images that teach the concepts of motion, light, wind, electricity, speed, sound, and the seeding of the universe. The exhibit arrived compactly in four trunks and we were able to put it up in under two hours. Along with the multiple banners, support materials arrived, including things like airzookas, marketing materials, activity outlines, and braille cards. Additionally, we received a set of stylized and interesting Women in STEM posters and Exoplanet posters that we framed and have permanently mounted in the museum. We launched the exhibit in an area of our museum called Gadget Garage, which is dedicated to all things STEAM-related.

Air Force pilot talking to kidsOur grand opening took place over the 4th of July weekend; more than 5,000 guests visited during the initial weekend! We were also fortunate to host a local Subject Matter Expert, an Air Force Fighter Pilot, who talked to our guests about the physics of motion using the NASA images coupled with a video of him breaking the sound barrier. One of the most exciting parts of his visit was that he brought his flight suit and helmet with him. Some of my favorite photos from the weekend are pictures of children trying them on. We love to say “Dream it. Be it,” here at the Glazer Children’s Museum and based on the exit surveys parents filled out after the presentation, we know that being able to “try on” the job of a fighter pilot made a strong impact on the boys and girls who visited.

During the six weeks the exhibit was on the museum floor we hosted 39,737 guests who were able to enjoy Here. There. Everywhere. Two of those days were free days completely open to the public, part of our social responsibility initiative, where we bring programming to under-served and under-represented groups. Each day during the exhibit we regularly activated the space with programming adapted from the Universe of Learning website. Some of our favorite programming included Binary Name Tags, Where the Wind Blows, and Zap! Electric Discharge. Although the activities were designed for older children, we were easily able to adapt them for our audience. Additionally, our Teen Play Leaders worked in the exhibit space to activate the Micro Observatory, where children could schedule a photo of the moon to be sent to them and Eyes on Exoplanets, where children were able to explore the outer reaches of space.

The Glazer Children’s Museum learns so much from its partnerships every day and we are thankful for the opportunities afforded to us by the National Girls Collaborative Project. In this case we will absolutely continue to access the resources available to us as part of the NASA Museum Alliance and are already working on future programs we will use with our Camp Imagination and Girl Scout workshops. Here, There, Everywhere, allowed us to design what worked for us and has given us a framework to replicate as we continue to make the connection between exhibits, education, and daily programming in our building of new exhibit spaces. I encourage you to take advantage of the many wonderful resources available through NASA’s Universe of Learning.

Pam HillestadPam Hillestad is a 28-year veteran of the Department of Defense Education Activity, where she was a two-time Teacher of the Year. During her formal teaching career, she taught high school English and served as a Professional Development Trainer and a coach on U.S. military bases overseas in four countries. Pam retired from service in 2015 and joined the Glazer Children’s Museum staff in January of 2017, where she now serves as the Director of School and Youth Programs. Her formal education background, expertise in curriculum development, and innovative spirit have helped to transform the educational environment of the Museum. She has a BA in English from St. Olaf College, MN and an MA in Educational Leadership and Curriculum Development from Framingham State University, MA.