Field Trip Explainers

Reflections on life at Exploratorium

Tag: exploratorium

Field Trip Explainer Hopes for Visitors

by klstirr

Each year during Explainer Training, Field Trip Explainers take time to write their goals for Exploratorium visitors. This year our new crew joined us on February 1st in our new home at Pier 15, bringing our ranks to their largest ever—29 total Field Trip Explainers! We will be spending the weeks before re-opening, training, reflecting, and preparing ourselves to best facilitate these goals for visitors.


Here is what we are hoping for:

  • My hope is for visitors to have fun, think about things in a new way, and to be inspired by something they have learned.
  • To have Fun and gain confidence in exploring and learning independently. To discover something that moves them.
  • I want visitors to appreciate the world around them as they make discoveries, link ideas, and make connections at the Exploratorium.
  • I hope that visitors leave the Exploratorium more curious about the world and the gain the ability to ask questions that satisfy their curiosity.
  • I hope visitors climb a ladder of fascination to a carelessly dizzying height, only to lose balance when falling asleep and endlessly fall into an abyss of pure life.
  • I hope that visitors get fun memories, new interests, exciting discoveries, and lots of questions out of their time at the Exploratorium.
  • I hope visitors get amazing fun and some knowledge.
  • I expect visitors to have their minds blown, their world de-familiarized, and their assumptions challenged.
  • I hope that visitors can take away the notion that science learning can be as simple as slowing down and noticing the world around them, and that maybe art can be that simple and accessible too!
  • I hope visitors have a unique experience based on the location of our museum and learn to appreciate San Francisco in a different way. I hope the museum does a lot to focus on the natural beauty around it.
  • My hope is that visitors will re-discover the value and wonder of the process of learning and apply that to critically understanding the world.
  • I hope that visitors will be able to see the influence that science has on everyday life by seeing relationships—an idea of how the world is connected starts to and the responsibility to take care of the world begins to develop…
  • All visitors should have fun while learning as well as taking something new they learned.
  • I hope our visitors become empowered to ask “Why?” and develop the skills to figure it out.
  • I want Exploratorium visitors to feel engaged and excited by their experience here!
  • The one thing I would like for the visitors to get out of this building is to see how cool it is!
  • My hope for visitors is for them not to feel overwhelmed by all of the other visitors around them and to take the time to stop, explore, and make personal discoveries.
  • I hope visitors leave the Exploratorium with something new they learned that they didn’t know before.
  • I hope visitors experience everyday things and occurrences in new ways and feel inspired to learn more about the world (& universe!)
  • I hope that Exploratorium visitors are: delighted by the process of discovery, constantly engaged by our exhibits, & finding new ways of looking at the world around them.
  • Visitors will have brilliant flashes of self and peer-mediated discovery.
  • I hope that every visitor discovers something new and fun about science, whether they are kids, adults, non-scientists, or professional scientists.
  • I hope that visitors gain curiosity about a new subject— enough to research or learn about it after they leave.
  • I hope visitors learn new things that they will always remember and be amazed by.
  • I hope several visitors learn at least one magic trick!
  • I hope visitors feel a sense of joy and inspiration.
  • I hope that visitors have fun seeing things clearly that were not necessarily clear to them before.
  • I hope that visitors come out of the museum thinking that everyone (not just PhD scientists or “smart” kids) can do science!
  • It is my hope that visitors have one revelation or epiphany relating to science, perception, or art & are able to relate it to their lives and the lives of others.
  • To learn & be inspired!
  • An inspiring, thought-provoking experience that causes them to return to their lives empowered to question, experiment, & create. Wooooooww!

Trying to Act Cool at Exploratorium After Dark

by Ann Bartkowski

We got memed.

Hands-On Consciousness

by Anne


Explainers, monks, and Exploratorium teachers exploring sensory exhibits in small groups in preparation for co-facilitating the monks’ World of Your Senses exhibit for Exploratorium visitors.

Explainers and monks working out a problem about mirrors during a morning training session.

Explainers and monks sharing magic tricks with each other and the Exploratorium visitors.

Explainer and monk dissecting a cow eye together for Exploratorium visitors.

What is the purpose of science museums? Is it the democratization of science learning, increasing public science literacy, inspiring people to explore the natural world, instilling compassion for other living things, empowering critical thinking, inspiring the next generation of scientists, something else? I think it’s all of those things… but what is really behind all of those intentions?

This month, we are hosting a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns who are science leaders in their home monasteries and nunneries in India.  What they care most about is peace and happiness for all people.

With this as our starting point, the Exploratorium Explainers are partnering with the monastics to co-facilitate their World of Your Senses exhibition, created as a part of the Science for Monks program. The monks and Explainers spend an hour each morning before the museum opens to the public learning together (and from each other). During the day, we are partnering on all aspects of facilitation–interacting with visitors at exhibits, dissecting eyes and flowers, and hosting philosophical discussions. As well as just getting to know one another, we are exploring Buddhist and scientific ideas about consciousness and how we come to know and understand the world around us.

What we’re discovering is that approaching our work with the intentionality of  peace and happiness brings a mindfulness to “Explaining” that feels right. We’re also discovering that Explainers and monks have much more in common that that we all wear brightly-colored uniforms. We share a love of curiosity and openness to new ideas and experiences. Buddhism may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of science museums, but opening up this exchange of ideas and processes is a great way to get at the heart of what we care about.

Disagreeing About Color

by Ann Bartkowski


Over my spring break from school, I visited the explo and had the privilege of attending their morning Paul D. training. Training with Paul D. is something I have missed this year, as Thursday mornings with him always gave me an outlet for my curiosity, lots of entertainment, inspiration for experiments I wanted to try, opportunities for bizarre thought experiments, and new questions to think about all week long! That Thursday, we went to the exhibit Disagreeing About Color–an exhibit I feel like I have heard Paul D. explore lots of times, but I always come away with more.

I stumbled upon this article in BBC Future (which apparently I should just start reading regularly because it’s where I found the Space schematic below also) about different points of “hue”. It’s a pretty quick and fascinating read if you are interested in science, languages, and other cultures like I am. It reminds me of a conversation that arose at our Disagreeing About Color training– about how the colors you see at that exhibit are dependent both upon the biology of your eyes and also your cultural beliefs about color. For example, the article states that “Vietnamese and Korean people do not differentiate blue from green – leaves and sky are both coloured xanh in Vietnam.” Check the rest of the article out here!

Someone update me on the the monks who are visiting and their thoughts on Disagreeing About Color!

Size and Scale and…. S P A C E !

by Ann Bartkowski

As a former Explainer slash current first year science teacher, I have lots of awesome kids to share all of my love and inquiry for science with. I also have lots of science questions that I can no longer just ask Paul D when I see him, especially awesomely creative questions that kids come up with during class! So now I go to the internet.

The question, “How big is space?” randomly came up this week, and “really big” didn’t seem like a good enough answer. Luckily, my googling turned up THIS SITE. It reminds me a lot of this size and scale prezi-esque visualization that’s already in the depths of our blog. It even tells you how long you’ve been scrolling down through it to help you get a handle on spacetime! It has sooo much cool mind-blowing information that you probably should just stop reading this and start scrolling through it right now.

It’s Pi Day (and it’s Einstein’s Birthday too)!

by Sylvia

Happy Pi Day, everyone! On March 14th, we celebrated the 24th annual Pi Day at the Exploratorium. The Field Trip Explainers joined in the festivities by writing and performing a Pi Day song. The core band is called Buffon’s Needle (a nod to the mathematician that came up with a probability problem as a method to estimate pi, check out the Pi Toss exhibit). So proud to be a part of a celebration so joyous and geeky! Still find myself humming 3.141 592 653 589…

Rainbow Connection

by Chas

At our training Wednesday morning, Ron amazed us with an fascinating (though unfinished) discussion of the electromagnetic spectrum. At the beginning of the meeting, Ron handed out diffraction grating glasses that allowed us to see all the colors that make up the light around us. “I dare you to wear them all day” was the exclamation as we walked out of our training Wednesday morning. So we did, we wore diffraction grating glasses during orientations, at the outdoor cart, and while roaming. My favorite find of the day was at Lumen Illusion. Simple red and blue rotating neon tubes. I put my diffraction grating glasses on my camera and photographed this.



What did y’all see? I look forward to carrying those glasses around for some future discovery.


Jars of Stars

by Anne

This morning when I walked into the Explainer lounge, I was delighted to hear everyone talking about the very thing that has been putting me in a good mood: Last week, Diane W. introduced us to something super magical–sea sparkles (bioluminescent algae)!  We each got to take home a splash of them in test tubes, and are experimenting with keeping them alive on our windowsills. I’m completely enamored with my sea sparkles; it’s a lot like catching fire flies, except they actually have a chance of making it through the night.  There’s just something about a sea of tiny, living beings that glow like stars inside of a jar that captures my attention.

With some insights from the instructables website, I (and many Explainers!) set out to try to sustain this life.  Just like everything else we do, this is an experiment that may need some revision.

Here’s what I did, and how it’s going so far:

1. Kept the sparkles in their original test tube for a few days (while waiting for a trip to the beach to capture some ocean water), and they did just fine.

2. Scooped up a jar of bay water from near Planet Granite. Since this spot is near the Golden Gate Bridge, I’m assuming that the salinity is similar to ocean water. (If I’d gone to Fort Mason first to check out “Tasting the Tides”, I might actually know whether that’s the case…)

3. Boiled the bay water for several minutes to kill any critters that might compete with or eat my algae.

4. Boiled another jar in tap water to sterilize it.

5. Let everything cool to room temperature.

6. Poured the sparkles (the “starter culture”) into the jar of boiled bay water.

7. Placed the jar in my windowsill–it’s a spot that gets indirect sunlight, so it doesn’t get hot.

8. Swirl the water around in the dark at night to watch the tiny stars!

9. After one day in the jar of bay water, the sparkles are alive but seem tired. It could be the new water, or it could be that there wasn’t much sunlight today.

I’ll update this post in about a week with their progress. I’m hoping that they’ll multiply… if they do, then my friends will each get a jar of their own:)

Sal shared this website with a story and photos about a bioluminescent algae occurrence  in nature. If anyone manages to get a good video of their algae, please post!

First Day Hopes!

by Leaf

Today was the first day of explainer training for the 2011-12 school year of field trip ! We shared our goals for the students that will visit this year.

I hope the school field trip kids…

-get empowered to ask why.

-have an amazing time at the museum and that they discover new things and share their discoveries with others.

-get a moment of beautiful confusion.

-get the knowledge that science is all around them in the world, and they have the ability to learn something at any given moment.

-find something in the museum that they think is marvelous and that energizes and inspires them and leaves them with more questions.

-have fun and learn something new.

-feel welcome into our community.

-learn that learning is not always boring.

-get excited about learning new things, feel empowered to ask questions and connect their experience to their everyday lives.

-realize that learning can happen anywhere, not just in a classroom.

-for them to have an amazing unforgettable experience at the Exploratorium and to make it friendly for them to explore without fear.

-leave not only with answers but with more questions. These questions will lead to more learning.

-get confused and simultaneously excited enough to purse an answer.

-will have an experience that they will excitedly share with others.

-will find at least one interesting thing or phenomenon that would stay in their mind and keep them thinking.

-don’t just learn something at the Exploratorium, but get excited to go learn more about something they saw.

It is going to be a great year!

by Aiona

This is a re-post from my other blog, The Summer Exploration Guild, where I’ve been trying out experiments with explainers and educators across the country, but since it’s about an interesting thing I noticed as an Explainer I thought it made sense to post it here too. Enjoy!

When I was an Explainer I always carried magnets around in my pocket, but oddly enough the main thing I did with them was demonstrate their ineffectiveness. When kids were asked “why do you think that’s happening,” one of the number one answers I heard was “magnets,” even at exhibits that had nothing what-so-ever to do with magnets. I would then pull out my magnets and let the kids test their idea.

it didn’t occur to me at the time, but looking back I realize that listening to common misconceptions like this one can reveal a lot about children’s deep understanding of phenomenon. As a thought experiment I decided to revisit the number one exhibit that attracted misplaced magnet theories and see if I could make some hypotheses about what those children were thinking. Here’s what I noticed:

1) This table is made of metal, a material that can be easily magnetized. Perhaps the children are aware of this phenomenon and associate metals with magnetism.

2) The rolling objects are round and black, just like some of the most common magnets found in science kits and on refrigerators. Perhaps the children associate round black objects, particularly ones with holes in them, with magnets.

3) The rolling objects tilt at an angle that appears to defy gravity. Perhaps the children suspect magnets when they encounter materials that seem to cause gravity defiance, because they know a magnet can be used to suspend objects that would otherwise fall.

I now plan on spending some time lurking near Turn table to see if I can find any magnet-confused subjects to test my theories on. This thought experiment has reminded me that underneath an incorrect answer there is often a correct idea worth digging for.