Field Trip Explainers

Reflections on life at Exploratorium

Tag: training

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!

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.


Last Day of Training

by lianna

Exhibit haikus

An Explainer tradition

Summing it all up

Ok, it’s not the best haiku ever, but it gets the point across, right?  We wrapped up an  amazing two weeks of training with one of my favorite activities – the exhibit haiku!  Manpreet is an all star and recorded all the brilliance we created.  We started at Colored Shadows.  Everybody wrote either an adjective, verb, or noun about this exhibit and randomly taped them up on the wall.  After a little rearranging, this is what we came up with:


surprising wall light obscured trinity

separating complex space melding fun

blocking shapes hide rainbow silhouette, move

Pretty good, huh?  After that we broke out into small groups to visit an exhibit that makes the invisible visible and be inspired by it to write a haiku or three.  I’ll write the haikus here for now and post answers in the comments in a few days. Until then, you’ll just have to see where the imagery takes you!


saga in moments

amazing dance transforms time

make it fall again



discombobulating puff

discordant anguish


gently squeaking scent

challenge to the senses, yes?




clear, pink, green, orange, purple, blue

multiply by 2


sleeping in silence

tonal friction awaken

emerging patterns


sprinkle snowy gems

crystalized meanderings

chaos dances still


the lengthening slide

illuminate wind high low

light magnified toot

Language, Gender, Directions and Explainer Training

by Ann Bartkowski

Lianna and I wanted to share this article with you that was published in the NY Times over the summer. It’s so relevant! (to what we have been talking about today and yesterday in trainings)

There is a section about nouns with genders in different languages that came up during our philosophy discussion yesterday about gender. There is also a part about people who use directions (such as north, south, east, west) instead of saying “left hand, right leg, in front of me, behind you”, etc. Robert and I were talking about this part of the article during our North-Finding activities outside today.

NY Times Article on Language

Happy Reading! If you’re super interested, it’s part of a real book by Guy Deutscher called “Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages” that was published this summer. Book Club, perhaps?

Chain reaction contraptions with PIE

by Luigi Anzivino

Here I am, the ghost of explainers past, to present: chain reaction contraptions built as part of a training with PIE and the Learning Studio. This is just a small scale preview of the chaos we will unleash on the unsuspecting public at Maker Faire, coming up at the end of this month! Enjoy the videos.

DNA: Size Does Matter. But is it Science or Art?

by Ann Bartkowski

Last week Karen came in to teach us about DNA and size.  Since DNA is so very itty-bitty, we were having a hard time understanding the magnitude of it and other tiny things we talk about daily but can’t see.  It was really cool imagining the sizes of bacteria, viruses, DNA, and cells relative to each other in terms of objects whose sizes we have a feeling for…such as cabinets and tables and explOratoriums and hypothetical unibrows.    


Then I randomly found this website, which starts with the same idea as our DNA Cheek Cell Extraction Demo but takes it to a whole new level: 

You send your cheek cells in the mail to their company.  They extract your DNA from your cells, then use PCR to amplify unique sections of DNA in your genome.  This DNA is loaded into a gel and a current is run through the gel to separate the DNA based on size.  UV dye is added to the whole thing to make your DNA strands visible, a photograph is taken, and voila!…a giant canvas print with the color scheme of your choice is ready to hang on your wall! 

I think the image looks kind of like a cityscape, and if it didn’t start at $400, I would like one…albeit, I am a bit creeped out by the way their website encourages you to contact them if you think you might be into decorating with DNA from a dead person or pet (they will just need to obtain some mitochondrial DNA from your dead friend’s hair). 

Chain Reaction machines

by Luigi Anzivino

To look at individual photos, please look at the complete set. I’ve tried to include brief descriptions of the most intriguing ones, but it’s a daunting task to describe them all!

Chain Reaction is a P.I.E. activity in which participants get to build contraptions using a variety of materials: homemade switches, motors, re-purposed toys, and everyday and "art" materials are combined to set each other off. Each two-persons "team" gets a piece of real estate on a tabletop, and a specified input-output square. At the end of its run, each contraption will trigger the next one on the table; therefore each team’s creation contributes to the whole final performance.

The Learning Studio hosted a workshop for the awesome Exploratorium Explainers, much like the Marble Machines one that I got to participate in last year. Just like before, half of the explainers participated one day, and the other half the next: someone has to help those poor kids out on the floor to explore!

An extra motivation for the workshop was preparing for the upcoming Pi Day at the Exploratorium, when we will try to replicate a version of this activity of the floor, for the general public (Yikes!). So we provided each time with a Pi(e)-themed object to somehow incorporate in the contraption. See if you can spot them…

Oh, coincidentally March 14 (3-14, get it? Pi? Nevermind…) is also Einstein’s birthday, so there were a few Einstein-themed knickknacks too.

Once again I was amazed by the capacity this group has to create brilliant and fun machines in a really short amount of time, with elegant and somewhat quirky solutions to a variety of problems along the way. Go Explainers, go!

If you have any comments about the activity, either as a participant or as an external reader of this blog, that’s what the comment box is for. Go for it.

The bubbles in your test tube

by Anne

Hey crew,

This just in from Karen K:

(to answer the question about how the bubbles that are attached to the DNA got there)

“At the interface the water and alcohol mix, and bonds are broken and reformed. Alcohol is bonding with water, more so than the percentage
initially. When this happens, heat is given off (this process has a name — “heat of mixing”). In this case the amount of heat is not sufficient for us to feel, but is enough to drive out some air that is dissolved in the water. This forms the bubbles, and since air is lighter than either water or alcohol, the bubbles can lift the DNA to the surface.”

Aiona the Know-it-all

by Aiona

For me, explainer training was all about learning one big, surprising, challenging concept; explainers do not really explain things. Not very often at any rate.

I graduated from college several months ago with a big smile, and an inflated ego thinking “great, now I know pretty much everything there is to know, and can finally go teach some of my expertise to other people.” Well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, I’m not quite that bad, but I am probably a certifiable know-it-all, and I was definitely always that obnoxious girl in class who wouldn’t put her hand down, and had to have the answer to everything. The weird thing I’m realizing is that in a lot of ways I still am that girl, and around my co-explainers it gets me irritated glares instead of ‘A+’s.

I’m also noticing that a lot of the kids who come in here really couldn’t care less about my obscure facts or complicated jargon-filled explainations, some of them just want to do their own exploration, and, of course, that’s the whole point. So I’m learning to keep my mouth shut, ask more questions, and have less answers. It’s an ongoing process but so far it’s been interesting. I think maybe our job title is a little off. When I asked the other explainers how they described their positions they threw out some much better ones, like “experience facilitator.” I also think “exploration patrol,” should be considered. We do have badges.

Comparing Yellows

by ryan

It’s the start of a school year which means that we have new explainers, new school groups and new Paul D! Well, actually its the same Paul D., but we get to learn new science facts and experience new exhibits.

Today Paul talked about this exhibit called ‘Comparing Yellows’. It doesn’t come across so well in the photo, but the basic idea is that the center dot is a light emitting diode showing ‘pure yellow light’, while the outside ring has a gradient of ‘green and red light’. The crazy thing that Paul told us was that the colors of light is something entirely created by human perception. Each person has a slightly different combination of ‘cones’ in the color receiving cells in the retina. Most people in our group saw the center dot as the same as the dot at 1 or 2 o’clock but Katie and Chris perceived the middle dot as similar to the greenish dot at 7 o’clock. That’s because they have forms of color blindness which occurs in 1/10th of men and 1/100th of women.

This helped us realize that each visitor to the ExplOratorium may experience the exhibit in an entirely different way. There is no ‘right or wrong’ way to interact with an exhibit, and that’s what makes this place excellently cool.