Northeastern Section–41st Annual Meeting (20–22 March 2006)

Paper No. 3
Presentation Time: 1:45 PM


SMITH, David Lee, Professional Development, Da Vinci Discovery Center, 3145 Hamilton Blvd. Bypass, Allentown, PA 18103-3686 and FOX, Robert A., Education, Da Vinci Discovery Center, 3145 Hamilton Blvd. Bypass, Allentown, PA 18103-3686,

Science centers are an important venue for increasing public awareness and understanding of geoscience. Many science center exhibits are intended to produce discovery learning (active learning toward a pre-defined truth, Hein, 2002) with materials and text designed to help the visitor identify an accepted piece of content knowledge. Recent advances in learning theory, pedagogy, and informal education all point to the importance of constructivist learning (active learning toward a personally/socially constructed understanding, Hein, 2002) and suggest that science center exhibits should attempt to engage the visitor in a more authentic process of science inquiry.

At the Da Vinci Center, scientists and educators have collaborated with industrial and academic scientists to create constructivist experiences we call workstations. Geoscience workstations include Stories in Stone, Lehigh Valley Geology, Paleontologists Wanted, and Quakes and Shakes. They contain drawers full of rich materials, open to public exploration, accompanied by very limited text that encourages investigation rather than disbursing information. Visitors are asked to use their senses to explore the materials and then to use their minds to analyze and explain what they find.

Workstation development began by identifying key concepts embedded in state and national standards. Once themes were derived from standards, we sought out partners in academia and industry to assist in the development of the workstations. These partners provided content expertise, access to materials, and a strong connection to the local community. For Lehigh Valley Geology, a local company, was able to provide us with multiple examples of products that make use of limestone, the bedrock underlying much of the valley. Once activities and materials were identified, text was developed to engage and promote inquiry.

Asking for inquiry in an institution where visitors often expect answers is a challenge. Visitors can feel intimidated or overwhelmed if asked to make their own sense of what they see, however, we see return visitors becoming acculturated and beginning to engage deeply with the materials. Preliminary results suggest that inquiry workstations are a powerful tool for collaboration between scientists and educators in the service of public education.