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Hands-on exploration: A simple method of teaching the public

Without a doubt, our personal worlds are shaped by early experiences in our lives. For instance, my early childhood was filled with experiences in which I was encouraged to ask "why" as often as I could, explore the answers, and give my own answers to those precious questions. My brain was fuelled by my imagination, and my imagination was fuelled by hands-on exploration.

I see this same experience every week at Imagination Station, the hands-on science museum I volunteer at. Our "flight simulators" are nothing but somewhat gutted cockpits, but the imagination of the kids allows them to really fly. Next to the cockpits is a sand pit that we tossed some plaster dinosaur fossils into. The shouts of excitement when the kids find one of the dinosaur bones can be heard throughout the first floor.

As I walk through the museum I ask the kids what they are finding, seeing, and exploring. The responses I get for even the more sophisticated displays are amazing. After playing with a display that shows how electricity is generated from water, a six-year-old girl was able to tell me that when the water moves faster, the lights get brighter.

Every week I see familiar faces, new and old, as well as the very young. Every week they share their experiences with me and ask for answers. Usually we have a hands-on method of educating the public about their questions, and we work together to help them explore their own thoughts. Not everyone is correct with their hypothesis, but within a few moments they know what a hypothesis is, and that they are going to test it by trying it out. More than anything else, this method of teaching the public has created greater curiosity and a desire to learn about their world. It is also probably the most engaging way to communicate science to the nonscientist.

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