by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator
Think back to when you were a kid – what kinds of things fascinated you? Sparked your curiosity? Turned you on to exploring your world? Yes, it was a long time ago, but remembering my childhood fascinations with the space program, dinosaurs, and the ancient past puts a smile on my face. I can still feel the feelings of wonder and excitement.
Getting kids turned on to exploring and understanding their world – that’s one of our core passions here at the Museum. Last week we were honored by a visit from Dr. Temple Grandin, author, animal behavior pioneer, and autism advocate, who inspired us with her own experiences as a scientist and some great advice on engaging kids.
The key, according to Dr. Grandin, is to get kids “turned on” when they’re young. “If you don’t expose kids to interesting things, they’re not going to get interested in interesting things, “ she said. “You’ve got to get them out and take them to places.”
When we shared with Dr. Grandin our plans and ideas for the new museum, she was enthusiastic. “I think it’s just wonderful that you’re building this museum,” she told us. “We have got to get school kids into the museum. The little kids, we’ve got to get them in there, because I can remember visits to the science museum when I was a kid, and, you know, it made a big impression on me.”
We were curious to hear her thoughts on our approach in the new museum, where we will be taking scientific phenomena and hands-on experiences and putting them in a cultural context – bringing in the history side of things and showing science in action. “That makes total sense,” she told us. “That’s a really good point. You’re telling me you’re going to study how gears work. I’ve seen those exhibits where they show you how gears work, but then what do you use gears for? Well, your bicycle is a good example, so why are gears important? – bicycles have them, you’ve got them in the car, too. We need to show how it works in the real world.”
Dr. Grandin is also a champion of hands-on learning. “What we’ve got to do to get kids enthusiastic about science is that we’ve got to expose them to hands-on science when they’re little kids,” she said. “You know there are programs where, even in elementary school, kids can go out and collect water samples and then they can actually be used to detect pollution levels. That’s real science. Third and fourth graders can collect water samples. We need to make science relevant. When I was a child, science is what enables you to go to the moon. I can remember when Sputnik flew overhead and everyone was all revved up about, we’ve got to really learn science because we have to get to the moon before Russia gets to the moon! It motivated the whole country.”
Dr. Grandin’s already busy life – in addition to teaching at Colorado State University, she travels extensively as an animal welfare consultant and a speaker at autism conferences – has become even more hectic since the HBO movie “Temple Grandin” came out (the movie recently was honored with seven Emmy Awards). While acknowledging the many demands on her time, Dr. Grandin said that “One thing I have tried to do is answer all the letters, especially when little kids write in to me. Make sure I answer all of those and tell them to study hard and achieve your dreams.”