Spreading a love of science through digital experiences and activities

Discovery Place

In a typical year, Discovery Place welcomes thousands of students to its four museums through hundreds of field trips. The organization shares its love of science, nature and technology with hundreds more youth annually in other outreach efforts where Discovery Place educators visit schools, childcare facilities and other organizations throughout the community to provide educational programs.

“Discovery Place has been a part of the Charlotte region for nearly 75 years. You’ll be hard pressed to find an adult who grew up in Charlotte that did not, at one point or another, interact with Discovery Place as a part of their schooling,” says Heather Norton, the organization’s vice president of Science and Nature. “A part of our mission has always been to shape a future where people embrace science to create opportunities, build hope, solve problems and bring positive change for our world.”

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In March 2020, field trips and outreach events came to a screeching halt with the onset of COVID-19. While the pandemic greatly restricted any in-person learning across the globe for many months, Discovery Place quickly transitioned to providing virtual opportunities to spread knowledge and keep learners of all ages engaged. This included the creation of a new digital learning center, Stay-at-Home Science, where educators provide lessons on everything from using chemistry to create a rainbow and exploring the three states of matter to understanding the science of sound and learning about pH indicators.

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At first, staff created the educational videos and blog activities from their own homes. Then, when restrictions eased enough that team members could return to the Museums, lessons were created there. With help from T-Mobile, a new digital studio was created inside the Discovery Place Education Studio to further the team’s abilities to provide educational content.

Then, as schools started to welcome students back for varying levels of remote and in-person learning, Discovery Place became a source for virtual classes and assemblies on grade-appropriate curriculum topics. The new digital studio provided a platform for Discovery Place to serve students from Charlotte and beyond. Students from Piney Grove Elementary, Rex Rennert Elementary and Southside Asheville Elementary in Robeson County received supply kits and participated in multiple sessions on topics about matter, the solar system and even backyard biology. They were able to remotely travel across the solar system, explore properties of matter through hands-on experiments as well as “meet” some of Discovery Place’s Ambassador Animals.

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Use of the digital studio continues to expand even today, with live social media events and special team-led activities for different groups taking place.

“The pandemic propelled us to create this virtual avenue for sharing our love of science with everyone,” Norton says. “While we are fortunate that our Museums are now back open, we will continue to create digital content to reach more people and eliminate barriers to science learning.”

If building a better understanding of science wasn’t important before (spoiler alert: it was), it is certainly important now.

“This pandemic has emphasized the significance of science in all our lives,” Norton says, “and how important it will be in the future as well.”

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