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Mid-America Science Museum
“Families can come to the museum and experience things together, interacting with each other and learning from each other. Part of what makes learning fun is expressing what you see, demonstrating an understanding of what you have seen, and then telling someone else about it. The museum provides a platform for that.”
– Diane LaFollette, Executive Director
Pioneering Hands-On Museum Experiences
As the first interactive, informal learning environment in Arkansas, the Mid-America Museum, established in 1979 continues its mission of stimulating interest in science, promoting public understanding of the sciences, and encouraging lifelong science education through interactive exhibits and programs. The museum community is made up of four distinct patron types, all with unique needs that drive programming adaptation year-to-year. Located in an area of the country that is plagued by high poverty, low achievement scores, and dwindling resources, 70 percent of the museum’s student visitors are statistically impoverished, underserved and underperforming. Multi-generational visitor groups are prevalent, as are older learners who have retired in Hot Spring, and the museum has long-standing partnerships with local organizations that work with special needs individuals. No matter the patron, the museum demonstrates value in education and self-expression through its many exhibits and programs.
Encouraging Self Discovery Through Science Matters
The museum employees work to provide better educational materials and experiences for teachers and students in the low-achieving schools of the Arkansas Delta. A successful new initiative, Science Matters, has become a cornerstone of that outreach. The multifaceted program combines hands-on, inquiry-based science activities with one-on-one professional development training for teachers. Aimed at students in fourth grade, the program builds on innate curiosity and encourages the strengthening of language skills for self-expression through in-depth science experiments.
Arkansas's Own Tinkering Festival
Capitalizing on its pioneering nature, the museum instituted the Tinkering Studio, a place for open-ended, material-rich exploration where participants use real tools coupled with imagination to ignite curiosity. Studio visitors generate questions and use participatory learning to explore the universe of possible answers. An offshoot of the studio is TinkerFest, the museum’s family-friendly, hands-on science and art education festival. The festival addresses the need to provide educational activities for families that lead them to the intersection of science and art.
The Mid-America Science Museum continues to be ahead of its time, featuring exhibits that encourage hands-on interaction and participatory learning. The museum’s new Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk spans 280 feet behind the museum into the forest canopy. Being 40 feet off the ground and over a stream, this outdoor exhibit invites visitors to experience nature while enjoying an intriguing array of bridges, a tree house, and interactive exhibits.