The Hall will be closed on November 1 for our Inspiring Young Minds Gala.

New Digital Library Offers Informal Learning Fun in Science and Math

October 4, 2010

Contact:  Linda Devillier
(202) 362-4429
Cell: (202) 255-4145

NEW DIGITAL LIBRARY OFFERS INFORMAL LEARNING FUN IN SCIENCE AND MATH

October 4, 2010–Berkeley, CA. The University of California, Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science (LHS) today announced the launch of howtosmile.org, an online collection of thousands of hands-on interactive science and math activities dedicated to making learning exciting and engaging for everyone. All activities at www.howtosmile.org are freely accessible, and never require a registration or subscription.

Howtosmile.org, funded by the National Science Foundation as part of the National Science Digital Library (NSDL), brings together a consortium of science museums across the country to empower educators working with school-aged children in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (STEM). Howtosmile.org provides a digital infrastructure to allow informal science institutions to broaden their reach to informal educators across the United States.

National Partners and Collaborators, drawn from the public and private sectors, are providing scores of vetted, highly regarded STEM activities to howtosmile.org. In addition to science centers, partners include federal agencies, professional membership organizations, community-based groups, public television stations, and other organizations with a focus on out-of-school education.

According to Darrell Porcello, the Director of the Center for Technology Innovation at LHS and Project Director of howtosmile.org, “The major innovation of howtosmile.org is the variety of ways to search and discover STEM activities across the Web, including popular characteristics like age level, subject, materials costs, and preparation time, to name just a few of the search options. Our goal is a one-stop shop for out-of-school educators searching the web for excellent hands-on science and math activities.”

Sherry Hsi, Research Director of LHS’s Center for Technology Innovation and Co-Director of howtosmile.org, explains the genesis of the project. “We began with the idea that science centers have some of the best kids’ science and math activities that can be made with simple and low-cost materials. We thought that creating a place to share these activities with each other—along with teaching tips, ratings, and comments—would greatly enhance out-of-school learning opportunities.”

Mr. Porcello continues, “We talked to science museum educators, front-line staff of afterschool programs, and homeschoolers across to country to find out the most important criteria they used to choose activities for their students. Then we built a digital library around those criteria. Now that we have a great collection, we want the Web site to become the home for a rich and diverse community of educators who search, use, collect, and comment on their favorite hands-on activities.”

Howtosmile.org activities are available to everyone,” says Ms. Hsi, “but we are particularly interested in reaching informal educators in afterschool and outdoor education programs, including science museums, aquaria, planetariums, zoos, and technology centers, as well as homeschoolers who are creating their own lesson plans.”

HowtoSmile.org spotlights hands-on and interactive activities, both physical and virtual, that involve doing and learning. Activities take many forms, from downloadable lesson plans, to field trip activities, how-to videos and online interactive games, like one that allows learners to do virtual surgery.  In one activity contributed by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, learners use a strip of paper and a pencil to create a pocket scale model of the solar system. In a math activity provided by the Children’s Museum of Houston, young learners use a small bag of candy to make histograms and learn about graphs.

The Web site provides both an enhanced faceted and a visual search for the collection of hands-on activities; list-making features that provide educators a public or private online space to collect their favorite activities and add teaching tips and ideas on how to use an activity in context; user-contributed videos, and other creative community functions that encourage users to rate and comment on activities and earn badges for community involvement. Some activities are available in Spanish. Special activity collections target those with limited mobility and individuals who are vision impaired. Built using open source tools, howtosmile.org also includes an open infrastructure to allow institutions to contribute links to useful activities and a free widget to embed howtosmile.org search results on any webpage.

Howtosmile.org is a joint project of UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, the Exploratorium, the New York Hall of Science, Science Museum of Minnesota, Children’s Museum of Houston, and the Association of Science-Technology Centers

Howtosmile.org is supported by an impressive array of National Partners and Collaborators dedicated to STEM education.  They include:  AAUW, Astronomical Society of the Pacific; AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquaria); the Bridge: Online Ocean Science Education Resource Center; COSI (Center for Science and Industry); National Geographic; National 4-H Council; NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration); OMSI, (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry); Perkins School for the Blind; TERC; Twin Cities Public Television (Dragonfly TV) and WGBH-Boston.