Lawrence Hall of Science celebrates 50 years of science, math education

Ketki Samel/Staff

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The Lawrence Hall of Science is marking its 50th anniversary with a “Summer of Invention” festival and a series of events to celebrate the hall’s impacts on science and mathematics education.

According to Rena Dorph, the Lawrence Hall of Science’s interim director, the hall emphasizes studying how people from diverse communities learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The festival will feature inventions suggested by faculty researchers, students and campus partners; visitors will be able to learn about the inventions and the process of research and development.

The Lawrence Hall of Science features a museum for adults and children, runs a science-based summer camp and develops science and math curriculum materials that are used nationwide and internationally.

“People don’t often realize the breadth and depth of what we do,” Dorph said. “It’s not only the individual lives of the people that go on to (have) careers in STEM fields, but we are also enabling educators to activate new leaders who affect and inspire others.”

While the hall’s “Opening Day” celebration already took place May 20, it is holding a “Birthday Bash Weekend” from Nov. 10-12. The hall will also be holding an “Innovations & Inspirations Benefit” in the spring of 2019, according to the 50th anniversary events website.

One example of how the hall both researches and educates is its project regarding air and water quality in underserved communities — Dorph said the hall applies real-world problems to its educational curriculum to show children how science and technology can be relevant to their own communities.

An exhibit at the Lawrence Hall of Science is the Animal Discovery Room, where Dorph said children learn the concept of biomimicry and how organisms interact with their environment through interaction with live animals.

“Our work is research based, and we go beyond creating a model, to making sure that model works, and then disseminating it,” said Susan Gregory, the hall’s deputy director, in an email. “It has meant that most of our programs achieve wide use.”

More than 12 million people use programs and materials developed by the hall annually, according to Gregory. Dorph also said 25 percent of children in the United States are taught using curricula developed by the Lawrence Hall of Science.

Gregory noted that the hall has been facing a tight budget situation but also that it manages to produce a “significant portion” of its operating budget through grants, curriculum designs, programs and earned revenue.

While the hall’s curricula have been “enormously successful,” another challenge the hall has faced is how to make teaching methods even more effective, according to Roger Falcone, UC Berkeley physics professor and former chair of the Lawrence Hall of Science Faculty Advisory Committee. He added that the hall is trying to expand its curriculum coverage to reach undergraduate college students as well.

“(We are) a learning lab that studies STEM learning,” Dorph said.

Contact Sakura Cannestra and Ryan Geller at [email protected].