By Joe Cox, Museum of Discovery and Science
Friday the 13th of March 2020 should have been the 25th Annual Bank of America Wine, Spirits & Culinary Celebration here at the Museum of Discovery and Science (MODS) in Fort Lauderdale. During this wonderful evening, almost 2,000 guests come together to celebrate the work of the museum and raise funds to support our accessibility programs. Instead, the fundraiser was cancelled, marking the beginning of one of the most challenging periods in our forty-three-year history.
Faced with the prospect of being closed for months, our team rose to the challenge of continuing our mission of “connecting people to inspiring science”—only now, through innovative virtual programming. Two days after we closed, we transformed our exhibit floors into a video production studio. In that first week, we produced forty-five STEM learning videos focused on our four strategic pillars of Environmental Sustainability, Physical Science, Health & Wellness and Early Childhood Education.
Using those initial videos and supporting activity guides, we worked with our local school district to create eight weeks of PreK–12 curriculum to support their virtual learning programs. The “MODS Challenge” allows students, teachers and to solve real-world problems through STEAM content and project-based learning. During a time when distance learning is at the forefront, this partnership-developed curriculum bolsters 21st century skills, including creativity, critical thinking, design, teamwork, leadership, risk-taking, and perseverance. Additionally, each week’s challenge offers selected readings for every grade level and access to some of the IMAX® films in MODS’ library of documentaries.
Our partnership with Broward County Public Schools, a district serving over 250,000 students, was key to our success. Superintendent Robert W. Runcie stated, “Our District values the strategic relationship we have with the Museum of Discovery and Science. The MODS Challenge is just one example of how we are working to transform virtual education with real-world activities that engage students while supporting their ongoing learning.”
The success of the “MODS Challenge” encouraged us to reimagine physical events into virtual experiences and to launch INSPIRE (INnovative STEAM Programs in Remote Education) as a new way of providing ongoing engagement with students and professional development for teachers not just locally, but around the world.
Held each May at MODS, Eye of the Storm is traditionally a hurricane awareness and preparedness day that welcomes 3,500 visitors. Recognizing the importance of this programming in South Florida, we worked with our partners at Florida International University’s International Hurricane Research Center and the Florida Division of Emergency Management to produce a twelve-episode, “Eye of the Storm” video series that has now been viewed over 300,000 times. The production brought together dozens of our community partners as well as other museums in hurricane prone regions, the Science Museum of Virginia, and the Louisiana Children’s Museum.
“Wise Bodies” has been a successful assembly program over the past two years that addresses the critical issue of HIV/AIDS awareness in Broward County Public Schools. As a result of the pandemic, our partners at Aids Healthcare Foundation worked with us to create a virtual version including a supporting educational curriculum that is hosted on the School District’s learning platform.
Each of these programs was generously supported by our board members, private foundations, and corporate donors. Our approach overall was to secure funding to present the programs at no cost to our viewers or program recipients. We are continuing this approach with the launch of our new STEMobile, a new mobile museum makerspace
designed for the many schools and families not able to get to the museum as a result of the pandemic. Our goal is to raise funds to deliver free programs to 50,000 children over the coming year.
Whether at the museum (we reopened December 1 and are seeing about 40 percent of
our 2019 attendance), virtually (900,000 views of our content and counting) or through our community outreach programs, our mission has never seemed more critical, and our role in helping to reverse the “COVID slide” more timely. Our role at the Museum of Discovery and Science is to connect people to inspiring science and encourage young people to pursue STEM careers, building a workforce that is ready to solve future challenges.
Joe Cox is president & CEO of the Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.