I just got back from a trip to California for a family wedding and some time with my sister. We crammed a lot into a week, but one of the highlights was taking the girls to the Exploratorium. It may be the best designed museum I've ever visited (and I've visited a lot). As soon as I looked at the map of the museum I wanted desperately to take my class there. They had exhibits that address every unit we study in science. Of course, exhibits is probably not the correct term because that suggests something that you passively enjoy. Nothing at the Exploratorium is passive.
Our school district has worked hard to create science kits for each of the units we teach. As a result, lessons are very hands on and allow for a lot of constructivist learning and exploration. However, they all pale in comparison with the experiences at the Exploratorium. I kept trying to figure out how to recreate some of these items. Fortunately, the Exploratorium has done a fantastic job of creating online activities similar to what you can do at the museum. I'll be incorporating some of these activities in my classroom.
As wonderful as the online site is, I'm still wishing my students had the opportunity to visit such a museum. The Washington, D.C. area has many, many wonderful museums. But, it has no significant children's museum. The National Children's Museum, which I remember visiting as a child when it was the Capital Children's Museum, is scheduled to open in 2012. The previous museum closed in 2004. That's a long time to wait. The closest, hands-on, exploratory museum for kids is Port Discovery in Baltimore. It's a fun museum, but it pales in comparison with the Exploratorium.
I've visited the Exploratorium before, but somehow it was this visit that made me realize what museums can be. It also got me thinking about how to offer my students experiences like what they could get at the Exploratorium. I hope that one positive result of this visit will be that I stretch as a teacher of science. It's certainly an area that I can grow in!