Community children and university students alike received hands-on learning experiences at “Inclusive Science Day” last weekend as part of the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery’s newest exhibit.

The event took place last Saturday at the Market on State Street. It was a collaboration between the museum and two Ohio University student organizations: the National Science Teacher’s Association (NSTA) and the Student Council for Exceptional Children (SCEC).

Sami Kahn, an assistant professor of Science Education, the faculty adviser for NTSA, and parent of a daughter with special needs, said the goal of the event was “to make science accessible to everyone,” including children with disabilities.

A wide variety of activities were available to families and their children, including a physics activity using dominoes, an activity in which children would build something to protect an egg from breaking when dropped, stations where children could play with Lego blocks, clay, and toy train sets, and many more.

Kahn also told The Messenger that an emphasis was placed on students making and then taking home items such as kazoos and kaleidoscopes, so that their hands-on learning would continue at home after the event had ended.

“I was fortunate enough to learn about the Museum of Discovery, and reached out to them about the possibility of having an inclusive science day,” said Kahn.

The notion of planning an event centered on inclusivity and making science more accessible to all children provided a unique opportunity for collaboration between science education and special education university students.

Karen Oswald, an OU faculty member within the Patton College of Education and faculty adviser for SCEC, worked alongside Kahn in planning the event. The two realized that an inclusive science event was a great opportunity for their students to get some experience teaching alongside students from other departments.

“I was very fortunate to meet Karen,” said Kahn. “We said that they should really be working together and collaborating, which is something that doesn’t often happen with teachers until they’re actually in the classrooms, and then they have to figure out how to co-teach. So we’re giving them the opportunity to experience that today.”

Kahn and Oswald sought funding from the university so they’d be able to provide materials for as many different activities as possible.

“We applied for a grant from Ohio University’s Center for College and Community Engagement, and they were wonderful enough to fund us for this event so we could buy the consumable materials participants can take home with them,” said Kahn.

Although the idea and planning for the event came from the faculty, the education students were in charge of coming up with inclusive science activities that all children could enjoy.

“The Special Education and Science Education students co-planned these activities, thinking about how to make them universally designed — in other words, how to make them very accessible,” said Kahn. “And they planned everything. They made their materials lists and budgets, and now they’re here to implement what they came up with.”

Oswald, who has been at OU for 19 years and served as faculty adviser to SCEC for most of that time, said the collaboration with NSTA is the first since she’s been involved.

“This is the first time ever that this kind of collaborative partnership between SCEC and other organizations has taken place, and it’s just wonderful that it all came together,” said Oswald. “It’s been an awesome experience to watch it unfold.”

Considering over 100 people were occupying the small museum space at one point, with likely several dozen more having come and gone throughout the afternoon, Oswald and company considered the event a success. Oswald was also enthusiastic about collaborating on special projects again in the future.

“It’s wonderful,” Oswald said. “I’m hoping to do this again in the future.”

Museum Executive Director Jen Parsons said that the special outreach event was in line with the museum’s purpose and goals.

“It really fits in with the mission of the museum,” said Parsons. “We’re a hands-on, exploratory-based museum. We focus on ‘STEAM’ concepts. A lot of people are familiar with ‘STEM’— science, technology, engineering, and math. We add in the arts and humanities to make ‘STEAM.’”

Another boost to the museum’s mission will come when the facility moves from its present location within the mall to a new building at 67 Columbus Road sometime this year.

“We’re in the planning phases right now,” said Parsons. “We hope that we’ll be able to further everything that we’re doing here on a new level.”

Parsons told The Messenger that there’s no official timeline for when they’ll be moving over to the new space as of now, but that timeline will be shared with the community as soon as it’s official.

“It’s a stand-alone, dedicated space,” said Parsons. “We’ll have lots of parking, new exhibits, more space inside, and outside green space, which is something that we’re lacking here.”

Sara Hartman, president of the museum’s board and assistant professor within OU’s Teacher Education department, explained why collaboration with other organizations is crucial to the museum.

“Building community collaboration is really important to us,” said Hartman. “It’s a part of who we are, and so events like this where we’re able to combine the expertise of so many of these teacher candidates with the museum space and bring it all together in an inclusive event that’s meeting the needs of many different kinds of learners is really an exciting thing for all of us.”

jhiggins@athensmessenger.com; Twitter @joehmessenger

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