With the San Francisco Science Exploratorium's ground breaking, interactive science displays by Frank Oppenhiemer as an example, CSULB Physics professors R.D. Ayers and J.V. Hutcherson approached the CSULB administration. In 1979, with the support of then CSULB president Stephen Horn, and college dean Roger Bauer, the CNSM Natural Sciences Museum opened in the basement of Peterson Hall 2 and featured, among other things, moon rocks from one of the Apollo trips and Henrietta, a 15' 8" Burmese python who was a star attraction until she retired in the late nineties. All of the displays were made to encourage touching, exploring, and questions.
In addition to opening the museum to the campus community, in 1980, the university supported a unique outreach program by donating to the museum a 27-foot mobile home that was converted into the CSULB Mobile Science Museum and took hands-on science learning out into the schools. For the past 36 years, the CSULB Mobile Science Museum supplemented local schools' science instruction and was a welcome addition at local community events. The MSM carried over 40 exhibits that invite hands-on inquiry from both children and adults in astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, biology, zoology, and marine biology.
In 1991, CNSM staff member and Science Shop technician, Jim McKibben, became the director of the museum. McKibben had a love for science learning and he was dedicated to creating hands-on exhibits that immersed the participants into doing science as opposed to observing it. In a move to have a name that fit the evolving scope of the museum, the CNSM Natural Science Museum became the Science Learning Center (SLC).
When the Hall of Science opened in 2011, the SLC moved to a large, spacious area just off the main foyer on the new first floor. In its new location, the SLC had daily drop-in visitors and quickly became a featured stop on campus tours, a popular on-campus field trip for numerous summer camps, and was featured on the President's list of campus gems.
The SLC served as a regular part of the curriculum in the American Language Institute (ALI) classes. ALI Teachers found that English conversation happens more readily when their students experienced the SLC exhibits. The steady stream of visitors included both international and U.S. educators seeking to implement interactive science learning in their home schools and districts. William Ritz, emeritus professor in Science Education and innovator in early childhood science education internationally shared with collaborators from China and other Asian countries the SLC hands-on science learning experience. Educators from Cambodia returned home with ideas that transformed a 10-ton truck into a mobile science classroom that takes week-long science lessons to children in rural villages.
Under McKibben's direction and dedication to science learning outreach the SLC continued to play a role in reducing the intimidation many students have about learning science. McKibben tells of one student who was very resistant to anything science. He asked the student what he was interested in. When the student replied, "Baseball," McKibben told him that baseball is based on Physics. He then proceeded to demonstrate how Bernoulli's principle explains how a curve ball works, the student became engaged and interested in physics.
In September 2016, SLC director Jim McKibben retired from the University. The College is looking forward to continuing his legacy and has established a task force under the direction of the Science Education Department to consider how best to build upon the strong foundation laid by Jim McKibben in order to take the SLC to the next level of excellence utilizing evidence-based best practices in science education and community outreach. The College appreciates your patience as we pause the SLC operations while new practices and partners are put in place.
We look forward to posting our updates. Check back with us at the end of 2016!