Tag Archives: science

Showing its MOXI: Innovative Spirit Helps Organization Continue to Support Children’s Quest for Knowledge

Every organization had to pivot to produce programs during the pandemic. But for the MOXI museum, innovation comes with the territory. Indeed, that’s what the “I” in the nonprofit’s name (Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation) stands for. 

“What the pandemic forced us to do is to take what we do best — which is hands-on, interactive science learning — and translate it into a virtual environment,” explained Robin Gose, MOXI’s executive director. “We were very passionate about making sure we did it, because we were watching as kids were Zooming in from home, and realizing that they, especially elementary school kids, need that human interaction and hands-on learning. We had to find a way to continue to offer things that worked in the remote learning environment so that their minds continue to stay engaged with design thinking and creative problem solving.”

Sounds simple enough, and not at all unlike what everybody else was trying to do to cope with the COVID crisis. But how exactly does one go about duplicating the kind of hands-on experience MOXI is famous for when you’re not allowed to get within six feet of one another? 

Hello, innovation. 

And welcome Virtual Design Labs, a creative concept that calls for a MOXI staffer to Zoom in live with the teacher and the students to creatively present some type of a challenge related to a museum exhibit. 

“It’s interactive,” Gose explained. “The kids get to see the exhibit; they get to talk with the staffer, and we make it really fun.”

For Quiet Quest, the project is called The Sneakiest Sneaker where the kids — part of a class, homeschool group, or learning pod — come up with a design to invent something where they can walk as quietly as possible. There’s even a sound meter to measure success. 

“The students can take any shoe, a sneaker, a flip flop or just something they make out of cardboard and use all different kinds of materials to design it to be quiet,” Gose said. “It’s a very open-ended exploration. Will it be quiet if you wrap toilet paper around it? Or if you glue on cotton balls? Or wrap it in a kitchen towel?

“The kids get really excited for using materials that they have at home, and it becomes a really fun challenge. It’s all about getting the kids to be excited about trying to solve a problem and being creative with what they’re building without having to use any special tools or materials.”

The Case of the Missing Tracks, which connects to the popular Roll It exhibit — that’s the one with tracks supported by moveable pegs attached to a wall that kept this correspondent occupied for nearly an hour during a pre-pandemic visit — asks the students to come up with a solution to keep the ball rolling even though the tracks and pegs are gone. With guidance from their teacher and staffers, the kids build and test prototype “ball coasters” or chutes and ramps. 

“The students can use an old paper towel tube, a magazine, or whatever they find that might work,” said Gose. “Their homes become a toolbox, with the challenge to design ramps that will take the place of the ‘stolen’ tracks. It’s fun and it’s playful and it gets the kids engaged that also offers a direct connection to what the teachers are teaching.” 

While Virtual Design Labs have a nominal fee, the museum has also been offering free MOXI at Home Activity Guides that are also all connected to motion and related to exhibits at MOXI, including the McMillan + Kenny Families Fantastic Forces Courtyard and the Muzzy Family Speed Track. Among the downloadable PDFs utilizing items that you can easily find at your house is one showing how to build a guitar out of cardboard and string, which proved popular among both teachers and parents. A homemade water wheel evokes the whitewater exhibit on MOXI’s rooftop.

“You’re building some type of a contraption with very easily accessible materials and there’s no one right way to create the thing,” said Gose. “It’s about getting kids off of screens and using their hands and heads to keep creativity alive.” 

It’s this latter part that, while already part of MOXI’s mission to ignite learning through interactive experiences in science and creativity, has taken on added importance during the pandemic, as the museum’s aim is to steer kids toward the skills of STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — that make up the bulk of what will be necessary for the jobs of the future, which seems a lot closer after COVID. 

“We wanted the students to hopefully maintain their academic rigor, but also connect with the real educational philosophy of MOXI, which is focusing on the 21st century skills — critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration,” Gose explained. “We do that through the theme of STEM, but it’s really those four core competencies that can transfer to any profession and any problem. When they’re faced with a challenge such as housing insecurity in a community, or another pandemic, a rise in the sea level or other results of climate change, having those core competencies and those essential skills, they’re equipped to innovate.”

The Power of MOXI

MOXI’s Virtual Design Lab programs challenge students to solve a design problem connected to one of the museum’s exhibits like Quiet Quest


Then perhaps you’d like to take advantage of a great opportunity to learn mid-month via “The Power of MOXI,” the museum’s annual spring luncheon that will take place virtually. The one-hour event starting at noon on May 18, will provide information for both current supporters and potential new friends to learn more about MOXI’s impactful learning experiences. It will also delve into how the museum creates equitable access to its programs, ensuring that all children are empowered to pursue their interests in STEM and perhaps become the future problem solvers and innovators the world needs more than ever. 

And, because it’s MOXI — with an I for innovation — the event won’t just be one talking head the whole time, instead featuring live presentations with staffers, some prerecorded segments and a few videos, all designed to keep the community interested in the museum that just reopened last week. 

“People will see how important this type of learning is for the teachers and the students, because we all want a future where we are happy and helping, and our planet is happy and healthy,” Gose said.

The event will also feature the first annual Moxie Award to an individual or organization in the community in gratitude for extraordinary support of the museum’s mission, said Martha Swanson, MOXI’s director of marketing and communications. 

“I can’t tell you who the winner is before that day, but it’s someone who without whom MOXI probably wouldn’t exist. So, we’re excited to honor and recognize a special person, and we’re excited that we’re going to start a new tradition that we hope to carry on in future years.”

There is no cost to attend the luncheon, though the first 100 guests to register will receive a delicious free meal delivered to your home or workplace.

Everyone will have the opportunity to support MOXI’s Education Fund, raising critical support for the museum’s STEM education and accessibility programs. Those wanting to have a bigger impact can contact amanda.allen@moxi.org or call (805) 770-5003 to inquire about sponsorship or to make a pre- or post-luncheon gift to the Education Fund. Community volunteers are also needed to deliver the free meals; visit www.moxi.org/springluncheon for details.  

For other ways of supporting MOXI, including the Innovator Circles of Giving, its annual giving program, corporate partners and special projects, visit www.moxi.org.

Learning, Naturally

Vanessa Scarlett, the science specialist at Montecito Union School, bubbles with excitement at the plans for a 2.5-acre parcel of land adjacent to the school’s bucolic campus.

Over the next two years, the raw space will be transformed into the Nature Lab replete with a pond, plant beds, and even some chickens. For the elementary schoolers the lab will provide both unstructured play and rare opportunities to integrate their learning.

Scarlett gives the example of students building owl boxes. First the students would model their designs in the Innovation Lab, and then use the CNC laser cutter to make those designs a reality. Once installed, they could take motion detecting cameras from the Science Lab and study whether the owls used the boxes and if so, how often.

“There are these two important parts of the Nature Lab,” Scarlett says. “Giving kids freedom in a space that is so magical, and being there with intent and purpose.”

“Research has shown for decades that people learn best by doing. It’s not by sitting and listening to a lecture, or reading a book. It is about doing.”

For Montecito Union’s Superintendent, Anthony Ranii, the Nature Lab is a critical piece of ensuring his students are ready to make positive contributions in a fast changing world.

“When our students become adults, the most complex problems they will have to face stand at the intersections between nature and technology,” Ranii says. “Climate change, wildfires, disease control, waste management, water conservation: all of these require both facility with technology and a deep knowledge of the natural world.”

The organizing force behind the Nature Lab is the Montecito Union School Foundation (MUSF), the school’s charitable arm comprised primarily of parents. The foundation has invested $200,000 in the project thus far, and is looking to raise an additional $400,000 to get it done.

Not only will this latest amelioration further cement Montecito Union School’s status as one of the nation’s premier public schools, but also it promises to seed generations of problem-solving youngsters with deep knowledge of the natural world.

“The world is counting on our students to develop these skills to solve the most complex problems in the world today,” Ranii says.  

Ignite Learning

In 2017, Santa Barbara welcomed a new, exciting and wholly unique museum to its ranks: MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation.

Since the grand opening, more than 500,000 visitors, mostly wide-eyed children, have bopped through MOXI’s 17,000 square feet of interactive exhibits. Exhibits like Build It. Test It. Race It. where kids can assemble their own racecars and send them down an oversized track. The builders have variables to play with, the slope of the track and the design and weight of the race cars, which force them to hypothesize and test, both hallmarks of critical thinking and problem solving.

“It’s science plus race cars, which are super fun,” says CEO Robin Gose, clearly jazzed about the exhibit. “And it’s this racetrack on steroids, bigger than anything they have at home, which is really exciting.”

For Gose, her staff and the community volunteers who spent almost three decades dreaming up and making MOXI a reality, Build It. Test It. Race it. and all the exhibits are as much about learning as they are about fun – two inextricably intertwined concepts.

As Gose, who has spent the better part of the past two decades in both formal and informal science education, explains, MOXI is about developing 21st century core competencies for not just its visitors, but also every child in the region.

The Department of Labor predicts that two thirds of all students today will be employed in jobs that don’t yet exist by the time they enter the labor force. Many of those jobs will be in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – areas of learning that MOXI is all about.

“What is needed for this generation of children and generations to come are the problem solving skills and adaptive mindset to face new and bigger challenges,” Gose says. “We are going to need critical thinkers and science advocates as we continue to face pandemics, climate change, rising sea levels, and new challenges being thrown at us all the time.”

To get there is all about, as MOXI’s mission says, igniting “learning through interactive experiences in science and creativity.”

“Don’t just read about science,” says Gose. “Do it! Play and discover and open up that world of curiosity and creativity.”

Gose is not only excited about MOXI’s exhibits, but the museum’s new strategic plan. The museum itself, she says, is “a beautiful proof of concept” for its larger goal of serving the entire community. A key goal of the new strategic plan is to engage and collaborate with local schools to bring the kind of science education found at MOXI to every school and student in the region. “We want to do everything we can to provide equitable access,” Gose says. “We are truly here for the whole community.”