Ever since temporarily closing its doors on March 16 to wait out the COVID-19 pandemic, staff members at SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention in downtown Bellingham have been hard at work ensuring that the museum comes out of this strange time stronger than ever.
“While we greatly miss our visitors and our volunteers, we have been able to use this time to make the museum more accessible – even while our doors are closed, which is a bit ironic – because staff have been able to devote themselves to special projects,” says Abby Russell, SPARK Museum’s program coordinator.
Consider the fun SciShorts videos that Tana Granack, SPARK’s director of operations, has been producing on his own in an empty museum, placing the camera in front of various exhibits to chat in his inimitable style about magnetism, static electricity, sound recordings and more.
Or consider the Virtual Visit feature that Russell has added to the SPARK website to help Whatcom community members engage with the museum even when they can’t be there in person.
“We are trying to find ways to bring the museum to students and others in the community,” Russell said. “We want to make science as accessible as possible, and this is one way we can do that.”
Virtual Visit is an interactive feature of the website designed to give folks a taste of the collection and spark excitement about what they might find in the museum. It’s focused on artifacts and history, telling some of the quirky stories that have attended the discovery and manipulation of electricity.
And then there’s the new Teacher Resources collection, a special project of Russell’s that has been on her heart and mind for some time.
“Our overarching goal for the museum is two-fold,” Russell said. “We want to inspire curiosity and get people engaged in science and the world around them, and we want to be a direct support to teachers, both in classroom learning and now in online learning.”
In speaking with Bellingham and Whatcom County teachers throughout the pandemic, Russell has heard several times how difficult it can be to teach science online.
“Teachers have told me that science has always been hard to teach, but it’s extra hard right now,” Russell said. “There are no hands-on experiments, no teacher right next to you, no goggles to wear, no tentacles to play with. It’s difficult.”
Every game, object lesson, experiment, STEM challenge and lesson plan in the Teacher Resources section was hand-selected by Russell for its ability to mesh with the Next Generation Science Standards and its ease of completion in kids’ own homes.
“These are experiments you can do with things you already have in your house, your recycling bin or your yard,” Russell said. “Plus, they are easy for parents to follow.”
The hands-on science activities are safe, fun and easy to fit in into the school curriculum, Russell said.
“For example, there are pop can static races that you can do at home. Later, when kids are able to be back in the classroom, teachers could put together physics Olympics challenges that use games like this.”
Teachers from throughout Whatcom County often come to Russell for assistance finding ways to make such topics as physics, electricity and magnetism fun and engaging for students. In crafting the Teacher Resources, Russell is trying to meet teachers’ needs in ways that supplement field trips to the museum or that can even supplant trips to SPARK for students or classrooms not able to visit.
“Even when students can’t come to the museum, they can still get the SPARK excitement. That’s the idea. We want science to be fun, and we want SPARK Museum to be a useful and engaging resource for teachers, parents, nannies and students. These resources are for anyone looking to get kids of any age engaged with their learning and excited about science.”
In so doing, SPARK also wants to give back to the community that has given it so much, Russell said.
“We are extremely grateful to all of the many wonderful sponsors who have made these efforts possible,” Russell said. “Truly, we could not do any of what we do at SPARK Museum without them.”