Educator Features

Denver's Space Odyssey
05.04.06
Life-size Mars diorama
Most educators agree that students learn best when they're involved in a lesson. Hands-on education adds excitement and interest and makes studies relevant. The Denver Museum of Nature & Science takes that concept to heart with Space Odyssey, a permanent exhibit created with support from NASA. Space Odyssey is a collection of immersive environments, performance spaces, media displays and interactive exhibits about space science.

Image to right: Using a diorama as a stage, an astronaut-performer teaches visitors about conditions on Mars. Credit: Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Museum Galaxy Guides -- more than 300 trained volunteers and staff who interact, entertain and inform -- personalize the visitors' experiences by taking them through the expanse of interactive exhibits, displays and demonstrations. Space Odyssey is more than just exhibits, however. It's a place to get messy, get educated and get entertained. As guests walk through the Visitor Center door, they see a Martian landscape, swirling dust devils, glowing stars, updates from ongoing space missions, and other mysteries waiting to be understood. High-definition video and images from recent NASA missions bring the reality of modern exploration to visitors, while exhibits and interactive experiments encourage everyone to understand the basics of the science involved. Visitors leave with an understanding of how and why we are exploring the universe around us.

Space Odyssey received the Association of Science and Technology Centers 2005 Leading Edge Award for Visitor Experience. This award recognizes the many innovative ways the DMNS involves visitors in learning more about space, science and exploration.

Some of the features of Space Odyssey include:
-- The Visitor Center: This is a collection of exhibits, programs, games, activities and discussions. It covers themes such as space shuttle docking, the life of a star, the orbits of celestial bodies, properties of the sun, meteorites, and "Space Screen," a large, high-definition theater showing the latest images and videos from current space missions.

-- Planet Outpost: Come see an entire section devoted to Mars, including a large diorama depicting an actual location at the bottom of a deep Martian canyon, a remote-controlled rover and an experiment bar demonstrating principles used in planetary exploration. Visitors can also view and take part in interactive crater activities, a Martian dust devil display and a stream-table demonstrating water-driven processes on Mars and Earth.

-- Specialized Audience Areas: The AstroTot Training area is a special spot for children ages 3 through 6 and their parents, where children play, pretend to be space explorers, and relax. The InfoLounge is a multimedia center with videos, books and other science materials.

-- Performances: The stage and demonstration area are gathering places to learn about living in space, microgravity, conditions in the outer solar system, satellites and regularly updated news broadcasts.

-- Museum Galaxy Guide Activities: The live presence of the Galaxy Guides allows every visitor to come away from Space Odyssey with a unique experience. Guides offer interactive demonstrations and performances, deliver impromptu presentations and answer questions using wireless laptops, and serve as tour guides.
Most of the displays and activities at Space Odyssey are open-ended; they don't have a predetermined script, but allow visitors to discover answers, questions and ideas for themselves.

Museum Galaxy Guides interact with visitors
Image to left: Museum Galaxy Guides share information about a Mars rover with visitors. Credit: Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Much of Space Odyssey is designed to be routinely updated. The Space Sciences Newsroom, involving over a dozen staff and volunteers, produces multimedia programs for the exhibit. Curators and educators work to make programs both accurate and engaging for the public. They are involved in regular briefings to keep the Galaxy Guides updated on the latest news from space and changes to the library of programs available for use in Space Odyssey. An ongoing series of continuing education programs is also offered to the Guides.

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science has a long association with NASA. In 1999, museum staff hosted the first NASA Is Listening workshop, which helped develop relationships between NASA and informal education facilities. DMNS has benefited from membership in the Museum Alliance, a partnership formed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory to provide access to education opportunities, programs and resources produced by various NASA missions. The DMNS has also been an active participant in the NASA Explorer Institutes in partnership with the Kennedy Space Center. Kennedy received NASA Explorer Institutes funding to work with DMNS to produce two video programs that portray the people and facilities involved in safely returning the shuttle to flight. The first DVD was widely distributed last year to museums, science centers, schools and other informal education institutions. The second DVD will focus on the required steps to safely return the space shuttle to flight. This production is planned for release and distribution in the spring or early summer of this year.

Related Resources
+ Denver Museum of Nature & Science

+ Space Odyssey

+ Space Odyssey Online Teacher's Guide

+ Leading Edge Awards Web Site
Space Odyssey is just part of the space science story at DMNS. Adult, family and children's programs are periodically scheduled, including camp-ins, planetarium shows, telescope workshops, lectures, rocket-building seminars, and monthly space-news updates with the curators. Space Odyssey has developed into a community resource -- the place to be to witness and share in these milestones in space exploration.

For more information about Space Odyssey, contact the Denver Museum of Nature & Science at (303) 322-7009 or 1 (800) 925-2250. The TTY number is (303) 370-8257.

Maggie Griffin/NASA Educational Technology Services