Hands-On as a Way of Life

Re-posted with permission of the Arkansas Discovery Network.

I’m Matt Dozier, the President and CEO of the EAST Initiative, an educational nonprofit. I’m also a proud member of the Arkansas Discovery Network’s Advisory Council and a huge fan of museums in general.

For over fifteen years, the EAST Initiative has been helping schools, teacher-facilitators, and students better engage in technology education, service learning, and individualized educational goals in a program that has been named a model by the Department of Education and the Department of Labor.

EAST (Environmental and Spatial Technology) is an educational model that provides new ways of learning for modern students. EAST focuses on student-driven service projects accomplished with the use of teamwork and cutting-edge technology. EAST schools are equipped with classrooms containing state-of-the-art work-stations, servers, software and accessories, including GPS/GIS mapping tools, architectural and CAD design software, 3D animation suites, virtual reality development and more. Students identify problems in their local communities and then find ways to use these tools to develop solutions.

All EAST students, regardless of past experience or previous expectation are encouraged, expected, and required to work in teams that tackle self-selected community service projects. In the context of these projects, EAST students often move beyond being “merely” volunteers and begin to assume roles of responsibility for solving local issues.

At the core of the EAST model is getting students into hands-on situations early and often. We believe, like Aristotle that “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” The Arkansas Discovery Network of museums exemplifies this hands-on philosophy. It would seem pretty self-evident, but not everyone understands that the most powerful spark for learning is the sheer wonderment of seeing the world and being able to explore and interact with it. The museums of the Arkansas Discovery Network provide an opportunity for citizens to explore and discover (hence the name) all kinds of amazing, interesting, odd, and otherwise unique things in a comfortable, safe, and inviting environment.

One of my all-time favorite exhibits was one I saw at the Museum of Discovery a few years ago. A bat wrangler (we wanted to call him Batman, but his car wasn’t cool enough led talks and show-and-tell, with more kinds of bats than I knew existed. In the course of thirty minutes my appreciation for and amazement at the capabilities and contributions of the lowly—and sometimes creepy—bat grew substantially. Turns out one bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour! Who knew? In Arkansas that’s a pretty darned big deal.

At EAST we have often included museum events in our Annual Conference. For the past several years we have hosted private functions for our attendees (up to 2,000 students) at local museums—the Museum of Discovery when we had the conference in Little Rock, and the Mid-America Science Museum when the conference was in Hot Springs—to near universal acclaim. Turns out our students and facilitators also share my joy in museums.

Put all of this together and what I see is a natural connection between exploring, doing, and succeeding. EAST is all about helping our students be the leaders we need now, and in the future. The museums of the Arkansas Discovery Network are a great resource to begin that journey. I’m proud to have them, and to be able to say I contribute to them in a small way.

For more information about EAST and to learn more about the projects students are working on, please visit www.eastproject.org.

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