College of Education > News and Publications > News: July - Sept. 2011 > College of Education Pairs with Downtown Children’s Science Museum

College of Education Pairs with Downtown Children’s Science Museum

Richard Duschl and Carla Zembal-Saul work with the downtown museum, Discovery Space.

by Hannah Chakan (August 2011)

University Park, Pa. — College of Education faculty members Carla Zembal-Saul and Richard Duschl are part of an initiative for a children’s museum in downtown State College. The hands-on science museum, Discovery Space of Central Pennsylvania, had a "soft opening" during the 2011 Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.Zembal-Saul.JPG

The mission of Discovery Space is to provide engaging science experiences for children, sparking creativity, imagination, and curiosity. The idea for a children’s museum originated at a meeting of the Downtown State College Improvement District a full decade ago. After many residential and financial struggles, the museum now stands at 112 W. Foster Ave. in State College.

Zembal-Saul, holder of the Kahn professorship in STEM education and head of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, became involved with Discovery Space about three and a half years ago. She said the founding board members approached her about serving as the Penn State representative on the board. She originally worked to encourage and coordinate Penn State involvement with the museum. Now her role has shifted to Web site development, social media, and marketing.

She admits that Discovery Space has had its fair share of challenges, from securing a location to fundraising. “You name it and we’ve had to deal with it!” she said. “It’s exciting that this is finally happening.”

Duschl, Waterbury chaired professor in secondary education, was Duschl.jpgrecruited by Zembal-Saul to get involved with plans for the museum. He has a background in science education and has worked with several children’s museums, including the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey, the Children’s Museum of Houston, the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, and the Cumberland Science Center in Houston, for the past two decades. He became a board member for Discovery Space last year and is currently co-chair for exhibits.

Duschl is working on developing a design evaluation protocol, a sort of "lesson plan," for Discovery Space with Michele Crowl, a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in science education at Penn State.

“I have experience working in small science museums and I have seen the positive impact that they have on the surrounding community,” Crowl said.

Duschl believes State College will feel this impact. “Every area needs a place where kids can learn and poke around,” he said. “They need a learning space outside of the classroom.” Duschl pointed out that the closest children’s science museum is in Harrisburg, about 90 miles away.

Zembal-Saul also thinks that the museum will be a welcome addition to the downtown area. “Every indication has been that families want a hands-on children’s museum in State College,” she said.

The museum’s soft opening indicated that as well. Visitors excitedly filtered in and out of the museum all weekend, with a whopping 2,300 visitors on Wednesday alone. Zembal-Saul hopes that the preview gave the public a taste of what to expect, got families excited, and created a new level of support from the community.

“My hope for Discovery Space is that it will become an established part of downtown State College and the ‘go to’ place for engaging science experiences,” said Zembal-Saul.

Both faculty members agree that the dedicated supporters and volunteers of Discovery Space made its opening possible, despite all the challenges they faced.

“Without a doubt, the people I have met and worked with through my involvement with Discovery Space have been the most rewarding aspects,” said Zembal-Saul. “It’s nice to see all the hard work paying off.”

Duschl agrees. “The borough and the community have really rallied around us,” he said. “The fact that we’re open is a measure of success in itself.” He also believes that this is just the beginning of a positive partnership between Penn State and Discovery Space.

Duschl said that some of the exhibits were donated from museums on campus and reworked to fit in at the children’s museum. He hopes that the new museum might be built into course curricula for education students. “Maybe upcoming teachers will be required to create a science activity or program, and then the end result will be played out at Discovery Space,” Duschl said.

Discovery Space is open Wednesdays through Sundays.

For more information on Discovery Space of Central Pennsylvania, visit http://mydiscoveryspace.org/dscpa