Written by Ashlyn Rinehart, Teen Ambassador
On December 11, 2019 the Penn Museum Teen Ambassadors hosted their last Teen Science Café of the decade. Entitled “Mythbusters: Science… Fact or Fiction,” the Café focused on how science is presented, and ways in which information may be deceiving. The Ambassadors hosted speaker Lizzie Oakley, an Anthropology Doctoral Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. Oakley currently works with a focus on how science is communicated through museums, but her past research has spanned many fields.
The Café began with an activity in which participants were given paper, pencils and markers, and were asked to draw what they think of when they hear the word “scientist” – lab coats, men in glasses, and test tubes were among the most popular responses. This exercise opened up a conversation about how people view science as a whole.
After the initial activity, Lizzie Oakley began her presentation, focusing on how science is presented to the public through museums, and the issues that lie within common methods of sharing information. Museums frequently present as if their audience is already well informed about the subject in question, which is not always the case. The teens offered up ideas for how museums could make their exhibits more relatable and interactive, and generally agreed that more information and guiding questions would make museums more interesting.
Hands on Activity
Following the presentation, the Ambassadors led the other teens through an activity. Groups of teens were given stacks of cards with the names and brief explanations of different theories. Participants worked together to sort the theories into three categories – theories proven false, theories widely accepted, and pure fiction. Theories proven false were once believed, but have since been disproven, whereas purely fictional theories were completely made up.
In the second activity, a sentence was provided, but had most of its words covered. Teens gradually unveiled the other words in the sentence, seeing how the story being told changed as more information came to light. The goal of this activity was to focus on the fact that scientists frequently begin with only bits and pieces of a story, and that their understanding changes with knowledge and time.
The café ended with a discussion about the overall topic of the program. The groups discussed how well they did on the first activity, as well as which answers they expected or were surprised by. Teens also talked about the importance of being critical and knowing how to sift through information to properly inform themselves.