The Science Career Ladder: 1986 – 2010

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This report documents the development and dissemination of the Science Career Ladder (SCL), the signature program of NYSCI. Its intent is to inform other museums interested in starting or enhancing their own Explainer programs, and to add to knowledge in the informal science field.

SCL is a system of graduated opportunities through which young people advance as they interact with the public, helping visitors to feel welcome and to understand the science behind the exhibits and demonstrations. In the process, young people acquire communication skills, knowledge of science and the scientific process, experience with inquiry, and a grounded experience of what teaching and learning are really about. They become savvy about organizations and the world of work, and cognizant of the career paths in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), including teaching. Since its establishment in 1986, the program has become a model for the field and is currently being disseminated to science centers in the United States and around the world.

SCL and NYSCI came of age together. The success of the program has in large part been due to its integral role in the museum. In turn, the museum’s success with the public, its standing as a leader in teacher professional development, and its contribution to equity and addressing underrepresentation in STEM owes much to the program.

An instructive example of effective program development, SCL has lessons to offer about engaging young people in powerful career building experiences, staffing a science center with knowledgeable educators who understand scientific inquiry, and attracting a diverse, multilingual public to science. Its impacts extend to the Explainers, the museum, the public, and the field of science education.

A combination of continuous reflection and dedication to building a community of learning and support has made the program a dynamic force in shaping lives and affecting the course of an institution. The story that follows tells of people working together — people of all ages and backgrounds — to create a remarkable experience for young people and an enduring legacy for the museum.

 

Origins

When the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) was established as part of the 1964 Worlds Fair in Queens, the science center field was in its nascent stages and NYSCI was one of a few hands-on museums in the United States. From its beginning, NYSCI served as a resource for the public and especially for New York City students. As The New York Times reported during the protracted teachers strike of 1968:

Three hundred high school seniors have just finished boning up on biology, physics
and mathematics at the city’s youngest, and in this case best equipped, museum — the New York Hall of Science. Surrounded by full-scale space rockets, model computers and simulated atomic reactors, the students tried to cram enough scientific information into their heads to do well on the coming State Board of Regents and scholastic aptitude tests.

—The New York Times, November 11, 1968