Tuesday, May 26, 2015

China 2015 | Chengdu

Billy Spitzer, Ph.D., is Vice President for Programs, Planning, and Exhibits at the New England Aquarium and Principal Investigator for the Aquarium’s climate change education initiatives. He is traveling to China on invitation from the U.S. State Department to discuss the Aquarium's climate change education work with several aquariums and zoos. 

After finally making it to Chengdu, and a couple of days to relax and explore the city by foot and bicycle, I’m now back to work. Today, I visited a science museum and a local middle/high school.
The Sichuan Science and Technology Museum is located next to Tian Fu Square, a great location at the geographic center of the city. Its attendance of about 1 million is comparable to that of the science museum I visited in the outskirts of Guangzhou, a much larger city. Location really does matter. The museum covers a wide range of topics, and includes many interactive exhibits, though many are suffering from design flaws and lack of maintenance. The good news is that major renovations are on the way, and all the staff I meet with are excited about the future, including an increased focused on exhibits related to the environment. They also had several classroom-type spaces that are used for a variety of hands-on programs, including paper-making and learning about both ancient and modern engineering.

Looking across Tian Fu square to the science museum, just behind the giant Mao statue

Model of an ancient Chinese seismograph. When shaken by a tremor, it dispenses
small steel balls that drop into the mouth of the frogs.

We had a good discussion about the NNOCCI program, and how it includes social science research, program design and planning, development of leaders, implementation of a training program, and evaluation. This led into questions about how we put together such a wide range of expertise, and also about the role of staff and volunteers as interpreters in the US. In China, the culture of volunteerism is less well-developed, though there is a great deal of interest in developing more internships for university students.

Samples of student projects

Roundtable discussion senior museum staff

After an impressive and spicy Sichuan banquet-style lunch with the staff, we headed out to visit Jiaxiang Foreign Language School, a top-level boarding school of about 3,000 students. I spoke to about 200 of the middle/high school level students, many of whom had excellent English language skills, and asked numerous questions about what is happening with the climate, and how they can get involved in environmental protection. It was really inspiring to interact with this group, as they represent the future of China. They were feisty, outspoken, and looking for real ways they can make a difference. In contrast to the US, there seemed to be fewer outlets for these interests. There did not seem to be opportunities like the youth development programs we offer at the Aquarium. The environmental NGO sector in China is growing, but limited.

Presenting to students at the school. The students had many good questions.

Billy will be sending periodic updates throughout his trip. Check back here for more updates.  

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