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Story 05: Memoirs of a Bubble Blower

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Sidebar: What Bernie Hath Wrought

Written by Tim Porter

Great ideas have a lasting resonance that often belie their humble beginnings. It's hard to imagine that Bernie could have pictured what his simple act of blowing a few bubbles would lead to, and the millions of children and adults whose lives would be impacted in small but significant ways. In the nearly two decades since Bernie left The Children's Museum (TCM), we have continued to build on and learn from his work. Science Playground, the exhibit temple to Bernie's tinkering continues to serve as one of the most beloved spaces in the museum, while Bubbles and Raceways invite children to investigate alongside parents who may have visited the same exhibits when they were children.

When the museum underwent a renovation in 2007, Science Playground was positioned as the first exhibit families would visit when they walked in, a sign of not only the popularity of the space, but also its deep roots in the museum's mission. Bernie's emphasis on intrinsically interesting phenomena and on presenting those phenomena in a variety of scenarios allows for deep and memorable experiences—the kinds of "sticky" experiences that museum educators seek, and the kinds of experiences that cause us to often hear parents reflecting on memories of bubbles blown and balls rolled in their own youth.

The resonance of Bernie's work is also felt in the museum's close and lasting connection with the afterschool field. Bernie, Diane Willow, Dottie Merrill and others' collaborations with afterschool educators serve as forerunners to an expanded array of resources and services created by the museum for the out of school time field. This work in the '70s, '80s, and '90s laid the foundation for the Massachusetts Cultural Council-funded CATS (Culture Art Technology and Science) kits in the '90s, which provided materials-rich science activities through a cultural context to afterschool educators in Boston, eventually reaching thousands of children across New England. Bernie's influence is felt in ongoing professional development trainings run by museum staff for afterschool educators regionally and nationally. And Bernie's philosophy and activities served as some of the inspiration for the creation of the museum's KIDS@fterschool curriculum and Beyond the Chalkboard website in 2008-2011. KIDS, the first free, full-year online curriculum created specifically for afterschool educators, is being used in every U.S. state, and has been accessed in more than 100 countries around the world. This curriculum contains hundreds of activities, many of which were inspired by Bernie's tinkering. None of these activities would have been possible without Bernie's pioneering afterschool work.

Bernie's impact is seen in the work of many individuals as well. When I began collaborating with afterschool programs in the '90s, I was introduced to Kenny, a teacher at a local program with deep ties to the museum. Not long into the introduction I discovered that Kenny was one of the children with whom Bernie had conducted many of his early investigations as he developed his ideas, activities, and philosophy. Kenny grew up with distinct and salient memories of those investigations, which colored his choice to teach and his approach to how he engaged children.

Personally, I was drawn immediately to the experiences in Science Playground when I began at the museum in 1992. Bubbles, Raceways, Tops & Yo-Yos, and Salad Dressing Physics sang to me. After my first year at the museum, I got the chance to work briefly with Bernie before he moved on to the Education Development Center, and that brief connection taught me a lot. In later years, Bernie and I worked together again, through his development of the Design It and Explore It curricula, which took the topics and ideas from his books and curricula created at The Children's Museum and brought them to a broader afterschool audience. I am very much a "Zubrowskian" in how I seek to provide experiences for children and families, in how I talk to educators through professional development trainings, and in how I think about the kinds of learning opportunities I will provide for my son as he grows from infancy to adulthood. And all of this thanks to a few bubbles.

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