November 2010 Issue • Volume 38 • Issue 8

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Frederique Laubepin, with ICPSR, led the
"Why Are More Girls than Boys Planning
for College?" exercise at the ASA booth at the
USA Science & Engineering Festival.

A Festival for Science Enthusiasts: Young, Old, and Historical

Imagine a science classroom covering entire city blocks and offering hundreds of hands-on activities for people of all ages. In Washington, DC, during the weekend of October 23 and 24, that "classroom" existed in the form of the USA Science & Engineering Festival. The American Sociological Association was there, along with 500 of the nation’s leading science and engineering organizations as well as almost half a million visitors interested in learning more about science.

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Sydney Beveridge, who led the Social Explorer
exercise "Is Your Neighborhood Like the Rest
of the United States?," was visited by Ben Franklin.

The ASA booth, located just south of historic Freedom Plaza, featured two hands-on activities (aimed at children between 11 and 14 years of age) that helped visitors learn about sociology while developing and testing their own hypothesis about the social world. One activity, "Is Your Neighborhood Like the Rest of the United States?" was developed in collaboration with Social Explorer—an online resource that allows users to map social trends based on U.S. Census data as far back as 1790 (see SocialExplorer.com). Booth visitors were invited to think about the United States overall, and then hypothesize whether adults in their neighborhood were more or less likely to have completed college, whether residents were more or less likely to be children (under age 18), and whether households were more or less likely to be affluent in comparison to the national average. After marking their hypotheses on a pre-made postcard for collecting information, census data were brought up on a giant monitor that allowed them to see if their hypotheses were supported. Many of the visitors were surprised to find out just how different their neighborhoods were from the nation as a whole. The second activity, "Why are More Girls than Boys Planning for College?" was developed in collaboration with ICPSR: Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research (see ICPSR.umich.edu). This activity also gave visitors a chance to develop hypotheses and test them against real data—this time from the Monitoring the Future Survey.

After completing a booth activity, visitors were invited to fill out a "Sociology Mini-Quiz" for a chance to win an iPod Shuffle. Comparison group data were collected from groups of festival visitors who had not visited the ASA booth. In this way, data were collected for assessing the success of the booth as a form of informal science education—a topic of long-standing interest at the National Science Foundation.

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Attendees to the festival who won an ipod shuffle
at the ASA booth for filling out a "Sociology Mini-Quiz"

As one father, who was visiting the booth with his family, reached into the ticket box in hopes of pulling out the gold ticket that would mean he had won an iPod Shuffle, he teased his children saying that he could see colors with his finger tips. After stirring all of the tickets in the box with a confident look on his face, he proceeded to actually pull out a winning golden ticket. His children’s mouths dropped open and their eyes were wide with astonishment—but they looked only half as astonished as he did. The staff in the ASA booth had a chance to be astonished when Benjamin Franklin arrived at the booth, eager to test some sociological hypothesis about his 1790 Philadelphia neighborhood. logo_small

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