Youth-led “Shark Tank” at ASTC Conference

They started referring to it as the “Teen Shark Tank.” As in, “Did you survive the Teen Shark Tank?” or “I heard the Shark Tank went great.” I have NO IDEA where this came from. Certainly not the panel – we never called it that. In the ASTC conference guide it was called a “teen critique panel.” More specifically it said:

 Youth-proof Your Program at ASTC14! Get vetted by a teen critique panel.

So you think you know how to design innovative youth-programs incorporating digital media? Then step up and prove it! Present your existing program (or one in development) to a panel of youth from museum education programs around the country and the ASTC audience for feedback.

But the two teens we brought down to Raleigh with us this past weekend – Katie and Alejandro – they loved it. And they loved working with teens from both the California Academy of Science and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. And together they were all excited to offer something unlike anything ASTC had seen before.


The six groups who presented also seemed to get a lot out of it. As one seasoned ASTC veteran wrote me afterwards, after presenting to the teens, “It was by far one of the best museum panels I ever went to.” And according to both the public tweets and the in-room public backchannel, the over three dozen attendees took a lot from it as well:

Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 7.11.37 PM

The structure was simple – the six teens met each other a few hours before the event for the first time. Rik, from CalAcademy, and Matthew, from NC Museum of Natural Sciences, had collaborated with me on a rough agenda for the 75 minute session and prepped the teens in advance (check our Rik’s post on his big about the event). Once we met on the floor of the ASTC exhibit hall and commandeered an unused vendor space, the teens took over the agenda. The first thing they did was kick us off of it. They worked with us to figure out a better flow, divided their roles, and practiced.

We had already recruited six organizations to present ideas for youth programs using digital tools which were not yet baked. Some we just ideas. Some were in development. Some were currently being tested. But whatever its state, they would each have two minutes to pitch to the panel and then a few minutes more to receive feedback from these teens, all of whom are active within their own museum programs.

During the presentation, the audience was encouraged to actively post to an in-room backchannel (using Polleverywhere). At the end, they voted for their Audience Favorite (who received the Bag of Awesome – all the free swags the youth found in the exhibit hall) and then asked questions about their own work to the teen panel.

It was exciting to offer – the presenters and the teens were great – but what I found even more exciting was how much people were talking about it afterwards, asking if we could do it again (and bigger), if we could keep it going online (and take it to scale), calling it the Shark Tank (making it sound even more exciting and dramatic than it actually was). The panel met a need and help give it shape. I look forward to seeing what we all decide to do about it.

Below are more details from the event.

First the teens introduced the panel and themselves:

Then the critiques began. Alejandro wrote the summaries below of the six presentation – who gave it, from where, a summary and his notes and feedback:

Heather Schneider and Wade Berger (Shedd Aquarium)


Summary: A reusable chopsticks to use with social media to promote a sustainable way to eat and spread word of sustainable food and utensils.

  • “Reusable Chopsticks”
  • Spreading awareness for a greener planet using reusable chopsticks.
  • Hashtags on the chopsticks to keep people in social networks connected with the program.
  • Could be very popular during sushi day
  • Sustainable seafood
  • Lots of involvement with Social Media and teenagers using social media.

With teenagers, we all love to go out and eat with friends, so the idea of having reusable chopsticks may be interesting. Teenagers also tend to share ideas with other teens in order to gain popularity. There are specific organizations that focus on creating an impact using teens and social media ( With an organization like that, the sustainable food program can be expanded to other cities in the nation, as well as increase involvement with social media to spread the word.

TJ McKenna (Connecticut Science Center)


Summary: A program for teenagers to develop app building skills and robot building skills.

  •  Ideas in Robotics and Genomics
  • Rapid building of prototypes
  • Changing the ideas of what robots do
  • App building and prototypes
  • Why do you want to build a robot
  •  Letting the public test out these prototypes
  • Two groups of teenagers one building and one creating apps.

Teenagers do like robots, but when it comes to building them they may seem a little time consuming and very tedious. As for app building, the teenagers have to have a computer coding background or some idea of code writing, or else the program would have to have some teaching background and then app building making the program even longer. The idea of writing computer code is very important because that is a skill that will be needed in the future and it will be what the future of America thrives on, so starting teenagers off with this knowledge will be good.

Eli Kuslansky (Unified Field)


Summary: Creation of interactive games for teenagers to develop skills such as data literacy and allow teens to create programs that they would be interested in.

  • Co-creating programs
  • Making science centers more relevant
  • Programs for data literacy
  • Creating of interactive games teaching teens skills
  • Teens create programs

The idea of teens creating museum programs or having ideas of programs makes it an atmosphere of unity in the science community. There is the idea that even though we are younger and less experienced than scientist we are treated as colleagues and treated with the same respect.

Christine Meek (Science and Technology Experience)


Summary: Allowing kids from a younger age to be interested in science with the help of teenagers and people that are older than them. A program that would last many years and utilize different age rangers and social media to spread word.

  • Program reachable to rural areas
  • Town of 60K
  • Multigenerational program
  • Involving adults (alumni) teenagers and younger ages
  • Connecting to them via social media (e.g. creating experiments on YouTube)
  • Connecting via other social media sources

Good for the sense of community in a small area. Social networking within a small community is essential for getting word out. A lot of people have access to the Internet and YouTube and thus have access to these resources. Another smart idea that could be implemented is that Google hangouts actually broadcast directly onto YouTube, so experiments can be done live and judged by an audience if you there is a need for competition going.

 Neal Ramus (California Academy of Sciences)


Summary: Introducing teenagers and young children to dichotomous keys using sounds that are featured at the Cal Academy.

  • Soundscape
  • Digital collection of sounds
  • Sound ecology

A interesting way to introduce a new type of science. Could be better if they activities were made in podcasts and they were easy to follow this idea would be a success. A good way to incorporated areas of the museum that are not usually noticed or visited. Very good idea for kids not so much teenagers. Although some form of explanation is needed about the difference between note and noise

Steve Fentress (Rochester Museum and Science Center)


Summary: Photo contest involving creating the best photo shopped image of a UFO sighting. The winner has to explain how the photo was created.

  • Fake UFO photo contest
  • Print photos
  • $5 entry fee
  • Have judges (e.g. astronomer, meteorologist)
  • Winners have to explain how they created the photo

Very unique idea for something science related. Will get a lot of attention when it comes to teenagers. Can even be expanded to something that people from other states can enter. The 5 dollars is very affordable and can be easily done by teenagers. The idea of a difference science that is photography is interesting, something that isn’t seen very often. The need to explain the photo is a good way to express the science of photography.

And below are examples of what the backchannel looked like during his presentation and critique:

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 12.01.42 PM


Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 12.04.02 PM

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 12.04.20 PM Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 12.03.46 PM Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 12.02.25 PMScreen Shot 2014-10-20 at 12.02.19 PM

Next the teens shared some themes they observed across all six programs:

The audience voted on their favorite, who received a prize, and all presenters received a 3D-printed bust of Teddy Roosevelt (and why not?).

Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 5.23.21 PM

Here is one video of a reflection from a presenter, Eli Kuslansky, about his experience and why he was blown away:

Finally, below are posts taken from first the in-room backchannel and then Twitter about the event:

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 12.01.55 PM

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 12.01.19 PM Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 12.01.34 PM

 Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 7.12.05 PM Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 7.11.56 PM Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 7.11.44 PM  Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 7.11.25 PM Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 7.11.21 PM Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 7.11.06 PM

About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
This entry was posted in Conferences and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Youth-led “Shark Tank” at ASTC Conference

  1. Christine says:

    The panel was/is amazing and I was/am honored that I got to get such great feedback.

  2. Katie O says:

    As a panelist, thank you to all the people who liked it! Thank you to the organizers, and the other panelists. This was tons of fun. The back of my head looks really weird in pictures…

Comments are closed.