175 Enhancing public understanding of climate change through museum programs

Monday, 24 January 2011
Washington State Convention Center
Michael J. Passow, Dwight Morrow High School and NESTA, Englewood, NJ; and M. Macdonald

Handout (5.7 MB)

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) has expanded its informal science education programs during the past few years to focus on the curriculum standards and achievement goals of the formal science education world in schools and universities. For six years it has created partnerships with other New York City informal science education institutions to offer extensive support for middle schools by creating Urban Advantage (www.urbanadvantagenyc.org). This focuses on helping teachers and students understand the process of science as they develop required Grade 8 science research “exit projects.” Pre-service and in-service teachers partake of extensive professional development resources and programs. “Seminars on Science” (http://www.amnh.org/learn/) provides a set of six-week programs that already include “The Ocean” and “Earth Inside and Out”, and, in development, “Climate Change.” These courses can be taken for graduate credit through arrangements with participating universities. All programs are informed and based on the scientific research that takes place at AMNH and in the interpretation and dissemination that curators offer through permanent exhibitions such as the Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth or temporary traveling exhibits. For example, “Climate Change: The Threat to Life and a New Energy Future” (http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/climatechange/) and “WATER H2O=Life” (http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/water/) provided visitors with cutting-edge information during their display periods from Oct 2007 to Aug 2009. Highlights from many exhibitions, educator resources, and related video clips are permanently available online at and in www.amnh.org/sciencebulletins . Currently in development are interactive ways of showcasing AMNH resources for learning and teaching aspects of weather. Visualizations have become central to all programs. AMNH visualizations include videos of scientists at work and digital visualizations that offer a renewed focus on the use of dioramas depicting ecosystems and weather conditions. Visually-rich space shows in the Hayden Planetarium of the Rose Center for Earth and Space Science, such as “Journey to the Stars” (http://www.amnh.org/rose/spaceshow/journey/) , attract tens of thousands visitors to the museum and to many other national and international venues where they are shown. One key question for the museum's evaluation department is, “How can these programs be used to maximize learning opportunities?” One answer has been to utilize museum programs to underscore the importance of knowing more than one language, while enhancing English Language skills to speakers of other languages. To comprehend clouds and other aspects of weather, students engaged in observation and recording tours of the world-famous dioramas that focus on the clouds incorporated into the backdrops. “Journey to the Stars” has been developed into DVDs in seven languages to offer teachers ways to scaffold knowledge of the Sun and stars required for Earth Science achievement. Through other evaluations, we learned how well online “Science Bulletins” bring real images of scientists, their research, the locations, and the tools they use. We constantly evaluate reactions of program participants and the general public to understanding more about how much learning takes place. Previously, assessing the extent and impact of such informal education was difficult and anecdotal. Additional online resources can be found at http://www.amnh.org/education/.
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