March 30, 2015

New Beginnings and Fond Farewells

by Lorren Kezmoh

20150316_153359Robins are returning by the dozen, the days are getting longer, and colorful patches of crocuses are beginning to sprout up from beneath the earth  – it’s becoming more and more apparent that spring has sprung in Pittsburgh, and especially here at Phipps. And it couldn’t have arrived at a better time! We happily welcomed the change of seasons this past month with the unveiling of our Spring Flower Show. With this year’s theme, “April Showers Bring May Flowers,” highlighting the importance of rain and its critical role in maintaining the ebb and flow of the natural environment. But, the Spring Flower Show wasn’t the only new addition to the conservatory this past March. In addition to the hundreds of colorful blossoms and fragrant bulbs, the conservatory’s Center for Sustainable Landscapes has also received it’s Living Building Challenge certificate, making it the first and only project to attain the planet’s highest sustainability certifications, and the installation of the conservatory’s brand new SEED Classroom, a self-sustaining modular classroom that was also built to meet the Living Building Challenge, is well underway.

But as we gladly bid adieu to the snowswept scenery of winter, we must also sadly say farewell to one of our most devoted science educators here at Phipps, Melissa Harding. Melissa, as many of you may or may not know, was a Science Education Specialist here at Phipps as well as the Science Education and Research department’s Online Outreach Coordinator. She not only created and taught school field trip programs, seasonal camps, and various other programs in the Science Education and Research department, but she also wrote and edited this very blog. Melissa was an extremely valuable asset to the conservatory and helped pave the way for science education as well as research here at Phipps. While we hate to say goodbye to one of our Phipps family members, we want to wish Melissa the very best as she begins her next chapter and with all of her future endeavors. Thank you again Melissa for all of your hard work and for all that you’ve done for the department and for Phipps over the past four years!

Photos taken by Science Education staff.

March 19, 2015

Engaging Parents in Science and Nature Education

by Melissa Harding

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While we talk quite a bit in this space about engaging children in nature, there is one audience that we often forget: parents. This is especially true in informal education settings; adults are often lost to the tasks of caregiving and disengage from programs, even during ones in which they are specifically there to play a part. Creating programming that appeals to both children and their caretakers is a difficult task, but is an important one. Giving adults opportunities to engage in meaningful interactions with their children in nature not only helps children to create lasting memories that will foster a love of the natural world, but allows parents to connect with both nature and their child in a way that can be life-changing for them as well. Families with small children are increasing the time they spend in informal learning institutions and research suggests that adult interactions with children in these spaces positively impacts the experience. This means that there is a real need to better understand effective ways to engage the whole family together. At Phipps, we focus on two different ways of engaging adults; we give them experiences that help them to learn more about their child and how their child learns, and we give them the tools to support their child’s learning both at Phipps and at home.

This first approach is through our partnership with Carnegie Mellon University. We are working with researchers from CMU’s Cognitive Development Lab. They do this by playing games with their subjects that are designed to take show researchers how children think and how their thinking changes with development. While they watch their child participate, caregivers are given information on the study itself to help them understand more about the research question being investigated. This is a wonderful way for parents and children to engage with the research and, as the research questions often change quickly, there are many eager return customers.

Studies on the effectiveness of this approach have found that watching children participate in research studies increases adult awareness of child development as a science and that one-on-one conversations between adults and scientists increase adult understanding of the scientific process and their overall scientific literacy. Additionally, participants and viewers alike learn how science is applicable to their own lives, how research is conducted, what scientists look and act like, and how to answer tough questions using the scientific method.  It also can ignite the spark of lifelong science learning, one of the goals of effective science communication.

IMG_0213Another way that we engage parents is through family programming. Allowing adults to participate in our early childhood programs is a way that we can help to create connections to nature that they will carry back home. Our educators try to facilitate an interaction between family members, not dictate a classroom-type experience. We help parents to see the best ways to interact with their child outdoors; this includes teaching them a variety of fun observation exercises that young children enjoy, encouraging sensory experiences with plants and animals, and teaching respect for nature and appropriate boundaries. Our programs are not times for parents to check out and let our educators run the show, but really a time in which parents can get into the dirt with their kids and have fun. Often, parents learn just as many new things as their children and have been known to ask just as many good questions.

While we offer a number of adult education classes at Phipps, many young parents do not have the time to take them. By offering family programming, we are able to reach a very busy group of people and give them the tools to have meaningful outdoor experiences with their children. Research shows that spending time outdoors with a trusted adult creates an experience that children will remember long into adulthood; many naturalists cite these types of experiences as being influential in their lives and in their love of nature. We want to foster more of these experiences for all of our students and parents alike, hoping that together we can create a group of excited naturalists and scientists.

Looking for easy observation tools to incorporate into your programs or family time? Check out this post! Or check out our Backyard Connections series for ideas to connect with nature outdoors.

To learn more about increasing scientific literacy through museum research, check out this post!

The above photos were taken by Cory Doman.

March 16, 2015

Check Out Our Upcoming Summer Camps!

by Melissa Harding

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Winter is almost over and it’s time to sign up for summer camps!
Our new rack card is hot off the presses and we wanted to share our upcoming summer camps with you.
Click on the image to enlarge it.

Summer Camp 2015 2pg view

The above photo was taken by Cory Doman.

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March 13, 2015

2015 High School Internship Opportunity: Horticulture, Sustainability and Service

by Melissa Harding

 

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“A previous intern had once told me this was one of the best experiences of her life. I hardly believed that would be the same for me, but after being here for two summers, I honestly feel the same way. Phipps has provided me with amazing opportunities and education as well as allowing me to meet all the great people that make Phipps what it really is.”
- Will, 2013 and 2014 intern

Do you know any students that would make strong and eager candidates for an extraordinary summer learning experience?

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is now accepting applications from highly motivated high school students with an interest in the well-being of the planet to serve as summer interns in our paid internship program which will run from June 22nd through July 30th. All applicants must be at least 16 years of age by June 22 and have at least one year of school left. Students of diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

Our high school internship provides hands-on experience working with our science education and horticulture staff, along with classes, service projects, and field trips that expose students to a wide range of “green” concepts and career options.

More information and a Phipps employment application and a supplemental application form, along with a flyer suitable for posting can be downloaded from the Phipps website.

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“More than teaching me about plants and the environmental problems, this internship has shown me a deeper meaning of the value of work and achievement. It has also taught me that doing things you never thought you could do and, most importantly doing then well, as best as you can, is one of the most rewarding feelings there is. I will forever be grateful for my time spent here at Phipps and will not forget all the amazing people – horticulturalists, chefs, students, staff and volunteers – that I met here. ”
- Larissa, 2013 and 2014 intern

All interested students should submit the following to be considered for employment:

Application materials are being accepted between February 1st – April 1st, and should be sent to:

Kate Borger, High School Program Coordinator
Phipps Conservatory
One Schenley Park
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

For more information call 412/622-6915 ext. 3905 or email today!

Download and print a flier to help spread the word.

To learn more, check out previous blog posts about last year’s internship here. You can also learn about our first annual Youth Garden Summit here, and check out some pictures below:

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This program is made possible with support from the Grable Foundation and Pennsylvania’s Education Improvement Tax Credit Program.

The above pictures were taken by Phipps Science Education and Research staff.

March 11, 2015

Welcome Erica, Our 2015 Science Education and Research Intern!

by Melissa Harding

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We are very proud to welcome our newest intern, Erica Jackson, who will be a part of the Phipps Science Education and Research team for the duration of 2015. Erica brings her wonderful experience and enthusiasm to our department and we are so excited to have her!

Erica Jackson is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, where is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies, a minor in Spanish and a certificate in Global Studies. She brings with her to Phipps her experience working with children of all ages through clubs at Pitt and volunteering abroad. She loves opportunities to combine her passion for nature with health and education, and believes strongly that everyone should be encouraged to learn from their surroundings. A native of Columbus, Ohio, she appreciates the benefits of protecting green spaces within cities and is thrilled to have the opportunity to further the efforts of Pittsburgh as it becomes more environmentally conscious.

Please join us in welcoming Erica!

The above photo was taken by Science Education and Research staff.

March 10, 2015

Busting “EcoMyths”: BIA Fellow Jessi Turner Published Again!

by Melissa Harding

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Our Botany in Action Fellows are always working to share their research with others! This time, Jessi Turner is again the author of a recently published piece at EcoMyth! Entitled “Myth: Why Medicine Doesn’t Grow on Trees“, Jessi’s article talks about the importance of medicinal plants and highlights her colleague Aurélie Jacquet’s work in ethonopharmacology (the study of how people use plants as traditional medicines). The article also looks at common weeds through the lens of their medicinal properties, including dandelion, willow and ginseng.

The Botany in Action Fellowship program at Phipps fosters the development of the next generation of plant-based scientists who are committed, first, to excellent research, and second, to educational outreach. We are so excited for Jessi to have this great opportunity to share her work with a larger audience!

You can find Jessi’s article at EcoMyth! Additionally, check out this piece that Jessi wrote last year for the blog, Understanding the Human Connection the American Ginseng.

Learn more about Jessi and follow her research at her website !

The above photo of Jessi was taken by Science Education and Research staff.  

 

 

March 9, 2015

Asking Good Questions in Nature

by Melissa Harding

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“Your questions are more important than your answers.”
– Fred Rogers

Science is more than a collection of facts and figures, but is a way of looking at the world and investigating what makes it work. The practice of science requires inquiry skills and the ability to understand and carry out the scientific process. Problem solving in this way, using a set of keen observational skills to gain a better understanding of the world, requires asking good questions. In fact, most scientific investigations begin with a question generated from experience.  We may take it for granted that children will be able to easily ask the right questions to get the answers they need, but this is a skill that requires some cultivating. Question posing, a technique often used by classroom teachers, is essential to the process of scientific inquiry. This is such an important part of teaching that helping students learn to create good questions is required by the National Science Education Standards. Students need this skill, as it helps them to better understand the central role of questions in science, as well as to become better inquirers. Questions promote curiosity and a good question can generate many more. Helping children to ask good questions not only requires them to look more closely at the world around them, but gets them excited about finding the answers.

So what is a good question? A good question is one that can be investigated. It’s not a closed-ended question with a “yes” or “no” answer, but rather one that requires an explanation. A good question also needs to be narrow enough that it is answerable. While asking broad questions is a great way to generate excitement for a topic, narrowing the focus is helpful. Finally, good questions are related to natural phenomena; in fact, the best questions come after experiencing something interesting – a lightening strike, a chemical reaction, a flower blooming.

There are three types of good questions: definition, experimental and observational. Definition questions are questions with pre-determined answers, such as “what is a flower?” or “what is lightening?”. These answers have definitions associated with them and can be looked up in a resource. However, these are common questions that children ask and can serve to build up a child’s knowledge base about a topic. These type of questions often lead to the other types, as learning more often only serves to generate more questions. Experimental questions explore how things relate to each other and usually are answerable through experimentation. Observational questions do just that – use observation as a way to answer them. These types of questions help children to understand patterns in nature, animal behavior, phase changes, etc. All of these types of questions are in invitation to inquiry, helping children to develop a richer understanding of the world around them.

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The ability to use and interpret knowledge critically and thoughtfully is important both in the classroom and in life. A good foundation of observation skills and the ability to ask the right questions will serve children both in science and in other subjects, such as language arts. After all, critical thinking is just as relevant to literature as it is to science and problem solving is not the sole purview of math. These skills may also spark a passion for life-long learning, creating future astronomers or gardeners. As a parent, teaching these skills to your child is important. However, it may seem daunting to think about teaching science skills, especially if you don’t have a strong science background yourself. Not to worry, it is much easier than it sounds! In fact, one of the best ways to work on the skill of asking good questions is simply spending time outside. Nature has so many changing elements and moving parts that it is sure to get any child excited about observing and asking questions. Whether it is the backyard or local green space, spending time outside will engage your family in the natural world.

However, while a nature hike is a fine way to get outside, it can sometimes feel like a forced march to kids, especially when they are not used to that activity. Being outside can also make children uncomfortable if it is rainy or cold, which makes them pretty unlikely to enjoy themselves or to learn very much. If this is new to your family, playing games, gardening, and walking the dog are just as effective to get everyone outside as intentionally planning time to practice science. Eventually a bird or some oddly-shaped clouds will catch someone’s eye and organically lead to observation and asking questions. If it is too cold to go outside, nature can be found indoors as well; making observations out the window or even just watching some seeds grow are simple activities that will have a big impact. Simply put, research shows  that just being outside with your children will cause their cognitive abilities to bloom.

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While nature is pretty engaging by itself, there are strategies that you can use to get your children excited about being outside and asking great questions. Even better, these strategies go to work in minutes!

1. Encourage observation: Observation is how people learn. It involves using the senses to gain a deeper understanding of the world; start sniffing, feeling and looking closely at everything around you. Pick things up and see what noises they make. Taste if you think its appropriate. As long as you use some common sense about safety, you will have a great time observing your way through your yard.
2. Be mad scientists: Help your child answer questions by taking the next step in the scientific process – an experiment! Experiments don’t have to take place in a lab; they can happen on your sidewalk or in your kitchen. If you child asks a question that can be answered by simple science modeling, go for it! See what happens when you crack an egg on the sidewalk or put out some crackers for the ants. These easy experiments are often so fun that you just might get excited about them, too!
3. Ask open-ended questions to encourage observation: Open-ended questions are wonderful tools that promote creative thought and spark curiosity. While a question like, “What color is this leaf” evokes a one-word answer, “Tell me about this leaf” encourages a child to observe and describe. There is no right or wrong answer and can often give parents a window into what their child is thinking. You will be amazed about how excited your child will get when you ask for their opinions and ideas.
4. Model good behavior: Your child will be much more inclined to get on the ground and look through his magnifying lens if you are doing the same. Older children in particular will take note if you ask them to do things that you have no interest in, so get dirty with your kids! While it may start off as modeling, you may soon find yourself pretty excited about what you find.

Remember, it’s the process not the product, so just have some fun outside and see what happens. You will be growing scientific minds right before your eyes!

To learn more about how we teach observation skills through nature at Phipps, check out this post.

Read more about the importance of observation here.

The above photos were taken by Cory Doman.

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