Archive for November, 2013

November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving From All of Us!

by Melissa Harding
2013-10-09 14.44.42Thanksgiving Magic
Thanksgiving Day I like to see
Our cook perform her witchery.
She turns a pumpkin into pie
As easily as you or I
Can wave a hand or wink an eye.
She takes leftover bread and muffin
And changes them to turkey stuffin’.
She changes cranberries to sauce
And meats to stews and stews to broths;
And when she mixes gingerbread
It turns into a man instead
With frosting collar ’round his throat
And raisin buttons down his coat.
Oh, some like magic made by wands,
And some read magic out of books,
And some like fairy spells and charms
But I like magic made by cooks!
 –  Rowena Bastin Bennett
We wish you and your family and a happy and delicious Thanksgiving!
November 27, 2013

1-year Paid Internship Oppportunity in Phipps’ Science Education & Research Department!

by Melissa Harding


Phipps is accepting applications for a 1-year paid internship position in Science Education for 2014! Available to undergraduate through graduate students. Application deadline Jan 7, 2014.

GENERAL SUMMARY:  The intern will become an invaluable team member in Phipps’ Science Education department, helping to strengthen and create new youth-focused education and outreach initiatives in the areas of environmental conservation and sustainability, art and science, and healthy living, with the core of building a positive relationship between humanity and the environment.

This paid internship spans 12 months, starting January 2014, with up to 40 hours/week during the summer months and 15-20 hours/week during the school year. Some evening and weekend work will be required. Intern may participate in many of Phipps’ classes at no cost (except applicable material fees).

DSC_0084PRINCIPAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES:  The intern will work closely with Science Education and Research staff and volunteers to a) develop and teach cross-disciplinary, participatory programs including summer camps, out-of-school and weekend programs for youth and families, on-site and off-site school programs, scouts and brownies badge programs, programs for homeschool groups, and outreach for under-resourced youth, b) assist in developing programs that connect youth to environment-focused scientists and provide educational enrichment for formal and informal educators, and c) represent Phipps at community events, online as applicable, present on Phipps’ innovative green initiatives, and other potential duties as needed.

QUALIFICATIONS: The student should be currently enrolled in an undergraduate program at least halfway through the course of study, or one year post-graduate from undergraduate program, or currently enrolled as a graduate student.  The degree focus must be in an area related to Phipps’ Science Education and Research department, e.g., environmental education, environmental social sciences, environmental communications, ecological or conservation-based biological sciences, or nutrition and dietetics.  A valid driver’s license and a car to use for transport for off-site programs (mileage reimbursed) are preferred.  The student must be willing and able to engage public of all ages, have excellent team member and multi-tasking skills, be creative and willing to adapt to changing scenarios, be punctual, self-motivated, and enthusiastic about and committed to helping connect youth and youth-related adults with nature and nature-based sciences.  Experience working with youth is a plus.

TO APPLY: Submit a cover letter and resume by January 7, 2014 via email to Please reference SCIENCE EDUCATION INTERNSHIP in the subject line.

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff.

November 26, 2013

Fairchild Challenge at Phipps: Climate Change Public Service Announcements

by Melissa Harding

During the latest challenge of the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps, students were asked to think about the impact of their individual and collective actions on climate change and to talk about their findings in the form of a video. Over 110 high school students participated in this challenge! Students created videos to inform their peers about the reality of climate change, while inspiring them to take responsive action. Each entry was less than one minute and done in the form of a public service announcement. The entries submitted were varied in their approach, but all were wonderful. It was hard for the judges,  Director of Education for the Pittsburgh Filmmakers Brady Lewis, filmmaker Mark Dixon, Director Research on Learning at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Mary Ann Steiner, and Interpretive Specialist for Phipps Adam Haas, to choose the winners!

1st Place: Gateway High School  “Paper Stop Animation”

2nd Place: Moon Area High School  “Mother Nature”

 3rd Place :  Shaler Area High School

Honorable Mention: Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy 

While each challenge has a winner, all participating students are winners for learning more about the world around them!
Thanks to all these wonderful students for submitting these great videos!

November 25, 2013

Innovations for America’s Electricity Grid: Talk with the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering Ambassadors

by Melissa Harding

Holiday lights and cell phones need it. So do digital music, movies, games, and toys. Electricity is essential to modern life – at home, at work and at play. But the electricity grid that keeps our world running smoothly is based on century-old technology that is increasingly ill suited to modern needs. Join us as two leading grid engineers talk about innovations being developed here in Pittsburgh to retool the grid for the 21st century.

Phipps Winter Lights - Paul g Weigman

WHO: National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering Science & Engineering Ambassadors

WHAT: Innovations for America’s Electricity Grid – An Informal Conversation. Join us for complimentary drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and a conversation with leading Pittsburgh energy experts.

Panelists: Greg Reed and Emmanuel Taylor, Swanson School of Engineering, University of Pittsburgh

WHEN: Friday, December 13, 2013, 6:00 PM

WHERE: Phipps Conservatory – Center for Sustainable Landscapes – Classroom & Atrium (1st Floor)

Free and open to the public. (Admission to the gardens not included.)

This event is part of the Science & Engineering Ambassadors program – an activity of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) – to connect opinion leaders with local experts, building relationships at the community level on the topic of energy. The NAS and NAE are private, non-profit societies of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the public good.

Space is limited; RSVP required.

RSVP or send inquiries to: Sam Taylor, Director, Science & Engineering Ambassadors,

NOTE: If you have questions about the electricity grid and our electricity supply that you would like to be addressed in this presentation, please email them in advance to

For additional background information, watch Greg and Emmanuel’s talk at TEDxPittsburgh.

The above photo was taken by Paul g. Weigman.

November 25, 2013

Connecting to Nature Through Poetry: Robert Hass

by Melissa Harding


Connecting to Nature Through Poetry is a segment of the blog featuring poets who inspire their readers to establish strong connections to nature and community. An appreciation of poetry and art is connected to achievement in science and success in adult life; however, there is no need to be an expert on poetry to enjoy it. Poetry is for everyone.  As Plato once said, “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history”.  

Poetry need supporters, people to fight for it as an important part of society. Poetry needs Robert Hass. As a poet, he is wonderful at translating the natural world into a personal history, combining descriptions of his native California countryside with autobiographical narrative. However, some of Hass’s best work may arguably be his advocacy for poetry. From 1995-1997, Hass served as the United States Poet Laureate and poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, transforming the position from one that was largely ceremonial to one that is now a public advocate for poets and their work. During his tenure as Poet Laureate, Hass visited businesses, convincing them to support poetry contests for school kids and spoke with civic groups, trying to inform them about the importance of poetry as an art. He is widely credited with being the most active poet laureate up to that time and set a high bar for those who followed.

Hass’s poems use the natural world as a backdrop for the stories he has to tell. His descriptions are vivid and beautiful, whether they are a small part of a poem or the majority of it’s content. Not typically considered a “nature poet”, Hass uses the natural world for his own purposes, different within each poem.

The Woods in New Jersey

Where there was only grey, and brownish grey,
And greyish brown against the white
Of fallen snow at twilight in the winter woods,

Now an uncanny flamelike thing, black
and sulphur-yellow, as if it were dreamed by Audubon,
Is turned upside down in a delicate cascade

Of new leaves, feeding on whatever mites
Or small white spiders haunt underleafs at stem end,
A magnolia warbler, to give the thing a name.

The other name we give this overmuch of appetite
The beauty unconscious of itself is life.
And that that kept the mind becalmed all winter? –

The more austere and abstract rhythm of the trunks,
Vertical music the cold makes visible,
That holds the whole thing up and gives it form,

or strength – call that the law. It’s made,
whatever we like to think, more of interests
than of reasons, trees reaching each their own way

for light, to make the sort of order that there is.
And what of those deer treading through the woods
In a late snowfall and silent as the snow?

Look: they move among the winter trees, so much
the color of the trees, they hardly seem to move.

Hass’s poems are conversational, as they describe his world in detail, like he is telling the reader a story at a party. He also manages to fill each one with the wisdom of someone who has “been there” before, whether or not that was a good thing. He deftly weaves his personal experience with the world in which it happens; nature is part of his life story. He writes both grand, detailed nature scenes and descriptions of the tiniest things that catch the eye – all within the context of a larger story.


A man talking to his ex-wife on the phone.
He has loved her voice and listens with attention
to every modulation of its tone. Knowing
it intimately. Not knowing what he wants
from the sound of it, from the rendered civility.
He studies, out the window, the seed shapes
of the broken pods of ornamental trees.
The kind that grow in everyone’s garden, that no one
but horticulturalists can name. Four arched chambers
of pale green, tiny vegetal proscenium arches,
a pair of black tapering seeds bedded in each chamber,
A wish geometry, miniature, Indian or Persian,
lovers or gods in their apartments. Outside, white,
patient animals, and tangled vines, and rain.

Read a full biography of Robert Hass and find selected poems here. To read commentaries by other poets on some of their favorite Hass poems, check out this great link.

To read about using poetry to connect children to nature, check out our blog post.

Why is poetry important to science education? Find out here.

The above photo was taken by Melissa Harding.

November 21, 2013

From the Ground Up: Understanding Our Complex Food Systems

by Melissa Harding


As part of the Museums Connect program, made possible by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the American Alliance of Museums, Phipps is partnering with the Gidan Makama Museums in Kano, Nigeria to provide an immersive experience for 15 local high school students in each city. Participating students will learn about nutrition, cooking and cultural food traditions by following local food from farm to table and will be communicating with students at their partner institutions. This project will last from September to June, resulting in the creation of a community cookbook that will be designed and created by participating students. Students will also meet each month for a Saturday workshop involving activities designed to get them thinking critically about their food system and food culture. Calling themselves the Global Chefs, this group of students is excited to learn more about what food means in their lives.

This month, a team of helpers from all over the community joined our Global Chefs in the kitchen to make their first full meal as a group. Nancy Hanst of Slow Food Pittsburgh, local chefs Rhonda Schuldt and Jean Daniels, and Chatham Food Studies student Amber Webb and B. Thorp all helped our students to learn knife skills, how to carve a chicken and more. Students made a meal of enchiladas, both vegetarian and chicken, and baked apples. For many of the students, it was their first time eating some of these foods. Everyone enjoyed eating the meal together, sharing in the group’s collective efforts.


Students also learned just how complex the American food system truly is. They examined what a food system is, the differences between localized and conventional food systems, and how food systems looks different around the world. Students also worked on an activity comparing how foods market themselves versus the reality of their production and content, as well as how wealth is distributed along the food system. Finally, they looked at pictures sent by their Nigerian counterparts and examined how their experienced with food are similar and different to their own.

Additionally, students shared their holiday recipes from the previous month’s assignment. The recipes that they brought were varied by holiday and culture; examples include spiced yams, strawberry pretzel salad, coconut shrimp soup, sausage brochettes, baked moi moi and sweet potato pie. Students also chose a theme for their next recipe assignment; they are tasked with interviewing an elder to get a traditional recipe from their family or community.

To see more images from the workshop, check out the slideshow below!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The above photos were taken by Lisa Xu and program participants.

November 20, 2013

Home Connections: Creating a Seed Mosaic

by Melissa Harding


As the weather gets colder, it can be easier to feel disconnected from nature. It is hard to want to garden, play catch or go for a walk when the wind is biting at your back. Luckily, there are many ways to foster a connection with nature in the winter without becoming a popsicle. One such way is to create natural art; there are many natural items from the backyard and the pantry that can be turned into art – seeds and beans, seed pods, dead flowers, berries, pine cones and fallen leaves. These are the perfect materials for one of our favorite art forms: mosaics. Mosaics are like puzzles. They are art pieces that have been created out of many small pieces put together to make a bigger picture. While you can make a mosaic out of anything, natural materials create a beautiful piece that is truly biophilic.

We make our mosaics out of salt dough and seeds. Salt dough is easy to assemble out of materials from the pantry and dries nicely. Seeds are readily available in a variety of places; they can be found outside, in seed packets, in soup mixes and in bags from the store. We like to use a combination of lentil soup mix and seed packets, coupled with nature finds that our students get from the outdoor gardens.


There are many recipes for salt dough, but this is our favorite:
Ingredients: 1 cup salt 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 cup luke warm water

Instructions: In a large bowl mix salt and flour, gradually stirring in water until it forms a dough-like consistency. Form a ball with your dough and knead it for at least 5 minutes with your hands, adding flour as needed to create a smooth texture. The longer you knead your dough, the smoother it will be. Salt dough is as salty as its name suggests, and is best kept away from pets and very small children, as the high salt content may make them sick if they ingest enough.

Want to add more color to your salt dough? Try these ideas: 1. Add powdered tempera paint to your flour, 2. add food coloring or paint to the water before you mix it with the salt/flour, or 3. add natural coloring like instant coffee, cocoa, or curry powder.


Turning these items into a seed mosaic is simple:
1. Flatten the salt dough into the desired shape. Use cookie cutters to create smaller shapes or trim your dough into a free-form shape with a butter knife. (Hint: Filling an empty round lid is a sure way to get a perfect circle)
2. Draw a practice pattern on a piece of paper or lightly sketch it onto the salt dough with a toothpick; this will give you something to look at as you place your seeds.
3. Place your seeds to create a picture or pattern on the salt dough. Be sure to press them firmly into the dough. Cover as much of the salt dough as you like; the more seeds, the more colorful it will look!
4. Leave your mosaic to dry overnight. If making smaller shapes for hanging, be sure to punch a hole in the top of your shape with a pencil before letting the piece dry. While these mosaics are hard once they are dry, they are not suitable for being outdoors.

Once you have tried this fun craft with seeds, add other small natural items from your backyard or change up the color of your salt dough. This is also a great chance to explore a local park or green space to look for mosaic items.  The sky is the limit with this craft, so head outside and get crafting today!

To learn more ways to use salt dough, as well as other doughs that we use in our programs, check out this post. 

Check out this post to learn how art can foster a connection with nature.

The above photos were taken by Lisa Xu.


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