Archive for October, 2014

October 30, 2014

Dr. Kalnicky Talks to Pittsburgh Tribune Review!

by Melissa Harding


This week, Science Education and Research director Dr. Emily Kalnicky was featured in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review! Emily spoke about the importance of connecting people and nature and her passion for research.  In addition to her biography, the article also outlined her vision for the future of research at Phipps:

“Her biggest project, though, is creating an open-ended, multiphase Biophilia Institute, where scientists from Phipps, the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and other institutions will conduct ecology-based research, and members of the public can attend workshops, hear speakers and otherwise engage with scientists. Biophilia means a love for nature, and the institute will explore this human-nature relationship with four points of focus: education and social justice, human health and wellness, ecological health and wellness, and communication and outreach.”

We are so excited to help Emily make this vision as reality as we move forward. Join us in congratulating Emily on her interview!

To read the whole interview, click here.

To read more about Emily’s research, check out her biography on the blog

Photo © Paul g. Wiegman

October 29, 2014

October is National Field Trip Month: Why Field Trips Matter

by Melissa Harding


Many of us have fond memories of the field trips that we took as children – perhaps a trip to the post office, ballet or local museum. We remember the excitement of walking through the hall of mummies or learning how letters move through the mail system; these kinds of experiences are so often ingrained in our minds not because they were merely fun days out of school, but because they were profound learning opportunities that connected us to our communities and the real world. In celebration of National Field Trip Month, it is worth exploring just why exactly field trips are so valuable to both students and the community and just how they foster an increase in science literacy across a student’s lifetime.

According to “The 95 Percent Solution”,  a rather infamous 2010 report published by the journal American Scientist on out of school learning, non-school resources such as museums, zoos, parks, and even visits to the post office are where most science learning occurs. This makes sense. Most Americans spend less than 5% of their lives in school, meaning that the 95% of their lives spent outside of the classroom is where the rest of their science knowledge is accumulated. This knowledge comes from a variety of sources. They include but are not limited to: visiting informal learning institutions like museums, zoos and aquariums; engaging in science-minded hobbies like gardening and star gazing; watching science-based television programs; internet research; and being in nature. Research shows that free-choice learning represents the greatest single contributor to adult knowledge. One example of the power of out of school learning was observed at the California Science Center, where researchers found that acquired knowledge not only stayed with visitors, but increased their conceptual understanding of science for two years or more after the experience.

This type of learning important for adults, but even more so for children. A 2009 report from the National Research Council found that not only do these experiences start a child’s long-term interest in science, but they can significantly increase scientific literacy in populations that are typically under-represented in science. Field trips provide just the type of free-choice learning that research asserts is particularly effective. They not only reinforce topics taught in school, but have the potential to create a vibrant spark in a student that lasts his whole life. Allowing students the freedom to develop and explore an individual interest in science topics is a sure way to create a life-long learner.


Additionally, field trips are not just a chance to learn, but a time to explore the community that supports the school. Whether it is an informal learning institution, a local utility or service, a government organization or a natural area, all of these places exist for their citizens. They want to be a resource for teachers and students, helping to give children the educational experiences that they need to be successful. David Sobel, in his book Place-based Education, advocates for using the local community and environment as a starting place to teach concepts across the curriculum, especially science and ecology. He asserts that connecting to the community and emphasizing hands-on, real-world learning experiences not only increases overall academic achievement, but also helps students develop strong ties to their community, increases their appreciation for the natural world and creates a heightened commitment to community involvement. Beyond these effects on students, Sobel also writes that taking students into the community will make local business, politicians and organizations more likely to come into the classroom and create an open exchange of ideas between both parties. This deeper connection opens the classroom walls and creates rich avenues for learning. Field trips represent a greater opportunity for all students to become a part of the world around them.

As part of the larger urban learning network of Pittsburgh, we are honored to provide the opportunity for students to engage with both local and exotic environments. Field trips at Phipps try to not only inspire a life-long interest in plants and the environment, but to connect each student to the natural world. In our classroom, students use flashlights to study the inner workings of worms, dissect seeds, and smell fragrant tropical spices. They can wander through tropical and desert biomes, be surrounded by butterflies and take a sensory journey through the heart of our Indian forest. We strive to provide a positive, nature-based experience for each of our students that provokes them to look a little deeper at and ask questions about the world around them.  Each field trip program gives us the opportunity to plant the seeds for future naturalists, explorers, scientists and civically-engaged citizens.

Field trips represent an opportunity for the entire community to engage in the educational process together. They are critically important to creating life-long learners, in science and beyond. In this time of shrinking budgets and increased teacher responsibilities, it is important to remember getting students outside of their classroom is not just a privilege, but an imperative.

To read the entire report, “The 95 Percent Solution”, you can download a copy of the article here.

Read an excerpt of Place Based Education. Learn more about David Sobel’s other works here.

To learn more about Phipps field trips, check out our School Program Spotlights.

 The above photos were taken by Cory Doman.


October 25, 2014

Upcoming Little Sprouts: My Desert Adventure

by Melissa Harding


This November, join us for the next installment of Little Sprouts, My Desert Adventure.  Phipps Little Sprouts camps for 2-3 year-olds and their adult caregiver are interactive programs for child and adult to experience together.  Each session will take place in the Tropical Forest and include songs, stories, sensory experiences, and healthy snacks. In My Desert Adventure, campers will meet animals and plants friends that live in the hot, dry desert and learn why they make the desert their home.

Please join us on November 21, 9:30-10:30 or 11:00 a.m. to noon for My Desert Adventure.

If you would like to sign up your child for this or any other Little Sprouts program, please contact Sarah at (412)441-4442 ext. 3925.

For a complete list of all our Little Sprout offerings, please visit our website.

We hope to see you there!

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

October 24, 2014

National Living Lab Pilot Program Looks at How Children Learn

by Melissa Harding

46-Day 3 086

This fall, Phipps visitors will have the chance to help real scientists conduct their research as we pilot a new science communication program at Phipps: The National Living Lab! In the National Living Lab (NLL) model, scientists in the fields of child developmental and psychological research conduct their studies at local museums, recruiting study participants from museum visitors. These researchers then work with museum educators to communicate  their work to visitors through innovative activities and one-on-one interactions with the researchers themselves. These studies occur on the museum floor, in plain view of visitors, allowing them to be drawn in to the process. 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.  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.

The Living Laboratory has been so successful that it has spawned the National Living Lab Initiative. Funded by the National Science Foundation, this program has created “hubs” in regions across the country to connect museums and researchers together. In addition to The Museum of Science, Boston, the Maryland Science Center, the Madison Children’s Museum and the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry act as hub leaders, helping other museums to adopt a similar model.

At Phipps, we are working with researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Discovery Process Lab to provide a museum setting for their work. CMU’s Discovery Process Lab is concerned with exploring children’s scientific reasoning. Phipps is partnering with Dr. Audrey Kittredge, a post-doctoral researcher at the lab, as part of the National Living Lab program; Dr. Kittredge is committed to understanding children’s scientific thinking and problem-solving. In particular, her current studies focus on young children’s independent exploration and experimentation, and on the ways that teachers and other adults may shape children’s learning of these skills. Dr. Kittredge is also committed to making her work applicable both formal and informal educators and to providing them with useful knowledge to help better engage their students.

Dr. Kittredge and her research staff will be conducting research on a regular basis this fall and winter. In addition to collecting data for her work, she and her staff will also be engaging all visitors about their research and why it is important. The goal of the NLL program is not just to conduct research in a public setting, but for scientists to have face-to-face communication with the general public and give them access to science as it is happening. We are so excited to be able to provide our visitors with this exceptional educational experience!

To join Dr. Kittredge and her team at Phipps, check them out on the following dates from 10:00 am- 3:00pm:
October 25
November 1
November 15
December 6

You can also follow us on our Phipps Science Education and Research Facebook Page for updates!

Having researchers working in public settings, like museums and libraries, is a great way to involve families in the scientific process. Through participation in studies and interaction with scientists, visitors, researchers and museums can all benefit!

If you are a museum professional and would like to learn more about a Living Lab hub near you, check out the National Living Lab Initiative.

To learn more about the National Science Foundation, click here!

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



October 23, 2014

BIA Fellow Jessi Turner Published in Mother Earth News!

by Melissa Harding


ginesng 4

Not only is BIA Fellow Jessi Turner the subject of October’s Interview with a Scientist, but she is also the author of a recently published article in Mother Earth News! Entitled Conserving American Ginseng“, Jessi’s article raises awareness for this wonderful plant and it’s struggle for survival in the wild. Her research concerns not only the value of this plant for humans, but also its role in the ecosystem.

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!

To read Jessi’s article, check it out on Mother Earth News! Additionally, check out this piece that Jessi wrote last year for the blog, Understanding the Human Connection the American Ginseng.

Learn more about Jessi at her website and follow her work with Phipps with our Follow the Fellows feature!

The above photos is used courtesy of Jessi Turner.


October 22, 2014

Dr. Emily Kalnicky Attends Portal to the Public 2014 Annual Meeting in Raleigh, NC!

by Melissa Harding


PoP2Last week, Dr. Emily Kalnicky attended the Portal to the Public (PoP) 2014 Annual Meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina. Portal to the Public is a program designed to assist informal science education institutions as they seek to bring scientists and public audiences together in face-to-face public interactions that promote appreciation and understanding of current scientific research and its application. The PoP network consists of 36 such institutions across the country. Instead of a prescriptive model, the PoP guiding framework is a structured set of concepts designed to be flexible to suit the needs of any institution.  Goals of the Portal to the Public include supporting local adoption of the framework at each dissemination site, building a community of practice, and  increasing the ability of individual museum professionals to confidently design appropriate programs, partner with scientists, facilitate professional development, and execute public programs featuring scientists. Phipps has proudly joined the ranks of PoP sites, a part of the September 2014 cohort!

The purpose of the annual meeting is for PoP sites to network with each other to learn how Portal to the Public is being implemented at sister sites across the country and to think together about the future sustainability of the program. Sites presented on the unique ways that they are using the program and participated in small group break-out sessions about mini grant funding, staff onboarding and more. It was a great way to learn more about how other are using PoP principals and share best practices.

We are so excited to be a part of the wonderful work that the PoP network is doing and to expand our science communication programming to reach a greater audience!

To learn more about Portal to the Public, check out their website!

The above photos were taken by PoP staff and  Dr. Emily Kalnicky.






October 21, 2014

Kate and Interns Attend the 2014 Youth Voices Conference!

by Melissa Harding


Last weekend, Kate Borger and 2014 summer high school interns, Dani and Alexis, attended the 2014 Youth Voices Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. The two-day conference, whose theme this year was “Teens Take on Food Justice”, brought together seven different groups of youth from all over the country to work together on the topic of food security. Hosted by the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s Green Corps, the conference consisted of presentations by all participating youth, a keynote presentation from Ben Bebenroth, chef and founder of The Spice Companies, and a visioning session on the topic of “Food as a Unifier”. Additionally, participants were treated to tours of the Cleveland Botanic Garden, a Green Corps working vegetable garden, the largest urban garden in the country, and Cleveland’s historic food market. Alexis and Dani did a wonderful job representing Phipps and our internship program!

Participating groups included: Cleveland Botanical Garden Green Corps (Cleveland, OH), Oakland Leaf (Oakland, CA), Youth Farmers Leadership Program (Cleveland, OH), Chicago Botanical Garden Windy City Harvest (Chicago, IL), Phipps Conservatory (Pittsburgh, PA), Fresh Camp (Cleveland, OH), and University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (Chanhassen, MN). While each program is different in its approach and content, each one has had a valuable impact in the lives of its students.

We are excited to share our program with others and to learn from each other – working together, change is possible!

To see more photos from the conference, check out the slideshow below:

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To learn more about the summer internship program at Phipps,  click here.

The above photos were taken by Kate Borger.




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