Archive for January, 2015

January 30, 2015

Backyard Connections: Help Scientists by Joining The Great Backyard Bird Count

by Melissa Harding

Are you ready for some science? It’s been a whole month since the most recent citizen science challenge posted here and it’s time for another one! The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, is another chance to help scientists gain a better understanding of overall bird health around the world. Taking place February 13-16, 2014, the GBBC is an annual four-day event that asks bird lovers to create real-time “snapshots” of where birds are. Birders count the number of birds that they see in their backyard, area park, or local green space and submit this information to scientists, who combine it with data from the Christmas Bird Count and other sources to get a more complete picture of what is happening to bird populations.

Why have two bird counts so close together in time? Bird populations are dynamic and constantly in a state of flux. Birds are always moving from place to place in search of food and shelter, especially during the winter months. Scientists need citizen help because no single team of scientists could ever completely document the complex distribution and movement of so many birds. The longer and more frequently bird populations are documented, the more useful the data becomes, especially as scientists begin to assess trends over time. Having so much data also helps scientists to ask more difficult questions, such as why bird diseases affect different regions or why the phenology of migration patterns changes from year to year. Even better, the February GBBC used to only take place in the United States and Canada, but now that it is a global count, birds are counted in all seasons. This gives scientists even more useful data!

The GBBC is such a great program because it is accessible to everyone, even beginning birders and families. Anyone can participate for as little as 15 minutes or as long as each day of the event. It’s easy to get started – simply create a free GBBC account to submit your checklist. Once you have an account, tally the number of individual bird species that you see during the count period and then enter those numbers on the GBBC website. If you decide to count on multiple days or in multiple locations, just be sure to submit a separate checklist for each day and/or location. You can also send in photos of your backyard birds, the best of which will be posted on their website as part of a photo gallery.

To learn how to participate in the GBBC, visit the Cornell Lab website. Get comprehensive instructions here, as well as answers to frequently asked questions.

New to bird watching, check out Cornell’s excellent resources for identifying difficult birds, using binoculars, and more!

Learn more about citizen science projects to do with your family on the blog!

The above video is used courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

January 29, 2015

Welcome Adam Haas, Interpretive Specialist!

by Melissa Harding

Adam (1)

We are very pleased to welcome the newest member of the Science Education and Research team, Adam Haas! Adam has been a part of Phipps marketing department for three years, and is now working part-time with our department, as well as Marketing, as an Interpretive Specialist.

Adam is an Interpretive Specialist at Phipps and works cross-departmentally with Science Education and Research and the Marketing department to help facilitate meaningful experiences for visitors.  Despite killing most of the plants he tries to grow, he views public gardens as ideal venues to encourage deeper connections to the natural world. Adam studied Animal Behavior and Studio Arts at Bucknell University and holds an M.A.T. in Museum Education from The George Washington University. He is a member of the American Public Gardens Association and sits on the steering committee of the Pittsburgh Museum Education Roundtable.

Please join us in welcoming Adam to our team!

The above photo taken by Phipps staff.


January 28, 2015

Past BIA Fellows Kelly Ksiazek and Olyssa Starry Publish Green Roof Book for Kids!

by Melissa Harding

Green roof cover photo

Phipps has several green roofs; each is, at its core, a pollinator garden filled with beautiful flowers and plants that provide habitat for birds, bees and other critters. They also help us to regulate temperature in the rooms below, catch excess rain water, and provide lovely learning spaces for our students. We love our green roofs and all the benefits that they give us –  Phipps wouldn’t be the same place without them. Two of our past Botany in Action Fellows, Kelly Ksiazek and Olyssa Starry, feel the same way; they love green roofs so much that they spent years studying them and learning just exactly why they are so great. They have summed up their research and interpreted it for students in their recently published book “Growing Up in the City“, an activity book for children in grades 3-5.

As past Botany in Action Fellows, Kelly and Olyssa believe that their research should be both well-communicated and available to everyone. Calling their education efforts “Greening Up in the City”, their mission is “to educate people everywhere about the dynamic relationships between plants, people, and the rest of the natural world that occur in the cities where we live, work and play”.

Kelly and Olyssa are currently working on spreading the word and getting their book out to interested educators. A physical copy of the book can be purchased and digital copy can be downloaded for free from their website. In addition, Kelly will be visiting us in April to share more about her research on green roofs and educate the public about her work.

We are so excited for both of our Fellows and can’t wait to see what they do next!

If you are an interested educator, parent, or just like green roofs, check out the website to download a copy for yourself!

Portions of the funding for the book came from the Botany in Action Fellowship program, the Garden Club of Allegheny County and the Patti Burns Prize for Excellence in Communications.

The above photo is the cover for Kelly and Olyssa’s book!





January 27, 2015

Our Department is Searching for a Science Education Research Manager!

by Melissa Harding

PoP button

Phipps is seeking a full-time Science Education Research Manager to strengthen and create new and innovative research partnerships in the areas of communication and outreach, ecological health and wellness, human health and wellness, and education and social justice. The Science Education Research Manager is responsible for assisting in research related to those focus areas as well as coordinating all research activities for the department. This role will assist in developing and researching innovative programs that connect youth and the public to scientists and allow them to participate in research.

The successful candidate must have a passion for teaching, research and the environment, with a demonstrated ability to interact with children and the general public in a pleasant and courteous manner. Proficiency with computer software and data management, as well as experience with research including successful publications, presentations, and/or grant applications, is required. The candidate must have a Master’s degree or higher focused in an area related to Phipps’ science education (e.g., environmental education, the ecological or conservation-focused biological sciences, or environmental social sciences) and at least three years of relevant and responsible experience in the field of research/evaluation of science education in an informal learning environment.

Please include a cover letter, resume and salary history when responding.

Qualified candidates should send their resume and cover letter via email to or mail to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Human Resources Department, 1059 Shady Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15232. Phipps is an equal opportunity employer. Or, request an application by filling out our contact form.

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

January 27, 2015

Our Department is Searching for a Science Education Facilitator!

by Melissa Harding


Phipps is seeking a full-time Science Education Facilitator to assist with developing, implementing, and evaluating new and innovative youth-focused science education and teacher professional development initiatives in the areas of sustainability, conservation, art and science, mindfulness, scientific communication, citizen science, healthy living, horticultural therapy, and related topics. The Science Education Facilitator is responsible for the development, implementation and evaluation of youth programs administered on- and off-site for school, homeschool, after-school, scout, camp, formal and informal educator, and family groups. This role will assist the Director of Science Education and High School Programs Coordinator to develop, implement and evaluate middle and high school programs, including the FairChild Challenge program and summer internship programs.

The successful candidate must have a passion for teaching and the environment, with experience leading engaging educational programming for youth and adults, preferably in an informal learning environment. Proficiency with internet, email software and Microsoft Office is required. Experience with basic image editing software is a plus. The candidate must have a bachelor’s degree focused in an are related to Phipps’ science education (environmental education, environmental social sciences, or the ecological or conservation-based biological sciences) with at least two years of relevant experience in the field of science education. Availability to work occasional weekends and holidays, a valid driver’s license and ability to provide own transportation for work-related travel is required (mileage reimbursed).

Please include a cover letter, resume and salary history when responding.

Qualified candidates should send their resume and cover letter via email to or mail to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Human Resources Department, 1059 Shady Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15232. Phipps is an equal opportunity employer. Or, request an application by filling out our contact form.

The above photo was taken by Cory Doman.

January 26, 2015

Confessions of a Plant Lover: BIA Fellow Jessi Turner Published in EcoMyths!

by Melissa Harding


Yet another of our Botany in Action Fellows has been honored this month – Jessica Turner is the author of a recently published article at EcoMyth! Entitled “Why Plants are Awesome to Study: A Love Song from a Scientist“, Jessi’s article speaks about why she prefers to study humble plants over more exciting animal and human subjects. She not only explains why plants are such great subjects for research, but also why they are important to each and every one of us.

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 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 Chelsie Romulo.  

January 23, 2015

Home Connections: Beat the Indoor Blues with Some Crafty Fun!

by Melissa Harding


It is very cold in Pittsburgh right now and more winter weather is on the way for the foreseeable future. If you are living in a place that is also experiencing cold temperatures and icy streets, going outside may be the last thing on your mind. In fact, you may be wanting to get inside as fast as possible!  It can be hard to feel connected to nature when you don’t want to be out in it. While it’s fun to curl up on the couch every once in a while, night after night of sitting inside can make you go a little crazy. Add to that the pressure of closed schools and bored kids and you may be looking at a seemingly interminable prison sentence: Indoor Confinement!

We have put together a little survival guide of activities to keep you and your family happy and engaged while you wait out the big freeze. Based on our Home Connections series, here are some ways to connect to nature and make some cool projects at the same time. Each link has easy to follow steps and tons of modifications to suit both younger and older children. Pull out your crayons and markers, folks, because it is time to get crafty and have some fun!


1. Plant a few terrariums: Create miniature gardens out of clipping from house plants, seeds or anything else you have stashed away in the basement. Decorate them and set them all over your windows – it’s hard to feel blue when you are looking at so much green!


2. Create a seed mosaic: The humble seed is such a versatile craft supply! Use seeds from your garage or dried beans from soup mix and create beautiful mosaic pictures.


3. Turn your old T-shirts in a jump rope: Do you have a pile of old T-shirts just waiting to go to Goodwill or be turned into rags? Try this fun idea for making them into a jump rope instead.


4. Turn your recycle bin into art: It can take lots of energy to recycle those soda cans and paperboard boxes. Turn them into fun art instead – everything from picture frames to lava lamps and everything in between. Check out how we repurpose cardboard, plastic and glass at Phipps for ideas.

Phipps Science Education Playdough (2)

5. Make some dough: Homemade dough is fun for all ages! Try colorful rainbow play dough, spiced salt dough or any other of many ideas to keep your kids entertained for hours. Build sculptures, make ornaments or just play – the sky is the limit.DSC_3087

6. Create a nature weaving: If you can brave the outdoors for a bit, grab some winter nature to turn into a beautiful weaving to hang on your wall or your door. Don’t want to go outside? Use colorful bits and bobs that you find in your junk drawer and maybe even a few flowers out of the vase.

Hopefully, these nature- and conservation-based crafts and activities will keep you and your family busily creating and connecting with the natural world, all within the warm comfort of your home! Enjoy!

Once it gets a little warmer, check out our Backyard Connections series for ideas to connect with nature outdoors.

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


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