Archive for ‘School Programs’

February 19, 2015

We Say “Goodbye” to Steve: Reflections of a Science Education Intern

by Melissa Harding


Steve Bucklin, our 2014 science education intern, will be ending his internship this week. He will be leaving Science Education and Research, but not Phipps, as he will continue to work in the Conservatory with our Discovery Education department, providing wonderful education experiences to our youngest guests and their caregivers. We are so excited that Steve will be staying a part of the Phipps family!

The following essay, written by Steve, is a reflection on the time he spent with our department:

It’s amazing both how long and how short one year can seem. In the time it took for the Earth to revolve around the sun once, countless organisms lived out their entire lives (think of all the annual flowering plants that go from seed to plant to flower and back again!), and I completed my internship with the Science Education and Research team at Phipps. Looking back on the past year, it’s shocking how quickly the time has passed, but the experience I’ve gained from the time I’ve spent at Phipps has made it one of the most impactful years of my life.

At the start of my internship, teaching made me extremely nervous. Standing in front of a group of 10 to 30 or more young children and helping to shape the way they think and what they know isn’t an easy task, and it becomes a lot more complicated when you add in things like crafts and snacks. However, over the course of my internship, I was able to teach many classes and work on becoming comfortable and relaxed in the classroom. I’ve learned that being relaxed is essential not only to the classes you teach being more effective and entertaining for the students, but it makes teaching a lot more fun too! Now I feel a sense of excitement when I get to lead a class and I am much more confident in front of groups. With the help and guidance of the wonderful Science Education team at Phipps and a lot of practice, I’ve really begun to develop my teaching skills. In total, I helped the Science Education team teach 36 field trip programs, 25 Little Sprouts camp classes, and 35 other seasonal and summer camps.


One great example of the progress I made during my internship is what I accomplished as part of the Eco Challenge. The Eco Challenge is an annual event at Phipps where students from different middle and high schools complete a series of challenges designed to engage them in thinking critically about environmental issues and sustainability. My job was to create an activity focused on the effect of food on the environment for middle school students. It was a daunting task, to say the least. The end product was a game that was both an age-appropriate way to discuss the environmental impact of food and that empowered student to make positive decisions. This program was very inspiring to me. Educating both others and myself about the environment has been a primary focus in my life since high school. To be able to do so for nearly 150 middle school students in a single day left me feeling unlike I ever have before.

As my time in the Science Education department reaches an end, I am sure that I am heading down a path that is right for me. Doing this work is the most rewarding thing I have ever experienced and I hope I am able to continue doing it! As for my plans now, I’ll still be around the Conservatory for the foreseeable future. I have been working part-time in the Discovery Education department doing public programs for children since December and plan to continue my work there as I search for full-time employment. There’s no telling what the future holds, but the many opportunities I have had to gain experience in environmental education since graduating college have left me feeling very optimistic. I am very glad that I have the opportunity to continue working at Phipps and that I’ll be able to stop in and visit the awesome staff in Science Education as I keep progressing as an educator!

We would also like to thank Steve for all the hard work that he has done for us this past year.
We are so proud of him and wish him the best of luck!

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

January 13, 2015

Watch our SEED Being Built

by Melissa Harding


The SEEDClassroom is becoming a reality at Phipps! The SEEDclassroom, a portable, sustainable learning space built to Living Building standards, is a great example of tailoring the learning environment to the needs to the students who will learn there. This modular classroom is a way to provide a healthy, happy environment for learning. It also provides opportunities for hands-on experiential opportunities for students of all ages.

In addition, the classroom is net-zero energy, net-zero water, is made of non-toxic materials, includes daylighting, urban agriculture and equity components and creates a space that fosters inspiration, education and beauty. The SEEDclassroom is built to last 100 years!

We are getting more excited as progress is being made on the site and on the modular building itself. We wanted to share these awesome photos of our classroom in production. We can’t wait for it to land next to our lagoon!


To learn more about the SEEDclassroom and get a sense of what it will look inside and out, check out the website.

To learn more about the Living Building Challenge (LBC), check out this website. Learn more about the LBC at Phipps here.

The above photos were provided by Eco Craft.



December 10, 2014

School Program Spotlight: Tropical Pursuit

by Melissa Harding


This school year, our department has added some new programs to the mix and we are so excited to be sharing them with our students and with you! In School Program Spotlight, we explore the content of some of our newest school programs.

Whether it’s cards or Candyland, children of all ages love to play a good game. Playing games allows children to work in teams, challenge their minds and compete for the title of “winner”. Games are also a great way to turn a group of passive students sitting at desks into interested and participating learners. In our new Tropical Pursuit class, students act as pawns on a classroom-sized game board and race to the rainforest by answering questions about some of their favorite foods and products that come from tropical climates. This field trip consists of a classroom portion and a tour.

In the classroom portion, students work in teams to race their pawns up the game board and into the rainforest. To move their pieces, each team must correctly identify a number of plants and plant parts that come from the rainforest. For each correct answer, students move their pawns and advance towards the end. For bonus points, teams may also identify different parts of the plant used by people. While this may sound easy, students are quickly astounded by how many of the items they use and eat every day that have a tropical origin. Plants explored in this class include, but are not limited to: sugar cane, cacao, coffee, rubber, annatto, macadamia nuts, cinnamon and bananas. Students also explore the different parts of the plants that we use, from roots to shoots and everything in between. Finally, students learn that the rainforest is not just important to these plants, but to the animals that call it their home. Most importantly, each students wins a free trip to our tropical rainforest conservatory upon completion of the game!

The tour portion of the program consists of a self-guided or docent-lead tour of the Conservatory. Those who would prefer a self-guided experience may request a PDF of our self-guided tour or explore on their own. Those who choose the docent-lead tour will learn about the history of the Conservatory and the plants of our tropical biomes, including a stop in our tropical Fruit and Spice Room to see many of these tropical treasures up close!

If you are a teacher and would like more information on how to sign up for this or any other school program, please use the “Registering for Programs” link in the menu above. Please note that scout groups, home school groups and other groups of 10 or more may sign up for any of our school programs as well!

The above photo was taken by Cory Doman.

December 3, 2014

What Does a Phipps Field Trip Look Like?

by Melissa Harding



Even though the year is almost over, we still have hundreds of students pouring in to Phipps to learn and explore. While it’s always a treat to walk through the steamy Conservatory rooms on a cold day, these students are not just coming to us for a change in scenery; they are coming to learn about the importance of plants through one of our many hands-on field trip experiences. While a field trip at other institutions is certainly educational, a field trip at Phipps literally transports students to the heart of the tropical forest or the desert. Students can walk through new worlds and discover their passions for the importance and beauty of plants in their lives.

To best illustrate how our field trips use hands-on activities and experiential learning to teach scientific principles, look no further than Stupendous Seeds. This is one of our most popular field trips for children ages Pre-K through first grade, a class devoted to the smallest of plants and how they grow. In this class, students get up close and personal with a variety of seeds, using their observation skills to be seed scientists and learn more about the scientific process. First, our seed scientists learn about the diversity of seeds through a seed investigation, observing dozens of different seeds and selecting them based on given characteristics. Next, the students try to answer the question “What’s inside a seed?” by making some group hypotheses and then performing an experiment to find out the answer. They dissect a lima bean seed, pulling it apart into its components and learning how the embryo inside gets the energy to sprout.


After all this science work, the students play a game called “seed or not a seed” in which they look at pictures of seeds and guess whether  they are really seeds. How would we find that out? Why, we would “put it in the soil, give it sun and water, and wait, wait, wait to see if it sprouts!” The students enjoy chanting this rhyme along with us and enjoy even more trying to guess what plant the seeds will grow into.  They really love the final seed, a coconut, which we pass around for them all to observe. Many students have only seen coconuts in  stories, so imagine their surprise when they get to hold the biggest seed in the world!

Next, it’s time for our students to take off their scientist hats and put on their acting hats, as we all perform a play of the life of a seed. Students play sleepy seeds, hibernating in the ground and waiting for spring. As the ground warms and the rain falls, they sprout and grow bigger and bigger, until they finally make flowers which are then visited by bees and butterflies. Of course, after pollination, our flowers turn back into seeds and the play starts again. Students enjoy playing all the different parts, especially those who get to “pollinate” their friends on the head.


Finally, we look at uses for seeds, from eating to musical instruments. We share examples of seeds that we eat, seeds that help us make our clothes, seeds that make jewelry, and seeds that we can shake to create sound. After the class, students will tour upstairs in the Conservatory and hunt for seeds in the variety of tropical fruits and flowering plants that live there. Our docent-led tours take students on a tour through the entire Conservatory, with special stops for exciting plant sightings. Students will discover banana plants, cacao trees dripping with pods, tropical fruit trees in bloom, a variety of palms covered in fruit and a whole room of gorgeous orchids, not to mention our seasonal flower displays and outdoor gardens. Questions and sensory engagement with our plants are encouraged; each docent creates a special experience for our students as they introduce them to our plants with enthusiasm and passion!

Every field trip is different, and we offer topics ranging from seeds to worms to world biomes. All of our field trips meet Pennsylvania Department of Education standards for Environment and Ecology for students Pre-K through grade 8. Our older students can have just as much fun solving conservation mysteries and being pieces in a classroom-sized board game, all in the name of plant science!

To inquire about our field trips, contact Sarah Bertovich at 412-441-4442 ext. 3925 or

To learn more about our offered field trips, read summaries of each in our School Program Spotlight section. You can also check out our website for more details.

Why do field trips matter? Learn more about the developmental importance of field trips here!

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

December 1, 2014

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

by Melissa Harding

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Phipps is offering a 12-month Science Education Internship to students interested in gaining experience in 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. 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.

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This paid internship commences January 2015, with up to 40 hours/week during the summer months and 15-20 hours/week during the school year. Some evening and weekend work required. 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. Experience working with youth is a plus.

Application deadline: 12/31/2014. Interested candidates should email a cover letter and resume to Please reference SCIENCE EDUCATION INTERNSHIP in the subject line.

 The above photos were taken by Science Education staff.

November 6, 2014

Phipps Hosts “STEM in Action” Teacher Workshop with the Pittsburgh Regional Center for Science Teachers

by Melissa Harding

Welcome Center Night_CREDIT Denmarsh Photography Inc

Careers in STEM are a hot topic right now. There is an increased emphasis on improving and increasing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills among our citizenry and students in order to help them navigate the modern world and access the opportunities it affords. Research shows the clear benefits of a STEM related post secondary education in the current job market. However, many educators are wondering how they can help their students develop an interest in science and guide them towards this career path. Last night, as part of the “STEM in Action” series sponsored by the Pittsburgh Regional Center for Science Teachers, Phipps offered an evening workshop for local K-12 teachers focused on STEM-based careers at the Conservatory.

Staff from all over the organization volunteered to spend their evening talking with teachers about their work at Phipps and tell the stories of how they ended up here. Melissa Harding, Science Education Specialist, spoke about how Phipps connects families and children to nature; Matt Quenaudon, IPM Specialist, took participants on a tour of the production greenhouses and explained the integral role that pest management plays in the health of our plants; Chris Stejskal, Display Horticulturalist in charge of the Tropical Forest, explained how we maintain such a huge exhibit and took participants on a tour of some of our most interesting and beautiful plants; Dr. Emily Kalnicky, Director of Science Education and Research, spoke about her work studying the human/nature connection all over the world; and Adam Haas, Interpretive Specialist, took participants on a tour of the Center for Sustainable Landscapes and spoke about the importance of interpreting our mission to a diverse audience. The participants all commented on our passionate and articulate staff, all of whom gave great presentations.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this evening a success!

 The above photo was taken by Denmarsh Photography.

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.



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