Archive for ‘Science’

February 18, 2015

Evening Edventure: Conservation Investigation

by Melissa Harding

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A crime has been committed! Someone stole a bunch of bananas from the forest and we need a detective to figure out who did it. Luckily, at last Friday’s Evening Ed-Venture, we had 17 detectives to help us solve this heinous crime. During this mysterious program, campers learned how to be good detectives and sharpened their observational skills through a  series of challenges. They also got to take a crack at solving The Mystery of the Missing Bananas, a habitat-based mystery focused on teaching ecosystem interdependence. Not to mention, they got to spend time in the Conservatory at night! Campers had a criminally-good time and so did we.

Upon arrival, campers created a detective notebook to track their progress and to record any clues they found. Their first task was to complete a series of observation-based games to see how good they were at looking closely and listening. They also learned that detectives and scientists have quite a bit in common, both of them using their senses to observe and ask questions in order to solve mysteries, criminal or otherwise.

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After our detectives were trained, they tried to solve our banana-based crime. In this mystery, campers interview plants about the animals on their suspect lists. The plants provide clues about who may or may not be guilty based on any alibis they can give for a particular animal. The goal of the program itself is to help students understand how plants need animals and animals need plants, all while playing a fun game. Campers loved the mystery and even suspected some of us as being the culprits! Finally, they all settled on the cockroach, who was the true villain.

After all the crime-fighting, the campers were pretty hungry, so we had a tropical snack of bananas and oranges. Newly fortified, the campers headed to the Conservatory, using a scavenger hunt to guide their observations. They had to look closely, read signs, and use all their senses to cross off every box on their sheet. By the time they were done it was time to head home and rest their detective eyes for the night. What a great Conservation Investigation!

If this program sounds fun, check out our next Evening Ed-Venture on March 27, Fun with Food; in this exciting program, campers will learn about healthy foods through crafts, games and cooking! To register, contact Sarah Bertovich at 412/441-4442 etx. 3925.

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff.

February 10, 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.

February 6, 2015

Backyard Connections: Exploring Nature in Winter

by Melissa Harding

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“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” -William Blake.

The cold of winter can be biting and forbidding, keeping us all huddled under blankets with cups of tea in our hands. This is especially true in January, when it seems like it has been cold for ages and spring is a lifetime away. However, the cold doesn’t have to keep you in the house; winter is a great time to explore nature and have fun outside! Bare trees provide a perfect view of birds and other critters and few green plants makes them easier to identify. Whether you are going to the park, to the forest or just staying in your backyard, there are lots of great things to explore and do in the winter.

Bundle up and be prepared
Before you go out, make sure to bundle up. Little bodies can get cold quickly, so making them as comfortable as possible will keep everyone outside longer. Gloves, hats, boots and warm coats are a must on winter days. Dress yourself and your child like an onion; layers are key to staying comfortable. Avoid cotton materials if possible, as it is less able to stay as warm and dry as wool or synthetic fabrics. This is especially important for items which will most likely get wet, like socks and gloves. Finally, take some snacks along. Little bellies are likely to get hungry as they expend energy playing in the cold and a bite to eat could turn a grumpy child into a happy one.

Take a hike!
The most obvious thing to do outside is to go for a walk. Whether it is down the sidewalk or through the woods, a walk outside is always fun. There is so much to see and do while walking. Encourage your child to observe their surroundings and look for things of interest. Remember to slow down and walk at your child’s pace; he or she may find so many interesting things that you don’t get very far, but it’s about the quality of your time outside, not how far you roam. In winter, bare trees make it easier to spot birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other animals in their branches. Colorful birds like cardinals and blue jays are easy to spot amidst the brown branches, but there are many smaller, darker birds hopping around as well. While you are scanning the trees, look for nests, weirdly shaped branches and other interesting sights. Binoculars are a great tool to bring along to help you spot them.

Turning your eyes down, there are lots of things to observe on the ground. Winter is the best time of year for tracking, as the ground is either snowy or muddy; animals of all kinds leave tracks to identify and follow. There are many tracking guides, even some for children, available to help you understand who made the tracks you see. However, it can be even more fun to guess and make up stories about the track instead. As long as you are having fun, it doesn’t matter!

An additional way to enjoy a winter hike is to go on a scavenger hunt. Depending on the age of your child, it could be easy (find something red) or hard (find a cardinal). Either make a list at home of likely sights or improvise as you go along. A game of Eye-Spy is an equally fun way to encourage observation. Take a magnifying glass with you to look at snowflakes, pine needles or anything else you find.

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Collect Treasures
Sometimes, just looking isn’t enough – Children love to collect treasures! It may just be a rock to you, but it is an amazing find to your child. Children will collect anything; one way to encourage this is to bring a container for collecting outside with you. You can let your child pick up whatever catches his eye or direct him to a certain items such as sticks, pine cones, acorns or rocks. Make sure to monitor what sorts of items he collects; avoid delicate, rotting or otherwise undesirable items. Children should also understand that while they may want to take all of something, nature needs to keep some things for itself. At home, many of these treasures can be displayed in your child’s room or a shared space; filling recycled jars with treasures or putting them in bowls or on shelves helps to validate this sensory method of nature exploration.

Nature Art

One way to collect treasures is with a future art project in mind. Icicles on plant stems, red rose hips, and bits of evergreen have a short shelf life, but can be used to make beautiful art projects. They can be arranged in shapes outside in the snow to create winter land art or used to stamp designs on paper; the only limit is your imagination.

Here are some fun nature art ideas from around the web:
Winter land art and snow painting: The Chocolate Muffin Tree
Ice Art and Other Ice Crafts: Willow Day and Craftberry Bush
Pine Cone Birds:The Blueberry JunkieS
Winter Bird Feeders: The Crafty Crow
Winter Love Jars: Marghanita Hughes

Or, try giving your child a camera or nature journal during your time outside and see what they create!

Play and Explore
Sometimes, activities and crafts are not necessary; what a child really needs is the time to play and explore. Sled riding, building snow forts, stamping in icy puddles and generally running around connect children with nature just as well as anything you may use to guide their energies. Sometimes all you need to do is send them outside and they’ll do the rest themselves.

If you are interested in more nature activity ideas, check out Nature Rock’s Winter Activity Guide.

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

February 5, 2015

Interview with a Scientist: BIA Fellow Anna Johnson

by Melissa Harding

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If there is one segment of society that is often misunderstood, it is people who work in science fields. Public perception of scientists tends to lean towards lab coats, crazy hair and beakers full of chemicals, especially in the eyes of children.  In reality, most scientists are just regular people who want to make the world a better place through scientific discovery. The best way to dispel the myth that scientists are boring or crazy is to get to know them; the purpose of this segment is to talk with real scientists to ask them what they love about their jobs and why they think their work is fun and important.

For our next installment in this series, we sat down with BIA Fellow Anna Johnson. 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. The BIA program provides Fellows with funding for use towards field research in the US or abroad and a trip to Phipps, to engage in science outreach training and opportunities to share his or her research to public audiences. Anna has been a BIA Fellow for two years, researching urban ecology.

We interviewed Anna about her passion for the urban environment, why she loves planting flowers in vacant lots, and how practicing science can expand our world.

1. Introduce yourself and your work in 5 sentences or less.

I grew up in rural Pennsylvania but when I moved to Pittsburgh, PA after college, I fell in love with the city. Now, I split my time between my home in Pittsburgh and where I work on my graduate degree, in Baltimore, MD. I am an urban ecologist, which means I study ecosystems that contain a combination of things you would expect to find in any terrestrial ecosystem (water, soil, plants, insects) but also built infrastructure (things like buildings, roads or bridges). One of the things I think about in my own life is what the role of humans should be in our world, and I try to study that too as a scientist, by studying what types of plants make their home in cities and how humans influence where they grow.

2. Why did you become a scientist?

I have always loved the natural world but didn’t really think about being a scientist until I worked as an environmental educator for a summer during college. I quickly began to realize how much I didn’t know about the natural world, and in the process of educating myself to better teach lessons, I realized that I actually had an aptitude for science, and that asking and answering questions was what I loved to do best (and bonus points if those questions were about our natural ecosystems!).

3. What part do plants play in your research?

I like to think of plants as a “habitat template”—in terrestrial ecosystems (that is, on land), plants really form the basis of ecosystems, and they are a big part of how we define habitats (what makes the forest the forest? The trees!). I study the plants that grow in vacant lots because I want to learn what species are able to survive in these tough relatively “new” habitats, and also (eventually—I haven’t gotten there yet with my research!) I’d like to study how their diversity affects other organisms such as pollinators or herbivores and the quality of the soils in vacant lots.

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4. What is the most exciting thing you have ever done at work?

This is such a hard question! I find so much of what I do exciting because I love doing and trying new things, and my research always involves something new. Probably the most exciting thing that I have done recently is to help plant 25 vacant lots in Baltimore with wildflower seeds in April of this year, and then return to them in July to discover that they were beautiful and covered in flowers! I really didn’t think our plantings would work, but they did! I watched a family walk by one of the vacant lots and show the flowers to their child, and that made me so happy—that there was something they enjoyed looking at in a vacant lot that used to be mostly just viewed as a problem in their neighborhood.

5. What skills do you use in your job?

I love my job because I get to do different things almost every day, so I have to use lots of different skills. For example, I get to use/hone my organizational skills all the time (usually early in the morning, on my way to a day of field work as I write lists in my head of what tools I need to bring into the field with me…), but also I get to use my imagination when I write research proposals for new projects, my leadership skills when I have to convince my field crew that we should work all day in the cold or the heat or the rain and also some physical strength when I’m carrying heavy fence poles or digging holes in dry, compact soil.

 6. What is your favorite part of your job?

I love sharing my work with other people. Science can be lonely sometimes, so I jump at any opportunity to work in groups on projects or to start new collaborations with people who might have new ideas about ways to do/think about things.

7. If you weren’t a scientist, what job would you choose?

I would probably work in an environmental non-profit of some sort—I really like working with groups of people on projects and I hate being in an office all day or talking about things I can’t see. I’d want to be out planting gardens or pruning trees or showing people how to care for/restore natural landscapes. Also, at the end of the day I would want to feel like I had done something useful that made people happier and healthier.

8. Why is science education important?

Science is all about asking and answering questions. To learn to do science is to learn how to collect data and then decide what it tells you (and be able to defend why you think that!). Science education is important because doing science is one of the only ways we can learn about things we don’t already know—otherwise, our world is very small because we are not able to add new knowledge to it, only revisit the same ideas and thoughts over and over. Science teaches us to explore new possibilities and gives us hope for the future.

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Anna is a great example of someone who uses her work to help others; scientists contribute important information to our collective body of knowledge all the time by asking good questions and seeking out the answers. To read more about asking good questions, check out this blog post!

Follow Anna’s adventures in research at her blog!

The above photos are used courtesy of Anna Johnson and Phipps Science Education.

February 3, 2015

Say “Hello” to Free Choice Learning in the New Tropical Forest Congo!

by Melissa Harding

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While we have many rooms and plants that change over time at Phipps, including our numerous seasonal shows, perhaps our most extensive and exciting new exhibit comes with the changing of our Tropical Forest Conservatory. Every three years, the entire room gets a serious face-lift; this winter, over 60 percent of the plant life will be removed to make room for plants from our newly highlighted region – the African Congo.  This new forest is the culmination of years of research by Phipps staff, including a trip to Cameroon, and will highlight some of Africa’s lushest landscapes.

In addition to being filled with unique and interesting plant species, this new forest also has an exciting interpretive plan designed to help visitors make the connection between the many different cultures of the region and their own relationships to nature. Focusing on how the people of the Congo region rely on the natural world for their food, culture, housing, economy, art, and architecture, the Tropical Forest Congo exhibit hopes to remind visitors of the power of plants in their own lives.

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Even more exciting is the redoubled focus on science education within the Tropical Forest Congo. With their high diversity of plants and animals, tropical forests provide many excellent opportunities for scientific research; this makes the Tropical Forest Conservatory the perfect place to connect our visitors with what science (and scientists) really look and act like. Meant as a way to give visitors a hands-on look at the world of botanical research, both in the field and in the lab, the new exhibit puts guests into the shoes of real scientists. Each part of the exhibit invites visitors to learn about the scientific process through stories, activities, and sensory exploration. As they walk through the Forest, participants will encounter a research field station (starring BIA Fellow Jessi Turner as our example scientist!), several research kiosks with real scientific tools they can use to collect data, and a lab space.

Congo4Not only does this exhibit enable visitors to experience a bit of the life of a scientist throughout the whole research process, but it encourages them to make a personal connection with botanical research and the importance of plants. It also connects them to the field of science in general and helps to  increase overall scientific literacy. These types of exhibits and activities are important for increasing scientific literacy because most Americans learn the majority of their science knowledge through free choice learning opportunities like those found at Phipps. According to “The 95 Percent Solution”,  a rather infamous 2010 report published by the journal American Scientist, non-school resources, like museums, are where most science learning occurs.

This is particularly important for children. A 2009 report from the National Research Council found that not only do these kinds of 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. Museum learning not only reinforce topics taught in school, but has the potential to create a vibrant spark in a student that lasts his whole life. Effective science communication through exhibits like the Tropical Forest Congo inspires students to pursue STEM careers and develop a passion for life-long learning.

People learn throughout their entire lives – both as children and as adults. Finding new ways to get them interested in science, especially through a multi-disciplinary approach, is essential to creating new avenues of learning. We are proud that our new interpretive exhibits within the Tropical Forest Congo will contribute to creating a spark of science learning in our visitors for the next three years!

Come celebrate the opening of our new exhibit with a special opening festival – February 7, 11:00-4:00pm! There will be a variety of fun, family-friendly activities such as storytelling, pot-a-plant, cultural crafts, food sampling and visits from real botanical researchers – all free with Phipps admission! Learn more on our website.

Learn more about the importance of free choice learning in museum settings here.

What does a scientist look like? Check out this blog post about how children’s perception of scientists influences their engagement in science.

Photos © Tim Hammill; Paul g. Wiegman; Denmarsh Photography, Inc.

 

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 26, 2015

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

by Melissa Harding

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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.  

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