Posts tagged ‘free choice learning’

February 3, 2015

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

by Melissa Harding

Congo

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.

Congo2

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.

 

November 19, 2013

MAVEN Launches Over 1,000 Poems into Orbit!

by Melissa Harding

Yesterday at 1:28 EST, more than 1,000 haikus went up into space aboard the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, beginning a 10-month journey to Mars. These haikus traveled inside MAVEN, short for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN missile, an exploratory spacecraft on a mission to increase scientists’ understanding of the planet’s upper atmosphere. Scientists want to understand whether The Red Planet used to be more like earth, with an atmosphere that supported life.  The reason that it is being accompanied by poetry starts back in May; to make MAVEN more relevant to the public, the mission team at NASA hosted a poetry contest asking people all around the world to submit haiku that would be included on the spacecraft during its mission. The original contest stipulated that only three winning poems would be sent up in the spacecraft; however, the response was so overwhelming – more than 12,530 poems were submitted – that the contest organizers decided to send over 1,100 of them into orbit. That is a lot of poems and a lot of public participation!

MAVEN and the educational efforts surrounding it are a pretty cool way to get the public engaged in space travel and illustrate the power of free choice learning. But you don’t have to take my word for it…

To learn more about the educational efforts surrounding MAVEN, check out this post.

To learn more about the MAVEN mission, check out the website.

This great PSA by Levar Burton is brought to you by the folks at NASA.

September 7, 2013

Sending Poems into Space: The Power of Free-choice Learning

by Melissa Harding

mars

It’s funny, they named
Mars after the God of War
Have a look at Earth
-Benedict Smith, 1st place winner of the “Going to Mars” poetry competition. 

This November, more than 1,000 haikus will join MAVEN, the NASA spacecraft headed for Mars, as it rockets into outer space. MAVEN, short for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN missile, is an exploratory spacecraft on a mission to increase scientists’ understanding of the planet’s upper atmosphere.  The reason that it is being accompanied by poetry starts back in May; to make MAVEN more relevant to the public, the mission team at NASA hosted a poetry contest asking people all around the world to submit haiku that would be included on the spacecraft during its mission. If a mission to Mars does not seem like a natural partner for a poetry contest, just for a moment consider the vastness and beauty of outer space and think again. The original contest stipulated that only three winning poems would be sent up in the spacecraft; however, the response was so overwhelming – more than 12,530 poems were submitted – that the contest organizers decided to send over 1,100 of them into orbit.

This may seem like just a fun contest to promote space flight, and it certainly is, but it is also a rather significant exercise in exciting the general public about space flight and astronomy. It is definitely working; media outlets of all kinds have been covering this story since last spring. The MAVEN team has offered various ways to connect people of all ages to this project; they hosted a student art contest, poetry contest and a chance for participants to place their name and a message on the spacecraft itself. By contributing to any of these activities, a participant is making a personal connection to space exploration and the study of the solar system (and beyond!). It also connects them to the field of science and increases their scientific literacy.

MAVEN

These types of contests and activities are important in increasing scientific literacy because school is not where most Americans learn most of their science. 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, national parks, and even outer space poetry contests 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: 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; helping a child with science; being in nature; and even experiencing life events that demand increased information, such as a cancer diagnosis or an environmental crisis. 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. Another study, conducted by the NASA Night Sky Network, has found that amateur astronomers lacking any college-level astronomy education often knew more general astronomy than undergraduate astronomy majors.

MAVEN 2

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. There are some who believe that the “achievement gap” observed between children of affluent and under-served populations in school performance has more to do with the access that affluent children have to summer camp and museums than with anything happening in school itself.

This is, of course, controversial research. However, it is safe to say that free-choice learning experiences are fundamental to creating life-long learners. All this is not to diminish school science, but rather to understand how free-choice learning can enhance it; both types of learning work together to create a foundation for future interest in science and science careers.

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. This goes back to the MAVEN poetry contest; not only are participants creating a bond with the MAVEN mission, they are creating an interest in outer space. Remember, what makes free-choice learning so effective is that it is fun. While it may seem silly to send haiku to Mars, it is definitely fun.

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

To learn more about informal science education and free-choice learning, check out the Center for Advancement of Informal Science.

Are you an informal science educator? Check out the CAISE resource page for more research on out of school learning.

The above images of Mars and the MAVEN spacecraft are courtesy of NASA and the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 199 other followers

%d bloggers like this: