Posts tagged ‘Tropical Forest Conservatory’

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.

 

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