Posts Tagged 'science education'

A visit with Dr. Temple Grandin

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

Dr. Temple Grandin (r) talks with Annette Geiselman (l) and Jean Lamm at the Museum

(See more pictures of Dr. Grandin’s visit on Flickr …)

Think back to when you were a kid – what kinds of things fascinated you? Sparked your curiosity? Turned you on to exploring your world? Yes, it was a long time ago, but remembering my childhood fascinations with the space program, dinosaurs, and the ancient past puts a smile on my face. I can still feel the feelings of wonder and excitement.

Getting kids turned on to exploring and understanding their world – that’s one of our core passions here at the Museum. Last week we were honored by a visit from Dr. Temple Grandin, author, animal behavior pioneer, and autism advocate, who inspired us with her own experiences as a scientist and some great advice on engaging kids.

The key, according to Dr. Grandin, is to get kids “turned on” when they’re young. “If you don’t expose kids to interesting things, they’re not going to get interested in interesting things, “ she said. “You’ve got to get them out and take them to places.”

When we shared with Dr. Grandin our plans and ideas for the new museum, she was enthusiastic. “I think it’s just wonderful that you’re building this museum,” she told us. “We have got to get school kids into the museum. The little kids, we’ve got to get them in there, because I can remember visits to the science museum when I was a kid, and, you know, it made a big impression on me.”

We were curious to hear her thoughts on our approach in the new museum, where we will be taking scientific phenomena and hands-on experiences and putting them in a cultural context – bringing in the history side of things and showing science in action. “That makes total sense,” she told us. “That’s a really good point. You’re telling me you’re going to study how gears work. I’ve seen those exhibits where they show you how gears work, but then what do you use gears for? Well, your bicycle is a good example, so why are gears important? – bicycles have them, you’ve got them in the car, too. We need to show how it works in the real world.”

Dr. Grandin is also a champion of hands-on learning. “What we’ve got to do to get kids enthusiastic about science is that we’ve got to expose them to hands-on science when they’re little kids,” she said. “You know there are programs where, even in elementary school, kids can go out and collect water samples and then they can actually be used to detect pollution levels. That’s real science. Third and fourth graders can collect water samples. We need to make science relevant. When I was a child, science is what enables you to go to the moon. I can remember when Sputnik flew overhead and everyone was all revved up about, we’ve got to really learn science because we have to get to the moon before Russia gets to the moon! It motivated the whole country.”

Dr. Grandin’s already busy life – in addition to teaching at Colorado State University, she travels extensively as an animal welfare consultant and a speaker at autism conferences – has become even more hectic since the HBO movie “Temple Grandin” came out (the movie recently was honored with seven Emmy Awards). While acknowledging the many demands on her time, Dr. Grandin said that “One thing I have tried to do is answer all the letters, especially when little kids write in to me. Make sure I answer all of those and tell them to study hard and achieve your dreams.”

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Behind the scenes: K-12 Education

This installment of “Behind the Scenes” takes a look at K-12 education at the Museum with K-12 Education Coordinator Toby Swaford.

K-12 Education Coordinator Toby Swaford leads a squid dissection lab

More to Explore: You had a big event last week. What was that all about?

Toby Swaford: It’s the biggest event we do each year; it’s the 4th grade Rendezvous for the students of the Poudre School District. Fourth grade is the year that students in the state of Colorado learn the state’s history, and this event is the culmination of all the things they’ve been learning in the course of the year. It’s a really good way to reinforce what they’ve been studying. And to help us do that we bring in a lot of volunteers from the community, people that are interested and well-versed in so many different aspects of history, whether it be the railroad or the Civil War, handicrafts like quilt making, farm craft, and those people come in and they share their experience and their interests and their passions with those students. And so it’s a nice meeting of different generations and just a good chance to share a lot of different things with the students.

MtE: How many students participate in Rendezvous?

TS: This year it was a 2-day event, it ran on Thursday and Friday, with a total of about 1,300 students over the course of those two days.

MtE: What kinds of reactions do you see with the kids?

TS:  I think the biggest reaction I get from the students is surprise. A lot of them don’t know what they’re getting into and they’re not sure what to expect, and suddenly they get transported to a different place, a different time. We’re not able to bring in an actual train from the late 1800s, early 1900s, but our railmen do such a good job of re-creating the story of the train, whether it be having the students load up a boxcar, or sort mail, and talk about how the trains were used to connect the various towns in northern Colorado to one another, to having the students themselves become the ties and the track and space themselves out and see exactly how the rails were put into place. It’s a lot of fun, it’s very interactive, it’s a really good chance for the students to see what went into creating the world we live in today. The other nice thing to see is how to relate the things of the past to the modern world, whether it be looking at the history of the subject that got us to where we are now, or the science of the subject, the science behind how something like a steam engine works or how a bullet comes out of a Civil War-era rifle, or the math and geometry involved in putting together a quilt. So they really see real-world applications of what they’re learning in school and how those things get used on a daily basis.

MtE: What do you try to accomplish with the K-12 programs here at the Museum?

TS: The majority of the students who come through for the history programs are 2nd grade in the Poudre School District; that’s when they do their local history, and we are a good repository for the story of Fort Collins. So in that case we’re really able to show the students homes of the people they’re learning about, whether it be Elizabeth Stone, better known as Auntie Stone, or Antoine Janis who helped to start the town that became Laporte. But with the addition of the science center coming in, so many things are meshing and gelling into something that’s completely new and very unique. So we’re able to move from a history program about Elizabeth Stone or what going to a one-room school house in 1905 would have been like, that same group of students may then move to an experience of being able to go into the StarLab and learning about our place in the Solar System, or going into a dissection course where they can learn about history in the morning and do a heart dissection or a squid dissection in the afternoon. So what we really try to do more than anything else is to provide opportunities and those experiences students might not be able to get in the classroom. I think that’s the service we not only provide for the students, but for the teachers as well. We’re a really good resource and a really good extension for the classes out there.

MtE: What are you looking forward to in the new museum?

TS: So many things to look forward to in the new museum! I’ve got a pretty good classroom here already in that I’m able to utilize the entire building and courtyard and surrounding environment. But to be in a new facility that’s really designed to be utilized as a museum and therefore an extension of the educational process, to have dedicated classroom space, to have resources like the digital dome–where instead of just pointing out a planet we can do a fly-over of the surface of Mars, really transport the students to another time and another place–I think that it’s just going to be an amazing tool to use to educate and enlighten and get people excited about learning history and science and culture and all the other things we need to know to be the best that we can be out there.

Science Fair statistics: Girls and science

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

The Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center hosted the district-wide science fair on Saturday, April 17. What a great opportunity to see students applying the scientific method to questions and investigations, some obviously inspired by their daily lives: “Rotting Bananas” and “Sharpie Be Gone” – I’m just sure these were the result of personal experiences!

I am personally deeply invested in the success of girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, so I used our entrants list to crunch a few numbers about female participation in the fair. Since this is the district wide fair, our contestants were the students who ranked in the top 3-5 places at their individual school’s science fairs. I’m happy to report that we actually had more female entrants this year (41 girls to 40 boys – yeah, yeah, I know, more girls by only 1, but still!). I think this is a great sign that our girls are just as likely as our boys to place at the top in their school’s science fairs.

Things took a slight turn in the rankings at our district fair. We had one clear winner, a 5th grade boy. Our second place award was a tie between a 5th grade boy and a 4th grade girl. Additionally, the top 1/3 ranked science fair entrants are recognized with “Superior” and “Excellent” designations. This year, 30 students received those awards. Happily, we had an equal number of boys and girls in this top 1/3 (not counting the first and second place finishers).

Interestingly, when I broke the numbers down a little further, things were not quite so balanced. We awarded 10 “Superior” designations: only 2 of those recipients were girls. Of our “Excellent” designations, 12 were girls. The boys were more evenly divided between the two designations (8 Superior and 6 Excellent), but clearly the girls were not. So, while girls are just as likely as boys to reach the district science fair, and just as likely as boys to finish in the top 1/3, they were not as evenly represented in the top 13 spots: 10 spots were won by boys, with just 3 spots won by girls.

This is the first year I’ve participated in the coordination of the Science Fair and so was the first time I looked at the gender breakdowns for participation. I’ll be sure to look again next year, and the year after that, to see if we can spot trends. For this year, I’m pleased with the statistics.


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