student activity at S.E.R.C.


 SERC home  This week, several Affiliations staff treated ourselves to a field trip, and visited our colleagues at the Smithsonian’s Environmental Research Center.  Located on 3,000 acres on the Chesapeake Bay (SERC map), SERC is a leading research unit with 16 laboratories devoted to studying things like marine biology & ecology, among other topics.  SERC is the national center for research on biological invasions in marine ecosystems;  hosts the world’s largest research team analyzing mangrove forests; and is a national leader in the analysis of wetlands.  Very impressive.

We met with SERC’s Director of Education, Mark Haddon.   Mark’s team reaches millions of kids a year through their extensive videoconferencing program, electronic field trips and mobile ecology lab.  They also teach  through guided hikes and canoe trips, lectures and “study stations” on their dock and shoreline, for interactive workshops on habitat, water quality and more.  Mark has very cool educational tools at his disposal too, from big rubber wading suits and nets to troll for crabs to aquariums and microscopes to a large-capacity boat on which he can take students into the bay for samples.  He’s even working on getting hand-held data-collecting probes. 

If any kind of marine biology or ecology is part of your mission, check out SERC.  They are ripe and eager to collaborate on everything from electronic lessons for students to teacher training to advice on best practices.    

Mark suggested we continue our discussion next time during a canoe trip around the property.  Any affiliates want to join us?!

seiningfig3.jpg SERCDockArial.jpg edu_programs_we_muddy.jpg  

Science education & the NSRC

I find this to be an amazing statistic:  45% of all science learning takes place in informal environments.  (no wonder NSF gives so much money to informal science education.)  Yet in a recent seminar on the topic, entitled “Changing the Course of K-16 Science Education,” a DC teacher asked in a roundabout way about the other 55%.  With No Child Left Behind’s emphasis on math and reading scores, very little formal classroom time can be devoted to science.  What then?

nsrc.gif  That’s where the National Science Resources Center comes in.  Do you know this organization?  They are a partnership between the Smithsonian and The National Academies, to provide leadership, services and products for improving the teaching of science.  In other practical words, they guide school districts in how to train teachers, implement, and evaluate the curriculum that NSRC itself has developed. 

NSRC has some incredible statistics of their own – they work with approximately 700 school districts nationwide, affecting 20% of all American school kids.  And they are realizing results, although it does take time.  Unfortunately, the United States is 29th in worldwide standing on science proficiency… in fact, only about 1 in 4 American students are deemed scientifically literate.  The implications of this are sobering of course;  but NSRC is one organization making a difference.  You can check out their impacts on their website.

But what about museums?!  If almost half of the science learning takes place at sites like museums, what is our impact?  How is it consistently measured, and by whom?  How can we do it better given shrinking school budgets and time for field trips?

Perhaps these questions will be addressed at NSRC’s upcoming event, “Changing the Course of Science Education: 2007 National Leadership Development Symposium,” October 31 – November 2 at the National Academies in Washington, D.C.  

And feel free to send your ideas too…  🙂 

Museum Conservation Institute

Such interesting research is being done at the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute, housed in our storage facility in Suitland, MD. 

Most recently, Smithsonian staff were invited to hear about new research on the acceptable ranges of relative humidity and temperature in museums.  Dr. Marion Mecklenburg, a senior research scientist at the Institute presented surprising results (at least for Affiliations staff!)  While we all know that there is no single environment that works for everything in our collections, the controversial part came when Dr. Mecklenburg illuminated his results for a work’s ‘yield point’ – the point at which reversible becomes permanent damage.  His research revealed alot more leeway in humidity and temperature fluctuations before reaching the yield point than might have previously been thought. 

As you can imagine, the question and answer period with conservators from across the Smithsonian was quite lively.  One of the most salient points I caught was about aesthetics.  Even before the point of permanent damage, stress on a work that leads to any disfiguration, even reversible, can invalidate its aesthetic integrity.

At any rate, if you’re hungry for very rich food for thought, check out the findings:  Temp/Humidity research.