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.


Designers at the White House

Lest we forget our friends in New York, the Cooper-Hewitt was in town recently, celebrating their 2007 National Design Award winners and finalists at the White House with the First Lady.  What an image of American accomplishment!  Congratulations to all. 

Lewis.Tsurmaki.Lewis, winners of the interior design award    The First Lady giving remarks   Treats!

Festivals everywhere!

I love hearing about all the festivals taking place at Affiliates – please send pictures!  Here’s some highlights I’ve been following recently:

Blueberry FestivalHistoric Bethlehem Partnership’s 22nd Annual Blueberry Festival took place last weekend… yum!  (Read the local review.)  This year’s Festival included colonial craft and  Moravian cooking demonstrations, and new this year, an antique auto show, and lots more performances and family activities.  Not to worry, all things blueberry were available too – local bakeries geared up to sell 1,200 pies, 200 blueberry strudels, 300 blueberry coffee cakes and hundreds of tarts.

Mayflower II Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Mayflower II last weekend too, with a brilliant sail into the bay with members of the original crew (from 1957, not 1620!!)  They even brewed a special beer for the occasion.  Visitors enjoyed  anniversary cake and 1950s music courtesy of the Plymouth Philharmonic Symphony’s Swing Band.

Mashantucket Powwow  A couple weekends ago, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum held its 2nd Annual Pow Wow Festival.  (Read the review.)  And the dancing isn’t over… in August, the Pequots will host Schemitzun, its annual Feast of Green Corn and Dance.   

Rock Steady Crew And summer’s not over!!  Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District in Newark NJ is gearing up for their blow-out this weekend, the 2nd Annual Music Festival.  From July 26-29, this year’s festival focuses on gospel, hip-hop and house music.  In addition to great music, there’s a skateboard camp for kids, and a Green Vendor Marketplace.

Lowell Folk FestivalAlso this coming weekend, the internationally-known Lowell Folk Festival not far from Boston will feature such nuggets as weaving, Chinese knot-tying and Oud making; Armenian to Thai food with everything in between; and performers such as the Django Reinhardt Festival All Star Band (gypsy jazz from France) and the New England School for Carnatic Music (carnatic = Hindu devotional songs accompanied by the veena, an Indian stringed instrument.)

Bet on it that Affiliations staff wish we could be in 10 places at once to experience all these great events.  Rock on!!

The Search for a New Secretary

Yesterday, Smithsonian staff were invited to a town hall meeting to share our views on the ideal qualities of the next Smithsonian Secretary.  The chairman of the search committee, Regent Alan Spoon, ran the meeting with Regent Roger Sant, and members of the executive search firm hired for the task.

The discussion was lively, as one might imagine.  A committment to scholarship, intellectual curiosity and a love of lifelong learning seemed to top the list as the most desirable qualities expressed by Smithsonian staff.  Most want someone who understands the breadth and depth of the Smithsonian and its uncomparable particularity. The scientific community in particular described our global reputation and urged that the next Secretary strive to maintain our international relations in regard to research.  Alan Spoon concurred that the next Secretary be committed to “liberating the talent” of the Smithsonian, recognizing that its value lie in staff as well as collections.  One of my favorite comments was about finding someone to wallow in “the delicious fulfillment of our great mission.”

Luckily, the search committee has set up a designated email account to collect more thoughts from SI staff, and plans to hold more listening sessions.  It’s important to know too that Regents’ names, committees, bylaws, reports, proceedings and more are all available to the public on our website.

But I’m curious about your thoughts as members of our “extended family.”  what do you think are the most salient qualities for the next Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution?!