My name is Matthew and I am serving as the Slater Museum of Natural History’s Education and Outreach Coordinator. I travel around Tacoma to present Nature in the Classroom lessons to mostly 4th and 5th grade students. These lessons give students the opportunity to get their hands on museum specimens, learn biological concepts, and practice different scientific skills. Some of the major things students work on are making observations, developing hypotheses about structure and function, and creating scientific sketches with their specimens. Some of the specimens we use are stuffed bird skins, mammal skulls, and fossilized plants. All the lessons have been developed using grade-level NGSS and state standards. This second quarter has been filled with learning experiences, and many fun outreach events.
At the beginning of this quarter one Nature in the Classroom experience helped me learn a lot about organization and making assumptions. This position is the first I’ve had where I’m doing a lot of the behind the scenes organization, and there are a lot of details that need to be accounted for when planning lessons with schools. A lesson I learned was to make sure to cover all of the details when talking with schools. Our lessons are generally designed for 4th-7th graders. In early December I headed to a school planning on teaching 4th and 5th graders because up to that point every class I’d visited had been grades 4-5 with previous experience with our lessons. I had assumed this school had our lesson before and knew that the lessons were designed for grades 4-5. They had not, so when I got there I was surprised to see a class filled with 2nd graders, not 4th graders! This taught me to double check information before I go to schools to teach a lesson. This experience required that I adapt a lesson on the fly – I quickly had to come up with a way to simplify the lesson for a much younger group than it was intended for. For example, I turned individual work into group work, made the scientific drawings less detailed, and when it came time for the students to learn what bird species they had, we talked about it all together instead of each student reading and writing about their own bird. The best part was that even with the unique circumstances, the lesson turned out well. The students had a good time with the hands-on activities and, with help from their teacher, they were able to follow along with the lesson and get a lot from it. And they didn’t destroy the birds!
Another change this quarter was that the museum has provided a STEM resource to many more public outreach events. These STEM fairs are great because we get to talk to a wide range of people, ranging from students to parents and grandparents. Through these conversations I get to hear what people think about certain animals. For example, a lot of the people are afraid of the bushy-tailed wood rat specimen, or said that rats were gross pests. I then get to talk to them about the difference between wood rats and Norway rats, and the important role that wood rats play in our environment. Wood rats prefer to stay in the forest and avoid people as much as possible, plus they’re cute. They look a little like squirrels with their bushy tails. I also enjoy how open ended these interactions can be. You get to have a free-form conversation with someone that can focus on the individual’s interests. Some of the best interactions have been talking to people with a lot of birding experience, because I get to learn a lot about birds that I didn’t know as much about.
So far this position has been helping me gain skills that will be really valuable for my future career. I have been learning about planning events, communication with teachers and other organizations, and helping train and interact with all of the volunteers. I’m looking forward to the next 2 quarters and further developing my ability to work in an informal education environment.