S7.4 Addressing widespread disconnection from Nature: A vital role for teaching with natural history collections


Mr Patrick McShea1, Ms Gretchen Anderson1

1Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, United States

A current challenge for natural history educators is reflected in a research finding from early in this century: A study published in 2002 found primary school students in the U.K. knew far more about Pokémon creatures than they knew about local wildlife. (Why conservationists should heed Pokémon. Balmford A, Clegg L, Coulson T, Taylor, Science 29 Mar 2002) An apparent side effect of the digital revolution changing so much in our lives is the potential disruption of broad emotional connection to, and intellectual interest in, the natural systems that support life on Earth. During the past decade many natural history museums have actively worked to counter this trend, committing staff, space, and portions of collections to experimental efforts to engage the public with authentic natural objects. Q?rius (pronounced ‘curious’), the specimen rich learning space of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, is a prime example of such efforts, but object-centered teaching innovations at smaller museums also merit attention. This Open Symposium will review a suite of collection-centered educational efforts at Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH) during the past seven years as a springboard for a broader (second session) discussion of innovative experiments involving natural history collections at other sites. The CMNH review will include information about the re-purposing of the museum”s long-standing teaching collection to support a self-directed learning space, development of regular public tours of a 230,000 specimen amphibian and reptile collection, showcasing collections conservation work on the exhibit floor, increased public access to digital images of collection specimens, more frequent involvement of scientists (curators and collection managers) in workshops, classes, tours, and special events, the production of blog posts highlighting the importance of collections, and active collaboration with university-based learning science researchers.

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