Modern society benefits when people understand the concepts of science. This knowledge helps explain how cryptocurrencies work, why climate change is happening, or how the coronavirus spreads from person to person.
Yet the average American spends less than 5% of his life learning about such topics in classrooms. So, other than school, where else can people go to study and explore science?
Museums, zoos and libraries are certainly a great start. As a researcher in adult STEM education, I study less traditional ways for people of all ages to learn and participate in science.
Here are four alternative places where the general public can enjoy nature, engage in applied science learning, and see behind-the-scenes scientific research in action.
1. National Park
Visitors to national parks have increased dramatically over the past two years as the pandemic prompted people to go outside and enjoy nature more regularly. What people often don’t realize, however, is that many parks offer lecture series, nature walks, and interactive science learning opportunities for those interested in adding an extra layer of scientific and environmental knowledge to their outdoor experience.
For example, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona offers ranger programs that teach the public about the ongoing changes in the canyon from weathering and erosion. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which spans Tennessee and North Carolina, offers its own education programming, but also partners with local groups to offer guided nature hikes or trail-building volunteer opportunities.
For those who don’t want to venture into the great outdoors, the National Park Service has a variety of online resources, such as virtual park visits and webcams that offer real-time views of the weather, dramatic scenery, wildlife and more.
Find your nearest National Park here.
2. University Extension Program
Land-grant universities are charged with accessing and distributing scientific research to the public and are present in every US state and territory.
They often do this through “expansion” programs. Master Gardener is a popular one, but there are many unique local options as well. For example, Colorado State University offers a Native Bee Watch program that trains volunteers to identify and monitor bees in their backyards or local natural areas. An extension program at the University of Minnesota teaches volunteers how to detect aquatic invasive species in local rivers and lakes.
3. Biological Field Station
Biological field stations are usually associated with universities or other research institutions. While scientific and environmental research is the primary focus, many field stations offer programs for adult learners, as well as opportunities to interact directly with scientists.
Field stations tend to be in more rural areas, with fewer zoos, museums, aquariums, and other science-learning sites. Yet about 80% of the US population lives within an hour’s drive of a biological field station. This map can help you identify the person near you.
The WK Kellogg Biological Station in Michigan has a bird sanctuary that offers adult courses on botany, ornithology and nature drawing, as well as volunteer opportunities. There is also a Dairy Center that hosts open-house events where visitors can learn about state-of-the-art dairy management and research.
For learners who wish to become involved in the scientific process, engage in a long-term experience or participate as a family, the New York Preserve enlists volunteers to oversee the activities and habitats of birds. Records seasonal changes in plants and engages in other activities. activities.
4. Marine Laboratories
Marine laboratories are similar to biological field stations but are usually located on coasts or other water bodies.
The Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Florida allows visitors to tour its research facilities and equipment, including a close-up view of its underwater vehicle. It also offers citizen science programs and a weekly lecture series on all things ocean science.
In Alaska, the Behind the Scenes program provides adults with a look at the skills and science of running the Sitka Sound Science Center, such as monitoring the genetic interactions of wild and hatchery salmon. Its feature event, the Sitka Whalefest, includes guided wildlife cruises, science lectures and storytelling by scientists. For learners around the world, the center hosts a podcast and provides recorded lessons on how to say local animal names in Tlingit, the language of the Sitka tribe.
As people continue to reap the mental and physical benefits of spending more time outside, I believe it is important to reduce any damage to the environment from this extracurricular activity. These four places can help anyone learn more about the science behind natural places and how to help preserve them.
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