Meet the Scientist/NOAA Assemblies
My name is Minna Palaquibay. I am the Assistant Coordinator of the Teaching Volunteer Program at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). I am also the Program Coordinator for the NOAA Science Literacy Initiative for Grade 6 English Language Learners. My work at the Museum began in 2001. I developed programs to serve as learning experiences for students and professional development training for teachers who visit the Museum.
Informal science is so important in getting children excited about science. My interest in museums started in my childhood, with the introduction to a museum. My mother, an immigrant from South America, took me to a science museum and bought me a rock sample set. I still have it. That visit was one of many museum experiences that led to my interest in science and my career as a science educator. That is what our English Language Learners need - to participate in hands-on exploration in an informal educational setting to get them excited about science. The NOAA program provided Grade 6 ELL students in New York City with this opportunity.
As coordinator of the NOAA Initiative, I served as the point person for communication between the Museum and the schools, ensuring that teachers and their school administrators were informed about scheduling and the program’s professional development sessions, field trips to the Museum, leadership breakfasts for administrators, family days, and a culminating celebration dinner. I also collaborated with scientists and educators at the Museum to develop the program’s educational content to ensure that it was scaffolded for English Language Learners. When I facilitated student learning experiences in the Museum halls, it was satisfying to see that our efforts were successful in engaging students in science learning.
In the Museum halls, students had the opportunity to interact with our Teaching Volunteers. Our volunteers enhance the learning experience by providing information that students would not normally have access to in books or on the Internet. Teaching Volunteers also staff the interactive touch carts, which contain objects related to the exhibit hall. Students enjoy learning about the objects. Our teaching volunteers sport red vests to draw visitors to explore the objects on the carts that are related to the dioramas in the halls.
As the NOAA program coordinator. My goal was to provide the means to enable teachers, their ELL students, and the community to visit the Museum and to feel that it is a place for them...that it is not beyond their reach. This goal was accomplished recently through a NOAA Family Day. Students and families had the opportunity to meet Dr. Aquino, an Ichtyologist at the Museum who explained the research she was doing on South American armored catfish.
Teachers were invited to bring their students and families to visit the Museum on a Saturday. Families received tickets to the special exhibit Extreme Mammals, and the IMAX show Wild Oceans. In between these events, families visited the permanent halls of the Museum and did hands-on activities in the Calder Lab Classroom in the Museum. The NOAA teachers contributed significantly to this event by staffing the registration desk, the activities lab, and bringing students whose parents were unable to attend.
Having students see their teachers take part in this special day made the Museum more relevant as a place to visit with their families. The most exciting place to be that day was the Calder Lab, where students explored animal skulls, viewed specimens through microscopes, and interacted with educators, scientists, and their peers to learn science outside the classroom.
The work we did with ESL teachers, school administrators, ELL students, and their families through the NOAA Initiative at AMNH has generated interest in education circles outside of the Museum, namely the National Science Teacher’s Association. In March 2009, I accompanied several of the NOAA teachers and other AMNH educators to New Orleans to present our accomplishments in the NOAA program. In this photo, we had just completed our presentation to a very engaged audience of our peers. Our teachers effectively demonstrated how the NOAA Initiative has enhanced their classroom instruction through lesson plans, creative activities, and student work. This opportunity to share their experiences made their effort rewarding. It also provided incentive to return to their classrooms with a new outlook on their teaching.
Through my experience I learned that collaboration with important stakeholders is essential to a program’s success. Inviting school principals and administrators to participate in Leadership Breakfasts was a key factor in building support for teachers’ participation in the program and developing their ability to support colleagues in their schools in teaching content to ELL students.
Being Latino, I am blessed to have a mother who understood the value of education and sought out every opportunity to expose me to science. She also valued the importance of language and culture, and made sure that as I learned English, I did not forget how to speak Spanish. All English Language Learners and their families should be afforded the same opportunities. As informal educators, we can provide those opportunities for students and/or guide them in the right direction to get these experiences.