Over the past decade, there has been increasing acknowledgment of the need to better prepare students for secondary education and for jobs in an increasingly globalized workforce.
The confluence of external indicators of American’s lower academic standing in science and other disciplines—reflected, for example, in the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test—and recent research pointing to the importance of STEM education underscore the need to tap new resources and redesign science teaching and learning both within and outside the formal system.
Leveraging the power of learning in a non-school setting and complementing the formal system, the Museum is directly addressing these challenges:
- About 500,000 visitors come to the Museum each year in school and camp groups to explore permanent halls and temporary exhibitions.
- In just the past year, the Urban Advantage program has increased dramatically—now serving roughly 800 teachers in about 45 percent of the City’s middle schools. These teachers, in turn work with some 80,000 students.
- About 4,500 teachers participate in a range of professional development experiences—from intensive workshops focused on science content and pedagogy to introductions to Museum exhibitions and learning resources for their students.
- About 2,500 youth from pre-K through high school participated in out-of-school programs last year.
- Graduates of the Museum’s Master of Arts in Teaching program are now teaching in high-need schools, primarily in New York City. Roughly 600 students of these teachers took the Earth Science Regents Exam (as of August 2015), and comparative data from prior years suggests that graduates of the MAT program are increasing opportunities for high-need students to take the Earth Science Regents exam.
The demand for these educational offerings has grown, but the Museum’s education spaces are out of date and difficult to access. By both adding and updating dedicated learning spaces, the Gilder Center will significantly enhance the Museum’s capacity to serve New York’s students, teachers, and families.
Major science education initiatives undertaken by the Museum include:
Programs for Pre-K-12 Students
Urban Advantage Middle School Science Program: An extraordinary effort, now in its twelfth year, spearheaded by the Museum in collaboration with the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn and Queens Botanic Gardens, New York Hall of Science, Staten Island and Bronx Zoos, and New York Aquarium. Urban Advantage supports middle school students, their families, and teachers by providing field trips to science-rich institutions, access for teachers to scientists and collections, professional development for educators, and materials for scientific investigations in the classroom. This pioneering science education program is the model for a similar program in Denver, now in its fifth year, and has garnered widespread interest from educators and school districts in the U.S. and abroad.
Lang Science Program: Selected students in 5th grade become part of an exciting 7-year extracurricular program that exposes them to the range of Museum sciences. Students work with researchers, curators, educators, and other Museum professionals who support their intellectual growth and introduce them to college and career choices.
Science Research Mentoring Program (SRMP): This program offers highly motivated high school students the opportunity to engage in year of authentic research, mentored by a Museum scientist. To prepare for the research experience, students take courses at the Museum in lab skills, statistics, and related topics. Based on the successful SRMP model, the Museum has helped to launch a city-wide consortium of similar programs. The NYC Science Research Mentoring Consortium now consists of 11 institutional partners at 14 sites across New York City that are providing mentored research experiences to about 300 youth this year.
Adventures in Science: This series of programs introduces children from pre-K to grade 5 to a wide variety of scientific disciplines through thought-provoking, hands-on investigations, and interactive tours of Museum exhibitions. The three-day workshops, one-day selections, and week-long day camps explore topics such as astrophysics, human evolution, paleontology, cultural anthropology, and Earth science.
BridgeUp: STEM: This portfolio of programs focused on the intersection of computer science and science includes an intensive Brown Scholars program for high school girls; an exploratory program for middle-school youth in under-resourced schools; a post-baccalaureate teaching/research fellowship for women; a professional development component for teachers; and public programming, including an annual hackathon, to promote the use of computer science in the observation, research, and communication of science. The Brown Scholars program teaches girls who have completed 9th or 10th grade to code in Python, work on real scientific data sets, and learn how data science and data visualization are important tools for scientists in all fields.
Science and Nature Program for Young Children: This innovative program offers weekday classes for children ages 3 to 11 and their parents or other caregivers. The program combines the best of early-childhood education with the Museum’s unique scientific and educational resources, including live animals, exhibitions, specimens, and artifacts. Emphasis is on hands-on science activities that adults and children can enjoy together. The program serves not only individual children and families, but classes from settlement houses, Head Start programs, and daycare centers around New York City.
Programs for undergraduate and graduate students
Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU): Funded by the National Science Foundation, REU offers paid summer internships for qualified undergraduate students to conduct research projects with Museum scientists either in evolutionary biology or physical sciences. The program includes a general orientation to the Museum and a series of weekly meetings at which students discuss their research, present informal progress reports, and participate in discussions and seminars on various science topics as well as on graduate and research career opportunities.
Museum Education and Employment Program (MEEP): Now in its third decade, MEEP recruits and trains approximately 50 New York City youths, ages 18-21, to work at the Museum as summer guides each year. Participants undergo rigorous training and education in topics from biology and anthropology to leadership and public speaking; develop their own thematic tours; and work as youth guides and role models to camp groups visiting the Museum during the summer months. Graduates of the program have gone on to careers at museums and other cultural institutions, education, social work, and in the private sector. A program for high school students offers similar opportunities during both the summer and the school year.
The Richard Gilder Graduate School at the Museum houses two graduate programs, the Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Biology—the first Ph.D. degree granting program to be offered at a museum in the Western Hemisphere—and the Master of Arts in Teaching, also the first of its kind.
- Doctor of Philosophy–The pioneering Ph.D. program educates the next generation of biologists through an integrated approach that focuses on the history, evolutionary relationships, and interactions among organisms. Students in the doctoral program work with the Museum’s internationally recognized collections and world-renowned scientific faculty. Global fieldwork with Museum faculty provides exceptional research opportunities for students. The four 2015 Ph.D. graduates bring the total number of Ph.D. degrees conferred by the Richard Gilder Graduate School to 16.
- Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)–Drawing on the Museum’s unique resources, this MAT program is the latest initiative in the Museum’s long history of leadership in teacher education and professional development. Funded in part by the New York State Education Department, the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and private donors, this 15-month urban residency program addresses a critical shortage of qualified science teachers in New York State, particularly in high-needs schools with diverse populations, by providing a specialization in Earth Science for teachers of grades 7–12. The program employs intensive mentoring and extensive use of technology to provide degree candidates, known as Kathryn W. Davis Graduate Teaching Fellows, with a deep understanding of scientific content as well as of the importance of an inquiry-based approach to learning.
Programs for teachers
Museum professional development programs serve roughly 4,500 teachers each year. A variety of programs running throughout the year—from introductory to intensive—deepen teachers’ content knowledge and practice and introduce them to ways in which they can use Museum resources and exhibitions to enhance teaching and learning. A focus of many programs is to support educators in integrating the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and the Next Generation Science Standards into their classroom practice. To support teachers in planning school visits, the Museum has developed Educator’s Guides that offer strategies for the visit and pre- and post- visit activities, all aligned with curriculum and standards.