There are a lot of indications that science education in the US is in trouble, and the Nature Museum at Grafton is renewing its efforts to do something about it. For instance:
• Non-scientists on the Texas Board of Education rewrote the state's science standards last year to fit their religious and political views and rejected the standards originally proposed by Texan scientists and educators.
•There is essentially no controversy in scientific literature about global climate change, and there is a consensus that recent global warming is mostly attributable to human activity. Still, a 2009 poll by the Pew Research Center published last July found that "while 84 percent of scientists say the earth is getting warmer because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels, just 49 percent of the public agrees."
The poll also found that 76 percent of scientists feel that a major problem is that junk science is often given as much attention in the media as is credible science.
This situation has moved the Nature Museum at Grafton to reconsider it's educational work in over 40 area towns.
"The Museum has excelled at delivering natural history education to children and the broader public for over 20 years," said Lillian Willis, Executive Director, "but in 20 years things have changed, and the museum feels compelled to address the rapid pace of change that is now occurring on planet Earth."
While still focusing on natural history education, "the Museum will complement that core skill with increased programming for adults and teenagers to address environmental change and its effect on homo sapiens, and the implications for lifestyle choices that can promote the health of the biosphere."
To emphasize its expanded focus, the museum has created a new logo, a gray treefrog, which is indigenous to the area and a key indicator species of environmental change.
The museum is also launching a new signature event, The Pale Blue Dot, on Memorial Day weekend, May 28 and 29. The Pale Blue Dot is a phrase coined by the late astronomer Carl Sagan upon seeing a photograph of the Earth taken by Voyager One from a distance of 3.7 billion miles.
The Pale Blue Dot event will be a celebration of the earth featuring speakers, workshops, exhibits, fun hands-on activities, art, music and entertainment with an exceptional finale.
"It is an acknowledged fact that America needs more scientists and that science education has been underemphasized and underfunded," Willis said. "For years The Nature Museum has been helping to fill science needs in schools. Our lives depend upon the Earth's resources. So we need to understand how the Earth and all its complex systems work, our relation to all parts of it, and new ways to work with nature to mutual advantage and a sustainable future.
"That means expanding earth science education to older students and adults. Making it be a part of their lives, rather than a course at school; creating an environmentally literate citizenry that is knowledgeable, personally motivated, and empowered to act to protect the world we love."
To attract older students the museum is setting up opportunities where scientists will come in, discuss what they do in their profession, and show students techniques that will encourage citizen science - such as identification of the Woolly Adelgid and other insects harmful to forests.
"We are especially excited right now to be starting a number of initiatives that will engage people even more in the natural sciences," said Betsy Stacey, Director of Education at the museum. "We are planning more of a focus on hands-on, skill-building workshops and classes. For instance, this spring we are offering programs related to raising chickens, keeping bees, garden design for water conservation, and felt-making."
Check www.nature-museum.org or call 843-2111 for information on the Pale Blue Dot, programs, ways to volunteer, and opportunities to sponsor activities.