Four unexpected places where adults can learn science


Many national parks offer lecture series, nature walks and hands-on science projects for the public. Fstop123 / E + Collection via Getty Images

Modern society benefits when people understand scientific concepts. This knowledge helps explain how cryptocurrency works, why climate change is happening, or how the coronavirus is transmitted from person to person.

Yet the average American spends less than 5% of their life in classrooms learning such subjects. So, other than school, where else can people go to study and explore science?

Museums, zoos, and libraries are definitely a good start. As a STEM adult education researcher, I study less conventional 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 hands-on science learning, and experience behind-the-scenes science research in action.

1. National parks

Visitors to national parks have increased dramatically over the past two years, with the pandemic prompting people to get out and enjoy nature more regularly. However, people often don’t realize that many parks offer lecture series, nature walks, and interactive science learning opportunities for those who wish to add an extra layer of scientific and environmental knowledge to their outdoor experience. .

For example, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona has ranger programs that educate the public about changes taking place in the canyon due to weathering and erosion. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which spans Tennessee and North Carolina, offers its own educational program, but also partners with local groups to provide guided nature hikes or volunteer opportunities for the construction of trails.

For those who do not wish to venture into the great outdoors, the National Parks Service offers a variety of online resources, such as virtual park tours and webcams that present real-time views of the weather, spectacular scenery. , wildlife and more.

Find the nearest national park here.

An alligator rests near visitors on a trail through tropical wetlands
Many national parks offer nature walks, lecture series and other science activities. Leila Macor / AFP via Getty Images

2. University extension programs

Granting universities are responsible for translating and disseminating scientific research to the public and exist in every state and territory of the United States.

They often do this through what are called “extension” programs. Master Gardener is popular, but there are also many unique local options. For example, Colorado State University offers a Native Bee Watch program that trains volunteers to identify and monitor bees in their backyards or in local natural areas. An outreach program at the University of Minnesota teaches volunteers how to detect aquatic invasive species in local rivers and lakes.

3. Biological stations in the field

Biological field stations are usually associated with universities or other research institutes. 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 located in more rural areas, where there are fewer zoos, museums, aquariums, and other places of science learning. Yet nearly 80% of the American population live within an hour’s drive of a biological research station. This card can help you identify one near you.

The WK Kellogg Biological Station in Michigan has a bird sanctuary that offers adult lessons on botany, ornithology and nature drawing, as well as volunteer opportunities. There is also a dairy center which accommodates open house events where visitors can learn about cutting-edge dairy management and research.

For learners who want to get involved in the science process, engage in a longer-term experiment, or participate as a family, Mohonk Preserve in upstate New York is recruiting volunteers to monitor activity and events. bird habitats, record seasonal changes in plants and engage in other Activities.

A woman reaches out to grab a bag of oysters
Biologists and volunteers from Brooklyn, New York, plant an oyster reef to clean up a local waterway. Don Emmert / AFP via Getty Images

4. Marine laboratories

Marine laboratories are similar to biological field stations, but are usually located on coasts or other bodies of water.

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 everything related to ocean science.

In Alaska, the Behind the Scenes program provides adults with an overview of the management skills and science of the Sitka Sound Science Center, such as monitoring the genetic interaction of wild and hatchery salmon. Its flagship event, the Sitka WhaleFest, features scientist-led wildlife cruises, science talks and storytelling. For learners around the world, the center hosts a Podcast and offers recorded lessons on how to say the names of local animals in Tlingit, the language of the Sitka tribe.

As people continue to reap the mental and physical rewards advantages to spend more time outdoors, I think it’s important to mitigate the damage that this extra activity can have on the environment. These four sites can help anyone learn more about the science behind natural spaces and also how to preserve them.

Jill Zarestky is Assistant Professor of Education at Colorado State University.

This article is republished from The Conversation.

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