Science honors American Museum of Natural History website

February 24, 2011

The "wow" moment when a child enters a science museum and watches in wonder at certain workings of the natural world is about as good as it gets, according to Ro Kinzler and Steve Gano, the co-developers of an educational Web site called Resources for Learning at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York.

"I have seen groups of third and fourth graders come into our diorama halls and literally stop short," says Kinzler. "It's a wonderful sight. It's this ability to really look and to know that this is authentic."

Kinzler and Gano's Web site has as its mission bringing that experience into classrooms by allowing teachers online access to multimedia museum exhibits. Because of its effectiveness and quality, it has been selected to receive the Science Prize for Online Resources in Education.

"Resources for Learning modules can be used individually or combined with other resources to make up a one-day, one-week, or semester-long curriculum," says Melissa McCartney, editorial fellow at Science. "Additionally, it allows the museum to 'corner the market' in science museum education by allowing students to experience the irreplaceable impact of museum exhibitions whether they are able to make the trip to New York City or not."

Science magazine developed the Science Prize for Online Resources in Education (SPORE) to spotlight the best online materials in science education. The acronym SPORE suggests a reproductive element adapted to develop, often in challenging conditions, into something new--indicating that these winning projects may be the seed of important progress in science education, despite the challenging conditions surrounding educational innovation. Science publishes an article by each recipient of the award, which explains the winning project. The article about AMNH's Resources for Learning will be published on February 25.

"We're trying to advance science education," says Bruce Alberts, editor-in-chief of Science. "This competition provides much-needed recognition to innovators in the field whose efforts promise significant benefits for students and for science literacy in general. The publication in Science of an article on each Web site will help guide educators around the globe to valuable free resources that might otherwise be missed."

Resources for Learning co-developers Gano and Kinzler came to the project from quite different backgrounds. Gano had a keen interest in "creating tools for learning." Although he loved the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry as a child, he says his interest in science "was killed in middle school and high school" by poor-quality instruction and badly equipped science labs. Luckily, a psychology instructor in college rekindled his curiosity and won him over to the major, although Gano went on to get another degree, not in science, but in media technology, which is where his desire to create tools for learning was cultivated. Gano was the information architect and technical director on the museum's education Web sites, including Resources for Learning.

Kinzler, on the other hand, knew by middle school that she wanted a career in science, and when she got to AMNH, she was actually doing post-doc research in Earth and planetary sciences. A few years passed before she got involved in the curation of an exhibition about the Earth--and got hooked on the process.

"It really got me excited about getting in touch with audiences of all different types, of all types of means," she says.

Both Gano and Kinzler are very respectful of the science museum experience and see their Web site as an extension of, not a replacement for, that experience.

"We don't want to replace that," Gano says. "That kind of connection at the museum demonstrates the power of the natural world and reality."

Perhaps because of their loyalty to what science museums do, they strive to provide online materials that are maximally engaging and interactive, and that expose students to authentic scientific inquiry.

"The Web site really makes science more vivid than what students have in their textbooks," Gano says.

All of the Web site's content is reviewed for accuracy by members of the museum's staff of more than 200 researchers, and it is arranged in small, modular sections that are indexed in a number of different ways to assure easy access. Professional development programs offered by the museum show teachers how to best employ the content, which is labeled according to grade level, resource type, and amount of class time it requires. A separate section of the site called Teacher Tips shows the material's correlation to the National Science Education Standards. Much of the online content follows the museum's educational agenda, which assigns a high priority to such fundamental science as the study of fossils and evolution.

The site's developers say they hope their SPORE award and publication in Science will increase awareness of the AMNH and other informal science institutions as excellent resources for learning about science and culture.
-end-
To visit the American Museum of Natural History's Resources for Learning Web site, go to amnh.org/resources.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science (www.sciencemag.org) as well as Science Translational Medicine (www.sciencetranslationalmedicine.org) and Science Signaling (www.sciencesignaling.org). AAAS was founded in 1848, and includes some 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The non-profit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy; international programs; science education; and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, www.eurekalert.org, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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