New York Times Coverage of our Virtual Worlds Programs

While I can’t take any credit for the work described in this week’s New York Time’s article, “Engaging Children With the Siren Call of the App,” I am pleased as punch to see so much attention go to my colleagues and to programs with which I have just begun to work. I am so exciting to see them already getting such excellent attention. Of course, this was a crazy time to be getting this attention – with the museum having closed for three full days due to Sandy – but it is good to see both the coverage and the crowds returning (even though our youth programs won’t restart until next week).

The full article can be read here (describing great work being done at other museums with mobile apps) and I will highlight below sections discussing the virtual world programs within my portfolio:

Each summer for several years, a two-week seminar at the American Museum of Natural History has allowed 25 youngsters to use technology to resurrect a prehistoric marine animal by designing realistic 3-D models and sea environments.

Every year, the program, “Virtual World Institute: Cretaceous Seas,” for children ages 11 to 14, fills up quickly.

One attendee in last summer’s program, Tammuz Frankel, a 12-year-old student at Hunter College High School, said, “From a very young age, I have been interested in paleontology, but I don’t know much about prehistoric seas. I wanted to learn more about this little-known part of the Mesozoic Era.”

The program has been so successful that the museum has since added two more August seminars on different topics.

The American Museum of Natural History supplies a wealth of material for its summer education project, including laptops and smartphones. It provides them to students, some of whom pay to attend the program and some of whom receive scholarships.

“We have taken the digital world and embraced it in a full-throttle way,” said the museum’s president, Ellen Futter. “It extends access to content on site and digitally and deepens our relationship with our audience. It is an opportunity to examine real specimens, talk to our 200 scientists and take that understanding and use it in a digital application.”

The summer Cretaceous Seas seminar lets students play the role of scientists and learn to interpret fossil evidence to bring an extinct sea creature to life. New versions of the program are “What Happened to the Neanderthals?” and “Digital Universe: Flight School.”

“None of those programs could have happened to this extent a few years ago,” said Nathan Bellomy, youth initiatives coordinator at the museum. The Cretaceous Seas project included one activity in which the group went to Big Brook, N.J., to dig up prehistoric sharks’ teeth and rodent fossils.

“The kids were working with real scientists and translating what they found into a virtual prehistoric environment,” Mr. Bellomy said. “The project helped them interpret fossil evidence and then use their computers to recreate the fish in the appropriate environments.

Another young participant, Emily Di Napoli, an 11-year-old student at Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, said she had always loved “prehistoric animals and sea life including reptiles that are as long as buses and can swallow anything.” Her long-term goal is to build rocket ships, but Emily said she liked her summer program because “we learned a lot of interesting stuff, and the museum is really cool.”

Just what museum officials want to hear.


About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
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