Part 1 of 3: I Work In A Matryoshka Doll

(This is the second in a series. If you want to start at the beginning, go here)

My role is to support the capacity building of my colleagues in Youth Initiatives towards the strategic use of digital media and learning (DML) practices and pedagogy for informal science and cultural learning. At the same time, this work should stimulate and inform the museum as it builds out AMNH’s DML footprint.

But what exactly is Youth Initiatives?

I work in a Matryoshka doll, those nested toys in which one figure opens to to reveal another, and so on. I recently wrote on this blog about how confusing it is to to navigate through the museum. Navigating the department structure of the museum is no less complicated.

So here’s a simple, and simplified, overview, or the path from AMNH to me:

AMNH —-> Education —-> The Center For Lifelong Learning —-> Youth Initiatives

So, as you can see, three levels of nesting. Youth Initiatives is part of an institutional-wide flow, or pipeline, supporting youth to develop an interest in science and an identity and confidence as science learners and doers. Y.I. programs reach around 2,000 pre-school to college-age students annually, with a particular focus on youth from groups historically underrepresented in science. The programs are grounded in research on learning in informal settings and the work of the museum’s more than 200 scientists, leverage our unique collections of more than 32 million specimens and cultural artifacts.

These are the nine programs that compose the Y.I. offerings, all of which I am now supporting, which can be grouped into short-term programs, multi-year programs, internships and spaces.

Short-term programs:

  • Adventures in Science – a series of three-day to week-long offerings that engage and inspire elementary and middle school children through intensive hands-on experiences and interactive Museum tours.
  • The After-School Program – a series of rigorous six-week-long courses for high school students, covering all areas of scientific research at the Museum.

Multi-year programs:

  • The Lang Science Program – providing over 100 underserved students with a year-round curriculum offering hands-on courses in biology, physical science, and anthropology that starts in the 6th grade and continues through the participants’ high-school graduation.
  • The Science Research Mentoring Program (SRMP) – a three-year program providing high school students with two years of preparatory coursework and advisories co-designed and co-taught by research scientists and Museum educators, followed by a third year of research mentored by Museum scientists working in the biological and physical sciences.
  • YouthCaN – an international, youth-led organization that was once founded with iEARN at the museum and uses technology to inspire, connect and educate people worldwide about environmental issues.

Internships:

  • The Museum Education and Employment Program (MEEP) for college-age youth and the Saltz Internship Program for high school youth provide opportunities to work as floor staff in exhibit halls and at object-based, interactive carts, facilitating science conversations with thousands of Museum visitors.

Spaces:

  • The Discovery Room – a lively, intimate drop-in space that encourages young children and their adult companions to examine specimens and artifacts and work with scientific equipment, sparking their interest in the natural world.
  • The Sackler Educational Laboratory for Comparative Genomics and Human Origins – a state-of-the-art educational laboratory that provides visiting school groups, youth participating in out-of-school programs, and the general public with a unique opportunity to engage in a variety of hands-on lab activities and use of digital scientific tools designed to further their understanding of evolution, genetics, and the human brain.

In addition, in recent years, there have been a number of innovative digital media-driven programs, most included with the following description:

  • Virtual Worlds Institutes are one- and two-week programs that engage middle school youth that leverages technology as scientist do to analyze, model, and communicate data, utilizing digital sculpting software, visualization tools, and virtual world platforms to bring to life the worlds their investigations of fossils, artifacts, astronomical data, and even gene sequences uncovered.

So these are the remarkable range of youth engagement opportunities I am privileged to get to think about. And, with each one, I get to explore their past use, if any, of digital media for learning and identify opportunities moving forward. At the same time, I am developing a strategic plan to coordinate these efforts AND launching new projects that can provide useful case studies for disruptive innovation. Fun fun.

So what sort of innovative learning programs are being developed? Read on.

About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
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2 Responses to Part 1 of 3: I Work In A Matryoshka Doll

  1. WOAH. Is that a comprehensive list, or are there other AMNH youth programs that don’t fall under your bailiwick?

  2. Barry says:

    Amazingly, there are OTHER youth programs that fall under a sibling program, Science and Nature, which is a weekly pre-K to 8 program (organized by grade). And of course there are also school-based programs, working with teachers and their students who visit the museum.

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