New Haven and Yale are working toward another form of evolution — and it has nothing to do with human origins.
Evolutions, a free after-school program at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, focuses on general science literacy and college and career awareness for New Haven middle and high school students interested in science. Introduced in January 2005, Evolutions — which stands for Evoking Learning and Understanding through Investigations of the Natural Sciences — is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency. Over the course of this week, participants will be coming to the Peabody Museum for their first session.
The program is structured around each student’s independent creation of a museum exhibit on an environment-themed topic, which can include a broad range of subjects, such as genetically modified organisms, stem cells and global warming. Jamie Alonzo, the museum’s education and special-projects coordinator, guides the students through each stage of the process, from selection of a topic, to fund raising to meet the allotted budget, to designing and constructing the exhibit. The completed projects will be on display at the Peabody Museum for several weeks in May and then will go on tour to schools, libraries and other museums in Connecticut, many of which have already been booked.
“The project is a centerpiece and motivation to learn,” Alonzo said, “Students will have a sense of what is going on in science these days.”
Both the middle school and high school groups, which consist of approximately 20 students, meet twice a week in the museum with Alonzo and with Yale students Deeona Gaskin ’08 and Samir Sur ’06, who help facilitate the program. Selection for participation in Evolutions was based on an application that included student responses to questions and teacher recommendations. All the students receive academic credit from their schools for participation in the program.
“They are working on research skills, writing skills, interview skills and community service,” Gaskin said. “It’s basically a great program aimed at helping less-advantaged students who have a strong interest in science.”
Aside from their intensive work on the exhibits, Evolutions students will also have the opportunity to take behind-the-scenes tours of the museum and talk to researchers and scientists. The participants will also read scientific articles from sources such as The New York Times and News@Nature, the online version of the journal Nature. The students then record their discussions to broadcast from their Web site. In addition, the groups will take on a community-service project.
Alonzo stressed the need for today’s high-school students to learn about career options in the sciences, adding that most students who are interested in the sciences are unaware of many career possibilities.
Students will explore universities that have programs in their intended majors and begin contacting them. They will also be guided in basic college-preparatory activities including standardized testing, class selection and extracurricular involvement.
Sur said the program goes beyond the limits of science in the classroom and hits other key aspects of education.
“It’s a great opportunity for the kids and also a lot of fun because it’s lighthearted and educational at the same time, which seems like it works really well,” Sur said. “It’s really nice seeing the kids’ enthusiasm for science and education.”