Gamma-ray bursts, flashing in the sky. Melting glaciers, offering clues to climate change. Lemurs of Madagascar, struggling to survive. Stem cells, ushering in new cures for human diseases.
Educators and students can explore these and many more developments in astrophysics, Earth science, biodiversity and human biology, and evolution, courtesy of New York City’s American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). The museum’s Science Bulletins, a free online program, takes viewers to where science is happening through high-definition videos and interactive media.
The idea for Science Bulletins derived from the AMNH’s need to keep its permanent exhibitions—such as the Spitzer Family Hall of Human Origins, which opened in 2007 and focuses on human evolution—“up-to-date with current information,” explains Eric Hamilton, senior manager of program administration for the museum’s National Center for Science Literacy, Education, and Technology. Streamed videos continually presenting new content are an important part of the rich array of elements in the exhibition, he says.
To make these electronic science news and information updates more widely available, AMNH created a website for them at www.amnh.org/sciencebulletins. In addition, visitors to more than 40 scientific and cultural institutions worldwide can watch Science Bulletins on-site, Hamilton points out.
Science Bulletins are documentary-style feature stories, averaging approximately eight minutes, about scientists’ work in the field, along with regular research updates employing scientific visualizations and imagery. Bulletins come in four categories: Astro, Earth, Bio, and Human. These tools can help students “see science in action” and expose them to science careers, as well as make it easier for them to understand science concepts and data, notes Hamilton.
AMNH Senior Director Rosamond Kinzler says educators can “integrate current science into their lessons using the dynamic videos and easy-to-access educational support materials from the Science Bulletins site.” A click on “More About This Story” leads to lesson ideas, essays, interactives, links, and glossaries related to the video. And the Science Bulletins Educators’ Guide gives tips for navigating the site and using the resources and provides correlations to national standards. In addition to current videos, the website archives past stories.
Conversations with teachers who have used Science Bulletins confirm their usefulness, says Hamilton. The Educators’ Guide quotes teacher Jane Kinkle of New Jersey: “I really like the focus questions. I like to use questions that allow students to go beyond the scope of the text because that’s what curious kids do anyway. The text inspires investigation. This entire website is a giant springboard for science inquiry.”
AMNH staff produce all of the content, and the museum’s own video crew travels wherever new developments are occurring, says Hamilton. Partner organizations, including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, contribute educational and programming support.
New financial support has recently come from a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Center for Research Resources, part of the National Institutes of Health. AMNH has received a five-year, $1.09 million award that will fund not only the production of more Human Bulletins on health-related research, but also an on-site, six-week after-school course for high school students, Hot Topics in Health Research NOW. The award also will support AMNH’s Human Health Café, a monthly, drop-in science club where students, families, and other visitors can watch a Human Bulletins video and engage in informal discussions with guest researchers in the fields of evolutionary science and human health.
The new programs aim to “use visual media to engage teenage interest in human health and science generally,” says principal investigator Monique Scott, PhD. Program evaluations, including a longitudinal study of students who have participated, will “track how visual media works as a tool to engage interest in science.”