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Volunteer Spotlight: Lenore Naranjo

Thursday, January 26th, 2017
Lenore and Dan in the SERC education center.

Lenore Naranjo celebrates 10 years of volunteer, with SERC volunteer coordinator Dan Gustafson. (SERC)

by Sara Richmond, communications volunteer

In 2016, nearly 5,000 students and other visitors learned about the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem firsthand through education programs at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC). They ventured on hikes and canoe trips, hauled in fish and invertebrates with seining nets, and studied the anatomy of blue crabs. SERC’s education programs are possible through the help of dozens of volunteers who lead field trips and assist behind the scenes. In the coming months, we’ll highlight the work of some of these volunteers in the SERC newsletter and on our blog.

Lenore Naranjo has been volunteering with SERC for over 13 years. After starting as a volunteer in SERC’s canopy labs, she began working with the education program, leading field study groups that give children a hands-on approach to a variety of marine habitats.

“We set up baskets with oysters, and they stay sitting on the bottom of the river through spring, summer, and fall, where they act as a habitat for fish and small critters,” she explains. During field trips, she pulls the baskets from the river bed and sets them in a tray of water so children can explore the baskets’ contents. “Some kids are very hesitant and don’t want to put their hands in something unfamiliar. But then they watch their friends who aren’t hesitant, and the next thing you know, they’re in there too, pulling out fish and crabs.”

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Students ASSEMBLE! How comics can help with science learning

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016
Student learning science from science comic

Student learning science with Balliett’s comic

by Heather Soulen

Middle school can be a tough and unforgiving rite of passage, filled with raging hormones, ill-fitting highwater pants, voices akin to trumpet-wielding geese, and a multitude of distractions. Trying to learn while being swept up in puberty’s turbulence can be challenging. Equally challenging is trying to teach science to often-distracted tweens and teens. Right now, as most U.S. schools begin a new school year, some science educators might be looking for ways to engage their middle-school students with science. One science educator suggests meeting them where their interests lie – comics.

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Why volunteer: Shaping the Future as an Environmental Educator

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

by Jan Payne Wilson

Volunteers come in a great variety of ages, gender, talents and reasons for volunteering. Here’s my short story.

Growing up in Nature

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and am of a generation that was lucky enough to be able to leave the house after school or on Saturday mornings to play outside for hours with the other neighborhood kids. We made hiding places in scotch broom thickets, climbed on fallen logs, wandered in the woods, had bracken fern spear fights and in the short, sweet summers spent time at a local beach on Puget Sound. It was idyllic, but at the time I took it all for granted.

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Amphibian Congregation: Sonic Songs of Spring

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

by Heather Soulen

Sonic Cacophonies

American Toad (Photo: Tyler Bell)

American Toad (Photo: Tyler Bell)

It’s that time of year when much of the mid-Atlantic is waking up from a long winter’s slumber. Flowers are blooming, trees are budding, ospreys and eagles are nesting, and frogs are calling. Right now, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) is alive with the sonic cacophony of a two amphibians. Spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) and American toads (Anaxyrus americanus, formerly Bufo americanus) are shouting mating anthems from every available pocket of water. If you live east of the Mississippi River from Canada to Florida, you’ve likely heard their calls. But which is which? We’ve collected a few sound bites around SERC to help identify each amphibian’s call.

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The Everyday Naturalist: Fishing Spiders

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

by Jan Payne Wilson, SERC Volunteer

Six-spotted fishing spider (Dolomedes triton). Credit: Derek Ramsey

Six-spotted fishing spider, Dolomedes triton. Credit: Derek Ramsey

My dad was uncomfortable around spiders. Today we’d probably say he had a phobia. To deal with it, he found a spider-like creature, the Daddy Long Legs, and learned how benign and beneficial it was. From then on, he could focus on a “good spider” rather than his fear. As a child, I was indoctrinated with the knowledge that a Daddy Long Legs 1) could not bite you and 2) performed good deeds by eating “bad” spiders and other biting, child-frightening insects. Furthermore, they needed our help because they had delicate legs that easily broke off, so we moved them out of dangerous areas and avoided stepping on them. When I was older my father revealed that Daddy Long Legs weren’t actually spiders. Unlike true spiders, they can’t make silk and have neither fangs nor venom. From my father I learned that understanding a creature often changes fear into appreciation and, sometimes, amazement.

On the docks of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), I use my dad’s strategy to help students who either fear spiders or believe the only good spider is a dead spider.  With Daddy Long Legs it’s easy.  But we also have large spiders we don’t see as frequently: fishing spiders.  When you see your first fishing spider, it’s a hard sell to believe she’s got redeeming characteristics. Click to continue »

The Dark Side of Taxonomy: Part Two

Friday, October 30th, 2015

by Heather Soulen

Darker Still

Delving deeper into the dark side of taxonomy, we forge forth into the ether to uncover obscure and wickedly inspired scientific names. What’s in a scientific name? As described in The Dark Side of Taxonomy: Part One, some scientific names for organisms have dark and twisted origins. In part two of this three-part series, we peek behind the thin gauze-like veil, fearlessly sifting through time and lore to deliver a new collection of gruesome scientific names. Here we share ancient tales of Greek mythology, an Italian literary genius from the Middle Ages and the unforgiving Underworld.

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The Dark Side of Taxonomy: Part One

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

By Heather Soulen

In the spirit of the Halloween season, we’ve decided to showcase some of the more darkly inspired scientific names. But first, what exactly is a scientific name, and how did it come to be? In the 18th century, Carl Linnaeus developed a hierarchical naming system known as Linnaean classification for categorization of organisms. As part of his classification system, Linnaeus introduced binomial nomenclature, a formal system for giving organisms a two-part scientific name. The first part of the name is a word that identifies the genus to which a species belongs. The second part of the name is a word that identifies a species within a genus. Scientific names are often in Latin, Greek or some other ancient or classical language, and may reflect some special aspect or feature of that organism. For example, an organism with stripes, bars or a mottled appearance may have a species name of variegatus, Latin for variegated.

However, some scientific names have Latin and Greek words that are less innocuous. Some words conjure up images of terror and the occult. When whispered, the names seem to slither like a snake over the tongue – sending chills down spines and making hairs on the back of the neck rise like ghosts from a grave. This week we delve into science’s darker and more twisted scientific names.

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Extravaganza Eleganza: Orchids on the Fashion Runway

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

by Heather Soulen

Last year, Pantone chose Radiant Orchid as their 2014 color of the year. Pantone is the authority on color. Their color choice affects a variety of industries from fashion and make-up to home interiors (e.g. paint, upholstery, etc.). Once again orchids have sashayed their way into our everyday lives and in very big ways. Journey with us as we explore just a few fabulously fierce fashion pop-cultural orchid moments.

Christian Dior’s to Die for Couture:Paris Haute Couture Autumn/Winter

Belgian designer Raf Simons joined fashion power house Christian Dior in 2012. Just two years later at the 2014 Paris Haute Couture fashion show, he wowed the audience with walls dripping with 150,000 live orchids and an equally jaw-dropping runway collection of embroidered blooms and floral-inspired silhouettes. The Fashion Channel said the show felt “divine and ethereal, with models resembling graceful nymphs walking elegantly in an antiseptic white circular Olympus with silver walls adorned with pristine white orchids.” C’est bon! We don’t think we could have said it any better!

Watch: 2014 Christian Dior Paris Haute Couture Show

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Bubblegum Pop to Punk and Heavy Metal: Orchids’ Mark on Music

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

by Heather Soulen

Image: Jack White (Bill Ebbessen)

Jack White performing on Orange Stage in Denmark 
(Bill Ebbessen)

Research shows that music affects our brains and our bodies. It can make us laugh, cry, give us chills, empathize and remember events or single seemingly fleeting moments that we’ve long forgotten. When it hits the right cords, music can increase heart rate, dilate pupils, increase body temperature and release the neurotransmitter dopamine, a chemical which plays an important role in our brains, particularly the reward centers of the brain. The same has been said about orchids, the hunt for orchids and in Victorian era, the eroticism surrounding orchids.

Since the 1960s, there have been several musical groups, albums and songs with orchid-centric names or themes. Journey with us as we explore how orchids have conquered music pop-culture.

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Sexy, Scandalous and Dangerous: Orchids in Pop-Culture Literature

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

by Heather Soulen

Photo by Kristen Minogue

Photo by Kristen Minogue

“Orchids aren’t just pretty. And a lot of them aren’t even pretty at all. But they are sexy, and that’s really one of the things that makes them unusual among flowers. It was believed that orchids sprang up wherever animals had been mating. And in Victorian England, women weren’t allowed to have orchids because the form of them was thought to be too erotic and too sexual, and it would be too much for a woman to bear, having a flower that sexual in her possession.”
-Susan Orlean, transcripts from NOVA’s
“Orchid Hunter”

There’s no denying, orchids are pretty darn sexy plants. And it because of their sex appeal, they’ve sashayed their way into just about every aspect of pop-culture. They’ve glammed their way into movies, TV, music, fashion and literature, and we didn’t even realize the spell they cast until it was too late. Bewitched, bothered and bewildered, we didn’t even realize how inescapable they are in our world. Here we explore a few examples of how orchids deftly made their way into pop-culture literature.

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