My practicum was spent in the transmission of natural science by working as an intern at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore, Maryland during December and January 2009. I was always aware of my site, and have always been a big fan of the Science Center (I am from nearby Howard County and have visited the Center before, even spending the night there when I was younger during a Girl Scout event.) However, I had not thought to look at the Science Center for my practicum until I went there for a field trip with Earth, Life, and Time during the Fall 2009 Semester. Dr. Holtz spoke of the fact that an Earth, Life, and Time student had previously completed his practicum there, and it dawned on me that it would be a great place for me to work on my project. I was never very interested in completing a research oriented project, and had been unable to get an internship working in departments on campus or at the Smithsonian museum. I got into contact with the volunteer coordinator, Julie Burke, via e-mail, and was accepted to an internship over winter break.
I met my site supervisor, Katie Stofer, during my orientation at the Science Center, and she served as an invaluable resource during my time there. I was put in the Terralink exhibit, which focuses on earth science and the education of visitors in terms of current events regarding earth science. While working at the science center, I not only was part of the volunteer staff which manned the exhibits, but I was also a part of researching for supplementing the exhibit through hands on activities termed “carts.” While I manned the exhibit, I was usually paired with a science center employee who could help me with any questions. I was able to interact with guests and answer their questions concerning Earth Science. I often had to approach the guests and ask if they had any questions, and had to gauge my responses depending upon the age of the visitor and their perceived interest level in the exhibit. If a child was younger, I had to make my responses shorter and less advanced in order to keep the child’s attention and still provide information they could understand. In dealing with older children, I was able to give more advanced responses to their questions and actively engage in a dialogue about earth science with them. When I wasn’t answering questions and assisting visitors in the exhibit, I was researching for hands-on activated called carts. The first cart with which I was involved was one that provided hands on recycled materials and the raw materials with which they were made. The science center only had a few raw materials, and barely any of the recycled materials. My job was to look for sources which would donate or supply for discount prices the recycled materials which could be used in the cart. I was able to have a number of recycled flooring samples donated to the science center. The next cart I was involved in was the brainchild of my site supervisor, who wished to demonstrate atmospheric inversions via a water and food coloring demonstration. I was to premier this cart in the science center and discover its strengths and weaknesses and work on them with my site supervisor. I was taught by a science center employee about the dynamics of atmospheric inversions and she helped demonstrate to me how to explain the material to the visitors. I premiered the cart and was able to provide insights into what worked and didn’t work, and how to improve the activity. I found that the material was a little too advanced for the younger visitors, but children middle school age and above were readily able to absorb the information and found the activity to be engaging. I also worked with a number of school groups, teaching them everything from conservation of resources in regards to the Chesapeake Bay to designing miniature Mars Rovers which they could test on a Mars-like surface.
I learned much about earth science during my time at the science center, and was able to learn about a number of other topics in science due to my time running around the center, from doing research to working in the exhibit. I learned about how tornadoes work, the pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, how to find the Science Center from space, how raw materials are turned into recycled materials, and how atmospheric inversions work and why they are important to people living in cities such as Baltimore. There was even more information available in the science center, and I was able to learn much about earth science in order to transfer the information to the public and to get them interested in not only earth science, but science in general. The information I learned is too great to recount in detail, but was largely assisted by the wonderful resources at the science center and the knowledgeable staff and volunteers who were able to answer any questions I had regarding the information.
My work at the science center has affected me in a number of ways beyond science. Other than greatly supplementing my already strong interest in science, it taught me how to work with people of different ages and interests, and how to engage them in what I am teaching. I was able to gain an appreciation for actually teaching children, something I previously thought I would never enjoy. I haven’t modified by plans at UMD, but I have given more thought to joining the Peace Corps and working with children. Even though I knew I liked children, my experience at the science center opened up my eyes to the good one individual can do when working with children, especially when teaching them. I still am enamored with my major, but I have been exposed to other career paths which I may pursue in the future.
I greatly enjoyed my time at the science center and hope to return during the summer as either a volunteer or employee. The staff and volunteers were fantastic and the information presented was fascinating and highly enjoyable. Maybe even one day I can design my own cart or activity and have it instituted at the science center for the public to enjoy!