Takoma Middle School hosts top science experts from D.C. museums
Advocacy group sponsors "Meet the Scientist" program for area schools
Takoma Park Middle School became the first school in the area to host a new "Meet the Scientist" program Monday as three visiting experts offered students a brief glimpse into the thrills of field research and scientific discovery.
Sponsored by the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science, a coalition of scientific organizations and groups, the program aims to introduce more than 100 of the Washington, D.C.-area's top scientists to metropolitan area schools. Aside from the obvious benefit from the students' perspective getting out of class for a whole period to hear about dinosaurs educators also hope the lectures will spark an interest in the youths' minds to peruse loftier career goals, according to Principal Renay Johnson.
"What I'm hoping for here is for some of the students to make connections with the scientists so they can e-mail them their questions and maybe even set up a time to go and visit the lab," she said. "For [the students] to actually see the scientists talk about their work, they can hear first-hand how they studied and worked to succeed."
Among the visiting experts were Dr. Allen Collins, a zoologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, joined by two experts from the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of Natural History; Dr. Briana Pobiner, a prehistoric archeologist; and Dr. Matthew Carrano, who is the curator of dinosauria at the museum.
Alex Frandsem, a seventh-grader at Takoma Middle, was excited to participate in the program, but voiced his hesitation on walking into Carrano's lecture in one of the school's science classrooms.
"I used to like dinosaurs a lot when I was little," he said. "I guess I sort of lost interest when I grew up. Maybe I'll get interested again after this."
Carrano certainly did his best, using the most of his 45-minute timeframe to introduce himself and explain how he came to love dinosaurs, and then how he made it to become a curator at one of the most prestigious scientific museums in the world. He concluded his lecture by encouraging the students to visit the museums.
After the first class Carrano offered his motivation for volunteering, explaining that it is important for students to be able to put a face along with the subject of science.
"I remember having experiences like these myself when I was in high school and junior high, and those were very vivid memories for me," he said. "It's sort of outside the normal educational structure."
Meanwhile, Pobiner was inundated with questions from her group of students, including sixth-grader Annabelle Leete, who sat at the front of the room during Pobiner's lecture and copied down the archeologist's e-mail address after the presentation.
Pobiner's presentation focused on how archeologists extract fossils and artifacts from sites in Kenya and eventually get them back to the museum. Her speech sparkled with anecdotes about life in the field, the tools archeologists use and even how the camp itself is run.
"You said that you had a lot of things at the museum that were not on display," Leete said in the question and answer period following Pobiner's speech. "Is there some place or any way we could see those?"
Pobiner smiled got one and asked the student to e-mail her to set up a time to come and visit the museum's archives.