We serve as the state of Utah's natural history museum located in the foothills above Salt Lake City. Our mission is to illuminate the natural world and the place of humans within it. We are home to over 1.2 million objects within the scientific categories of anthropology, geology, paleontology, botany, and other forms of biology. Contributors to the NHMU blog include scientists, naturalists, educators, program specialists, all of whom are moms or actively connected to kids in our community.

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Connecting Teens to Science

Camp instructor, Sarah Lange, provides a sneak peek into the UMNH Science Workshops for Teens. During the school year, Sarah teaches high school science and she is a popular camp instructor for CSI-like DNA and Girls Only science camps.

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UMNH Science Workshops for Teens are designed to go beyond the classroom to connect science concepts to the real world! This year, we have designed three workshops based on actual practices used within the professional science fields of ecology and forensics.

Kids in these important middle years have the ability to see the how science that they’ve learned in school is applied and “at work” in every day life. The workshops allow teens to learn and use real-world tools and techniques, something typically not done until they reach college. For kids who have participated in these workshops the past couple of summers, this experience has generated interest in and excitement for these professional fields, helping them start to develop sense of what they can be “when they grow up”.

In addition, students may have the opportunity to meet and work with adults from the fields that we study.  For the 8th & 9th grade DNA Crime Solvers camp, employees of the Salt Lake City Crime Lab are actively involved in the development of the course and in leading part of the workshop.

In these workshops, we go much deeper into the subjects that a typical classroom experience, because the group size is smaller and we meet for a longer time.  We do extensive hands-on experiments and it is much easier to interact with the kids as individuals. I love that I’m able to address their questions about what we are doing, or related questions triggered by what we’re doing. By spending half the day together, we are able to go out “in the field” and do the techniques ourselves.

I love working with kids in the Investigating Ecosystems workshop because, at their age, they are just starting to realize how interconnected the world is. I have seen kids get very passionate about “going green”. But they don’t yet have the experiences that show how scientists evaluate the ecosystems.  We get to, literally, dig deeper in this workshop.

Working with 11 – 14 year olds in these workshops enables us to start with something they are already curious about – DNA or the environment — and then let them explore and interact with it “for real”.  Not in a text book, not on TV or movies, not just on paper, but actually doing it.  That “doing” reinforces their curiosity and desire to keep learning. It lets them think deeper about ecology and genetics than they have before and lets them develop a greater interest in science.

– Sarah Lange

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