Learning in museum exhibit halls and classrooms isn’t normally presented as a competition. This situation changed on four days in late January, however, when more than 700 students visited the museum to compete in the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s Science Bowl.
For the third year, the museum had the privilege of collaborating with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit to host this vibrant competition. The Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU) is a regional public agency that acts as a liaison between suburban school districts in the county and the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Science Bowl, one of many academic events planned annually by the AIU, is open to students in grades four through eight from schools throughout Allegheny County and even reaching some neighboring counties.
Working in small teams, students complete a series of challenges which change each year. This year, guided by the museum’s natural history interpreters, students compared skeletal structures in mounted dinosaurs, studied details in images composed by professional photographers, and made firsthand observations of fur, feathers, and scales.
Amy Davis, Career Ready State Project Co-Director and Western PA Gifted Liaison for Teaching and Learning for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, starts planning Science Bowl in April. Students from dozens of districts in Allegheny, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties have participated during the more than 20 years the AIU has been offering the competition. Amy feels the experience is a valuable one for the students. “It gives the students a chance to work together, to be creative, and to meet kids from other schools. They not only get to see the museum, but we take it a step further.”
In Dinosaurs in the Their Time, students were given a series of descriptions of dinosaurs and were challenged to locate and identify the species. Descriptions included clues about the dinosaur’s diet, estimated weight, length, and skeletal features.
Students studied photographs in National Geographic: 50 Greatest Wildlife Photographs, to identify species’ scientific names, determine what the subject is doing in the photo, and understand the perspective of the photographer.
In museum classrooms, teams compared feathers with the aid of microscopes, sketched scales of various snakes, and described mammal fur color patterns to decipher how each covering aids the animal’s survival.
Lisa Donovan and Dr. Chuck Herring, teachers with South Fayette Township School District, attended Science Bowl with 24 students. “The students like to do the hands-on activities,” Ms. Donovan said. “They like the freedom to explore the museum.”
Dr. Herring looks forward to Science Bowl each year. “The kids really enjoy the challenge,” he commented. “It gets them to think, but not to the point of frustration.”
After participating in the challenges and completing a worksheet with museum-wide questions, teams gathered in the Lecture Hall for the awards ceremony.
When asked what challenges they enjoyed the most, students’ answers ranged from dinosaurs to photos to snake skins. One student smiled and added, “Definitely using the microscopes.”
Jessica Romano is a Museum Education Writer at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum staff, volunteers, and interns are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.