Puget Sound Museum of Natural History: Making Science Accessible (Again)

Caption: Some specimens in the museum’s collection Photo Credit: Puget Sound Museum of Natural History, used with permission

by Caitlin Yoder

 Along with providing academic resources and informal education opportunities for students on campus, the Museum’s education and outreach program provides educational opportunities for elementary schools across Tacoma. Beatrice Bugos (‘23), the education & outreach director, explained the program’s function in the community, after a brief tour of the Museum’s various valuable specimens. The program includes something called Nature in the Classroom kits, which are educational resources they loan out to educators in the local area. There are three different types of kits that make up the full curriculum, and each contains a lesson plan for the teacher to follow, hands-on specimens to go with the lesson, and all materials needed to teach it. According to Bugos, one of the biggest goals of this program is to support underfunded schools through an educational resource that people can use freely. 

  Peter Wimberger, the director emeritus of the museum, began this program back in 2005 shortly after he started the position. “I felt like the museum had rich potential as an educational resource and had not really developed that facet,” Wimberger said. In pursuit of this development, Wimberger applied for grants and began working with local teachers on educational programs for K-12 students. Eventually, Wimberger’s work solidified as the Nature in the Classroom program. Under this program Americorps members, hosted by the Museum through Washington Service Corps (WSC), would teach the curriculum Wimberger and his team had developed in Tacoma elementary schools. “At its height all of our outreach activities were touching about 20000 community members a year, making the museum the university’s second biggest point of contact with the regional community,” he said. 

  Unfortunately, this aspect of the program was shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has since only been available to teachers through the Museum’s kit loaning program. Though Nature in the Classroom developed virtual lessons to distribute during the pandemic, it could not achieve the same impact it had before 2020.

  Kena Fox-Dobbs, the director of the museum, is looking to return to that hands-on approach Wimberger developed before the struggles of the pandemic. She is excited to reinstate the program in honor of Wimberger, hoping to expand its role in the broader community. The Museum has already started the process of hosting an Americorps member again, which Fox-Dobbs believes is a big step toward improving their project’s impact in Tacoma schools. “The program included formal assessment measures, and by the metrics analyzed having the kits administered by the museum WSC members significantly improved the experience (progress towards educational goals and learning objectives) for students and teachers,” Fox-Dobbs said. Bugos also mentioned plans for the development of new kits within the next year, which will  add even more educational opportunities for young learners. Fox-Dobbs is hopeful that the application will be successful so that the Museum can once again benefit all learners of the Tacoma community to the fullest potential.

  Anybody who is interested in loaning a Nature in the Classroom kit can go to www.pugetsound.edu/puget-sound-museum-natural-history/education-outreach/nature-classroom to learn more info, and anybody who is at all interested in natural science should go check out their website to look at online resources or schedule a time to take a look at their specimens in person!