By Bobby Panza
What’s better than a day-long field trip to the American Museum of Natural History? The answer: a week-long field trip to the American Museum of Natural History.
Setting foot in the AMNH is an experience that consistently takes your breath away. Housing more than 40 permanent exhibition halls, alongside rotating temporary galleries and the Hayden Planetarium, the museum now boasts the new Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, opened in the spring of 2023. Navigating the four-block campus with its 10 buildings interconnected by 33 pathways, can momentarily disorient even the most seasoned visitors. It’s an intersection of science and society that leaves an indelible impression.
This month, the museum introduced a new program, the Beyond Elementary Explorations in Science (BEES), designed as a week-long experience for public middle-school students. BEES offers them the unique opportunity to utilize the entire AMNH campus as their classroom, immersing themselves in its wealth of resources. Gone are the days of rushing to cram every exhibit and gallery into a single day. BEES is part of the city’s Urban Advantage program, a partnership between NYC public schools and cultural/science institutions like the AMNH and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Its curriculum integrates science, math, literacy, and social studies, delivering a hands-on immersive learning experience.
Greyson Gonzalez sketches a dung beetle in his blue book, thorax and abdomen included. The 10-year-old from Bushwick, Brooklyn, is learning about the role insects play in ecosystems with his PS 376 fifth-grade class. Earlier he penciled a Madagascar hissing cockroach, which he named Jamal. It’s Greyson’s second day at the museum in the BEES program, and he couldn’t be having a better time. “I love everything about it,” he told WSR’s visiting reporter. “You get to express yourself and what you like.”
Alison Bamaca, also from PS 376, cherishes her favorite BEES experience — watching a butterfly emerge from chrysalises in the museum’s butterfly vivarium. “Its wings were wet, so beautiful,” she recalls before re-engaging in a pollination board game during lunch. Bamaca says she appreciates the fun activities and collaborative environment, connecting her with classmates she doesn’t usually interact with at school. Her aspiration? To become a teacher someday.
Teachers invest considerable hours working with AMNH staff before BEES trips take place, blending classroom concepts with museum experiences. Perla Vargas, a fifth-grade teacher at PS 376, has observed her students’ heightened engagement, crediting the museum’s dynamic activities and varied investigations for fostering this enthusiasm. No longer confined to desks for extended periods, students learn collaboratively while exploring diverse activities. “And then they’re learning from each other as well,” Vargas says.
Following lunch, BEES confronted a math problem linked to the abstract beehive’s width downstairs in the Gilder Center’s insectarium exhibit.
Back in the Gilder Center classroom, Greyson Gonzalez showcased his solution using a black magic marker borrowed from Jake, an AMNH educator. He effortlessly determined the beehive’s width to be 15 feet. Jake expressed immense pride in Greyson’s mathematical prowess and altruistic nature. “Oh, very proud,” Jake said. “And I know he’s very proud. He’s a mathematician. And he loves to help others.”
As the BEES were told to begin packing up their things, a communal sigh filled the room. Leaving the museum was a reluctant departure. Fortunately, they had three more days ahead.
Funded by the City Council and the mayor’s office, the Urban Advantage program offers participating teachers a selection of science equipment for their classrooms. Additionally, BEES students receive complimentary vouchers for future family visits, allowing them to guide their families on explorative museum tours.
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