Do you feel connected to the Earth? Do you think you can affect global systems through your local actions? Nurture Nature Center is currently halfway through a two-year NASA funded grant project, entitled “6 Degrees of Influence – Understanding the Interconnectedness of Earth Systems,” intended to educate middle school students about Earth systems and inspire interest in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) careers and topics through the development of a Science on a Sphere® (SOS) and arts-based program. It focuses on earth science concepts and the cross-cutting theme of interconnectedness, relying on a personal relevance hook to capture interest and motivation to further pursue STEM experiences and careers. NNC is working with the Maryland Science Center (Baltimore, MD), Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA), and People, Places and Design Research to implement the project.
The “6 Degrees of Connection” program is inspired by the six degrees of separation theory that states any one person is connected to any other person through six or less connections/steps – so you may be connected to Kevin Bacon through your friend’s brother’s neighbor’s uncle as an example. The program provides examples of earth systems and how they are connected to us. One example is transportation. Driving a car results in the release of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, which builds up in the atmosphere and leads to warmer global temperatures. Warmer temperatures create changes to the climate and can result in more extreme weather events which can cause damage, injuries, and loss. After students learn about their connections to earth systems through the SOS program, they then are asked to think critically about their own chains of connections and create a five to six circle model with interrelated topics that are connected by a shoelace. This creative activity provides a chance to reflect and really absorb the contents taught in the SOS show.
This past summer, NNC and Lehigh University hosted four interns (two from Lehigh University and two from Morgan State University) who helped develop the SOS connections program and participated in several professional development activities. That SOS program, combined with the creative activity developed by NNC Creative and Art Director Keri Maxfield, was tested with 372 middle school students from grades 6th through 8th at NNC and the Maryland Science Center this past fall (2017). The evaluation firm, People, Places, and Design Research analyzed reactions and feedback from the students provided through questionnaires after the program and a day later in their classrooms. Overall, the program was well received, especially with the inclusion of the creative activity. Now the project team is using the evaluation to inform revisions and improvements to the program and another four interns will join us this upcoming summer to continue to work on the program which will be tested with more middle school students in the fall of 2018.
Additionally, this spring both NNC and Maryland Science Center are hosting teacher professional development workshops (March 24th at MSC and April 7th at NNC) to provide the “6 Degrees of Connection” program and other related activities to about a hundred middle school teachers so they can utilize the content and approaches in their classrooms. Overall, this project has significantly expanded NNC’s reach to local schools and teachers in Bethlehem, Easton, and Nazareth and we are excited for the activities planned for the coming year. Through this project, participants are directly engaged in an authentic, and lasting, STEAM experience based on principles of interconnectedness that can inform efforts to promote STEAM literacy among the younger generation. The project is a great illustration of NNC’s success in using both science and art to engage and connect students to learning. I encourage you to explore our website for more of our innovative approaches to science, art, and dialogue and to contact me if you are interested in learning more about the “6 Degrees of Connection” program.