NEWS: SMILE’s Exploring Science in the Natural World – Event Report

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On 21st September Chester Zoo hosted SMILE (Science in Museums Inspiring Learning and Engagement). This exciting expedition into natural sciences was organised by Alex McLeman, SMILE Network Leader from Bolton Library and Museum Services.  SMILE has CPD and networking days which occur at least once a year in museums or other cultural learning venues. These special days provide an opportunity to share ideas and expertise about science learning with museum educators, managers and curators.

It must have been the grandest conference room we have used for a SMILE event, as we were in the Victorian splendour of the Oakfield Manor library. In the morning we gathered together to listen to Charlotte Smith, Head of Learning and Discovery. She gave us an overview about the wide range of science learning delivered by Chester Zoo. Leah Williams gave us an insight into the research the Zoo does and the conservation and community engagement projects which the Zoo leads both locally and globally.

Learning Manager, Sarah Bazley shared projects and activities which demonstrate how learning is at the heart of the Zoo and help to inspire future generations of naturalists. We learnt how biological science is made accessible by using the animals as inspiration. We discovered that a Mountain Chicken is a rare frog and that the Zoo uses a cuddly mountain chicken to weigh and measure. This mimics what the conservationists would do in the wild with real amphibians.

Colleagues from The Natural History Museum & Leeds Museum shared how they have developed resources to enhance the teaching of Evolution. Anette Shelford and Rebecca Machin explored their ideas of object-based sessions that use understanding of Evolution and Adaptation to support self-reflection for pupils.

We had time to network and share ideas over lunch and then we took part in activities around Chester Zoo and experienced interactive science around their latest major project – Islands. We were fortunate to see lots of endangered species including orangutans, Bali starlings, Sumatran tigers and Indian gharial crocodiles. We explored the Sumba Classroom, which was an imaginative interactive learning space. We saw how Chester Zoo uses animal specimens and zoological resources alongside augmented reality to provide a unique learning journey for their school visitors.

These are a few quotes from SMILE delegates from the evaluation at the end of the day.

“I found it a good balance of hearing about what is happening and seeing it in action. I love the different perspective by having SMILE in a Zoo. It showed science in action and individual activities were very interesting. I thought it was great and being free meant that I could come.”

“The presentations were interesting. The walk about through the Zoo was great. I enjoyed the lunch. It was great to talk to fellow museum professionals. The immersive Aurasma Augmented reality was totally new. Thank you!”

“The chance to network and get inspiration, Good ideas for interactives. Talking to other museum education people and stimulating ideas between people.”

SMILE really appreciates everyone’s time and dedication in making these events a success. Big thanks to all the speakers and to the Chester Zoo Learning and Discovery Team for hosting SMILE.  We also greatly appreciate the contribution from NWFeD, Curious Minds, MDNW and GEM who provide funding for SMILE events. Watch out for our next SMILE event in 2017.

SMILE has its own online network – www.groups.google.com/group/smilescience – this site provides a forum for us to share expertise, interests & discuss needs for science learning in Museums.

To join this network please e-mail: alex.mcleman@bolton.gov.uk

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