2006-07-26 / Features

Hall of Science Studies How Children Learn

As teaching evolution continues to make headlines, the New York Hall of Science and five other institutions are beginning a project to research how children acquire the concepts of biological evolution and look at new ways to engage children in exploring the topic.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $2.5 million grant for a four-year research project entitled Life Changes, which will be conducted by the Hall of Science, the Center for Human Growth and Development, the University of Michigan, the North Museum of Natural History and Science, the Miami Science Museum and Planetarium, and the Association of Science and Technology Centers.

Life Changes will yield insight into how children ages 5 to 12 learn complex science and will culminate in a traveling exhibition on evolution geared to children and their parents.

"This is an exciting and groundbreaking project that has the potential to revolutionize the way children learn about evolution," Alan J. Friedman director of the New York Hall of Science, said. "We are grateful to NSF for supporting this work."

The primary goal of the project is to help children explore biological concepts of evolution such as variation, inheritance, selection and adaptation. Current research in cognitive psychology indicates that if children are introduced to these concepts at an early age, they are more likely to see the natural world through a scientific perspective.

The research will culminate in an exhibition designed to engage both children and their parents. The 1,000-squarefoot Life Changes exhibition will be displayed at the Hall of Science before traveling to other informal science institutions throughout the country. On-site and online training will be provided for staff at participating museums. The project also includes Web-based activities; two symposia to disseminate research results, discovery boxes to accompany programs and exhibits, and bilingual exhibit materials and family guides.

Life Changes will also offer creative professional development strategies to help staff at science centers and museums deepen their understanding of how children understand evolution and to work in new ways to engage children in exploring the topic.

The New York Hall of Science is New York City's hands-on science and technology center. More than 400 interactive exhibits explore the wonder and excitement of biology, chemistry and physics. In July and August, the Hall of Science is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. Admission is $11 for adults and $8 for children ages 2 to17, college students with valid ID, and adults 62+. For more information, visit www.nyscience.org or call 718-6990005.

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