COSAM News Articles 2020 December COSAM Office of Outreach continues to offer science-centered family fun events

COSAM Office of Outreach continues to offer science-centered family fun events

Published: 12/01/2020

By: Cara Brittain

This Fall, COSAM Outreach premiered a new series of family events called “COSAM Campfires.” The Donald E. Davis Arboretum provided the perfect backdrop for these outdoor gatherings. Family units took seats in the grass with snacks and crafts while waiting for the presentations to begin. Faux fires from solar lights designated the socially distanced family spots, and a tissue paper and twinkle light fire display created a center piece for photos.

For the first COSAM Campfire, the Office of Outreach partnered with the Auburn Museum of Natural History to give participants “A Night with the Museum.” On October 15th, participants started by learning from Dr. Jonathan Armbruster, Museum Director, as he gave a short talk on fish defense strategies while families looked at preserved puffer fish, swordfish, piranha, bowfin, and pleco fish. Curtis Hansen, Plants Collection Manager, followed with a lesson on carnivorous plants. Each family was able to participate in a pitcher plant dissection and analyze the various creatures that fell into the plant. The presentation concluded with Tetrapods Collection Manager David Laurencio teaching about a few different predation strategies of Alabama’s native snakes’ with the Museum’s live Eastern indigo snake, Eastern coachwhip, and grey rat snake.

The next event featured the Department of Physics’ Dr. Dennis Bodewits on November 12th. Dr. Bodewits taught families and an entire pack of Cub Scouts about comets from a giant inflatable projector screen. The students then had the opportunity to make their own comets out of dirt, organic materials like syrup, and dry ice. The students weighed their comets and watched in amazement as the dry ice sublimated. Lamps and hair dryers modelled solar radiation and winds that comets are exposed to in space. The students also enjoyed looking at a 3D-printed model comet Dr. Bodewits brought for display.

Outreach efforts have been difficult to plan as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Office of Outreach has had to think creatively about how to engage the community virtually and plan in-person events that maximize the safety of all involved. Spring and summer saw the cancellation of much loved annual events such as Spring into Science and Science Matters camps. The Natural History Museum’s education and outreach efforts have also taken a hit. Toni Bruner, Education and Outreach Coordinator for the museum, explains, they unfortunately had to cancel their two-week summer camp and several educators’ workshops. They also have not been able to resume their normal facility tours. Thus, when COSAM Campfire organizer and Assistant Director of the Office of Outreach, Dr. Veronica Morin, approached Bruner, Bodewits, and Morgan Beadles, Arboretum Director, with this idea, they were thrilled.

Bruner stated the pandemic has caused outreach event coordinators to think outside the box. “The biggest challenge was how to make an outreach event hands-on while also social-distancing,” she said. At events prior to the pandemic, museum staff would have brought preserved specimens and their education ambassadors – live animals – for children and their parents to hold and pass around. In order to comply with safety guidelines, the event coordinators came up with a creative solution. Each family at the Night with the Museum was seated with their own observation station, a box that contained items that represented the museum collections, magnifying glasses, and activity sheets. Adults and children alike enjoyed them. At both events, holding the Campfire outdoors allowed adequate social distancing and masks were required. Dr. Morin expressed what a joy it was to see families participating in STEM activities again. The pandemic has caused disruptions in all industries, including STEM outreach, but those involved in COSAM Campfires show that with creative problem solving and extreme caution, families can continue to enjoy education events safely.

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