Tuesday, May 6, 2014 For Immediate Release

Understanding Biodiversity and Connecting Content with Art: MITS Professional Development Seminar Explores the Natural History of New England Ants and How the Art of Shadow Puppetry Can be Used to Assess Scientific Content Understanding

On April 17, the Museum Institute for Teaching Science (MITS) hosted its last Professional Development Seminar of 2014. Forty-five formal and informal educators gathered at Clark University for one final chance before the busy spring and summer season to learn new content and teaching approaches. The topics for the day included and exploration of the natural history of New England Ants and ways that educators can use shadow puppets to enhance theirscience curriculum.   The workshop started with an extremely relevant and engaging session by Dr. Aaron Ellison from Harvard Forest on the study of New England ants as 4/17 PDS2indicators of biodiversity. Dr. Ellison’s presentation introduced participants to the fascinating life cycle, natural history, and myths of ants. Participants learned a variety of ways to identify our local ant species and how their newfound identification skills can help support research scientists through local level data collection from ants found in schoolyards and backyards. What was highly surprising to many participants was the fact that although ants are one of the most common insects to interact with humans they also represent a group of insects in which New England data is sparse. Dr. Ellison is hoping to change that fact by expanding his own research on ants and inviting many others to join in his quest to uncover the mystery of ant biodiversity in New England. Additionally, Dr. Ellison shared with participants various methods for collecting and preserving ants and his recent publication A Field Guide to the Ants of New England (2012), the first field guide of its kind that highlights our local ant biodiversity. Participants walked away from their time with Aaron with a newfound sense of wonder and appreciation for the tiny creatures found right in our own backyards.

4/17 PDS5Taking all of the knowledge that was learned about ants in the morning, the afternoon session, facilitated by Meredyth Babcock of Marmalade Productions, focused on how the art of puppetry can be used to assess and document student learning in science. Meredyth guided participants through a discussion on the benefits of using shadow puppetry to enhance science education and shared some of her own experiences around art and science integration. After showing everyone a few examples of how shadow puppets can be used both for both art process skills and scientific understanding she guided everyone in the creation of their own ant puppets and mini shadow puppet production. Using nothing more than scissors, card stock and wooden dowels Meredyth walked participants through the process of making their own shadow puppets and how to develop a storyline about ants. It was truly a fun and lively experience watching all of the participants succeed in creating their puppets and putting on their puppet shows. After the final performance Meredyth facilitated a rich discussion about additional ways that educators can use art to not only support science content knowledge, but also help develop a sense of community among young people. Equipped with newfound knowledge about ants and with shadow puppets in hand each participant went home inspired. It truly was a Professional Development Seminar to remember!

MITS Professional Development Seminars (PDS) are designed for staff, volunteers and other professionals from science, technology, engineering, history and cultural institutions in New England.  The PDS series provides content and teaching resources as well as networking opportunities for professionals in informal education settings.  Each PDS is a full-day session, divided into 2 segments.  The mornings are spent exploring STEM content areas with scientists and policy makers.  Afternoon sessions are skill-based, focusing on turning real-life science into exciting, inquiry-based, minds-on, hands-on lessons and activities for K-12 students and teachers based on state frameworks.

The Museum Institute for Teaching Science specializes in providing hands-on, minds-on, inquiry-based STEM professional development for formal and informal educators.  For more information, visit www.mits.org
or call 617-328-1515.