Tai Montanarella is the Marian S. Heiskell Associate Director of School and Out‑of‑School Programs at The New York Botanical Garden.
In 2020, Con Edison gave generously to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education programs that inspire students to imagine, invent, and engineer. This year was no different, except that due to the pandemic, it required the ingenuity of the nine cultural institutions across the city who participate in Con Ed STEM Days Out to reimagine and reinvent ways to engage students in authentic science from a distance.
Since 2015, Con Ed STEM Days Out has funded programming that takes place on the first Wednesday of each month, providing experiences in STEM to middle school students. In former years, students would have trekked through the Garden’s 50-Acre Thain Family Forest to survey and measure water quality of the Bronx River during a Citizen Science field investigation offered through GreenSchool.
This year, more than 400 students from local schools, St. Simon Stock School, and Pelham Academy of Academics and Community Engagement, are taking a step back in time to explore the unique biomes created inside the 117-year-old, glass-and-steel Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. By studying historical images and following the recent restoration of this New York City Landmark through video, students will build understandings about the balance of glass, wood, and metal and the ways these materials are engineered to provide the perfect amount of heat and moisture that allow plants to grow and survive thousands of miles from their natural habitats.
Students will apply their learning by designing a closed system for growing a mystery plant based on its observable features. They will think like scientists as they explain their thinking about how a terrarium is like Earth—whether as large as a crystal palace or as small as the clear plastic take-out container they build themselves.
In-person or online, Children’s Education investigations are planned for three-dimensional learning experiences for the Next Generation Science Standards by allowing students phenomena-based opportunities to make sense of their world and engage in the same practices that scientists and engineers do. GreenSchool workshops support NYC Science Scope and Sequence, the NY State Science Core Curriculum, and the Next Generation Science Standards.
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