The BEES program at the American Museum of Natural History extends learning beyond single day trips
Written by Bobby Panza
What’s better than a full-day field trip to the American Museum of Natural History? The answer: A week-long field trip to the American Museum of Natural History.
Setting foot in AMNH is an experience that constantly takes your breath away. Featuring more than 40 permanent exhibition halls, along with rotating temporary exhibitions and the Haydn Planetarium, the museum now houses the new Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation, which opens in the spring of 2023. The buildings, interconnected by 33 corridors, can overwhelm even the most experienced visitors . It is an intersection between science and society and leaves an indelible impression.
And this month, the museum introduced a new program, Beyond Elementary Explorations in Science (BEES), designed as a week-long experience for public middle school students. BEES offers them a unique opportunity to use the entire AMNH campus as a classroom, and immerse themselves in its wealth of resources. Gone are the days of rushing into cramming every fair and exhibition into one day. BEES is part of the city’s Urban Advantage program, a partnership between New York City public schools and cultural/scientific institutions such as AMNH and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Its curriculum integrates science, mathematics, literacy, and social studies, providing an immersive learning experience.
Grayson Gonzalez draws a diagram of a dung beetle in his blue book, including the thorax and abdomen. The 10-year-old from Bushwick, Brooklyn, is learning about the role insects play in ecosystems with his fifth-grade class PS 376. Earlier he drew a Madagascar cockroach that he named Jamal. It’s Grayson’s second day at the museum for the BEES program, and he couldn’t have had a better time. “I love everything about it,” he told a visiting WSR reporter. “You have to express yourself and what you like.”
Allison Bamaka, also of PS 376, cherishes her favorite bee experience — watching a butterfly emerge from a cocoon in the museum’s butterfly tank. “Their wings were wet, so beautiful,” she recalls before re-engaging in the pollination board game during lunch. Bamaka says she appreciates the fun activities and collaborative environment, which connects her with classmates she doesn’t normally interact with at school. Her ambition? To become a teacher one day.
Teachers invest many hours working with AMNH staff before taking BEES trips, blending classroom concepts with museum experiences. Perla Vargas, fifth-grade teacher at PS 376, has noticed her students’ increased engagement, and credits the museum’s dynamic activities and diverse investigations with fostering that enthusiasm. No longer confined to desks for long periods, students learn collaboratively while exploring diverse activities. “And then they learn from each other, too,” Vargas says.
After lunch, BEES faced a math problem related to the abstract beehive display downstairs in the Gilder Center’s Insect Gallery.
Back in the Gilder Center classroom, Grayson Gonzalez demonstrated his solution using a black magic marker borrowed from Jake, one of the AMNH teachers. He easily determined the width of the beehive to be 15 feet. Jake expressed great pride in Grayson’s athletic prowess and altruistic nature. “Oh, so proud,” Jake said. “And I know he’s very proud. He’s a mathematician. He loves helping others.”
When the bees were told to start packing, a collective sigh filled the room. Leaving the museum was a reluctant departure. Fortunately, they had three more days.
Funded by the City Council and the Mayor’s Office, the Urban Advantage program provides participating teachers with a selection of science equipment for their classrooms. In addition, BEES students receive free vouchers for future family visits, allowing them to guide their families on exploratory tours of the museum.
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