We’re been running a number of different new courses this calendar year to explore various ways to engage youth with science visualization – both the science practices used by Museum scientists across the disciplines and and products produced by those practices. This week, during the NYC school break, we are offering our latest – Visualizing Science: Finding Flamingos.
This is a course about conservation biology- its history, its philosophy, and the modern methods scientists use to study it. Science visualizations, particularly mapping and predictions software, are integral to the study and protection of endangered species and habitats. In particular, youth are focusing on the endangered species of flamingos which inhabit the high-elevation salt marshes of Chile. Students are working side-by-side with Museum scientists (in our Center for Biodiversity and Conservation) to learn about the process of conservation biology research and science visualization and then design an experience to teach these concepts to the public.
To support this program, we worked with CBC to develop an innovative instructional tool – a touch table interface that allows users to access flamingo research data through a G.I.S. interface (think Google Maps). Youth will use this touch table to choose variables (climate, soil, water, land cover) to model the flamingos geographic distribution. A map of their model will appear, and students will touch different parts of the map to zoom in to a photograph of the actual habitat (ground truthing), revealing whether the animal in question was actually there and, more importantly, if the habitat prediction was accurate. If not, students will learn about the threats to biodiversity in the area (such as deforestation, hunting, mining, climate change).
By the end of the week, the youth will learn how scientists predict the distribution of species in geographic space, and why these visualizations are so important to inform the conservation of species that are endangered with extinction. At the same time, we will advance our understanding of how to develop science visualization courses that leverage the rich assets across the Museum.
Now that the project has concluded, I wanted to share some photos from the final presentation, in which the youth created five interactive stations to share what they learned during the week, plus a sixth one at the touch table. You can see all the photos here.