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New Partnership Brings Climate Science to Schools, Communities


Fairbanks, Alaska-Three of Alaska's leading informal science education institutions are joining forces for a new program that will tell the story of climate change in Alaska.

The Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, the Anchorage Museum and the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks are partnering to develop in-house exhibits for visitors and traveling outreach programs for rural school districts. The program is funded by a $980,000 NASA grant.

"Alaska is the bellwether for climate change. This funding will help us make current climate change research more accessible, understandable and engaging for audiences ranging from schoolchildren in rural Alaska to international visitors of all ages," said UA Museum education director Laura Conner, who developed the collaboration concept.

The three-year project uses Magic Planets - globe-like screens with images projected from the inside - to show how arctic systems are connected to the rest of the planet.

"The Magic Planet systems give us a way to connect ideas and present concepts in ways you can't on a flat surface or on a computer screen," Conner said. "We'll be able to make very visual connections between different scientific data sets to show what's really happening in the Arctic."

During the first year of the grant, the partners will develop content for the Magic Planet systems and activities for the traveling outreach program and presentations in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Kenai. Each of the partners will draw on their strengths to develop program components, which will then be shared.

The UA Museum will work with University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers to produce content for the Magic Planets. NASA satellite images and digital animations will show how different regions of the world have warmed over the last 50 years and how those changes affect things like sea ice, vegetation patterns and animal migrations, insect outbreaks and ocean currents.

In Kenai, the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska staff will develop curricula and activities to complement the digital globe presentations, as well as prepare students for the presentations and help them help them build on what they learned. All of the activities will be aligned to the state's educational standards in Earth science and/or physical sciences.

"This program will help fill a need for science education and enrichment in rural Alaska," said Marnie Olcott, chief operating officer at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska. "The Magic Planet platform, combined with interactive classroom activities, will make science real and relevant. We can show the students why it's important to continue their science education and how they can build careers in science, technology, engineering and math - all fields necessary to our nation's global success."

The Anchorage Museum's Imaginarium Discovery Center will develop activities for community science nights, which will be presented in conjunction with the traveling school tour programs. Tabletop exhibits, presentations and hands-on activities will give families and community members the opportunity to explore the effects of climate change. Program staff members will work with tribal village councils, teachers, local agencies and other organizations to develop a list of climate change topics that are most relevant to each community.

During the second and third years of the grant, each partner organization will take the program to several school districts throughout the state, using smaller, more portable Magic Planet systems. In some school districts, outreach will include visits to several communities.

The project is funded through NASA's Competitive Program for Science Museums and Planetariums, which provides NASA-inspired space, science, technology, engineering or mathematics educational opportunities, particularly to historically underserved populations. Out of 67 applicants, nine proposals were selected for funding this year.
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