Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Each semester exhibits in our museum galleries are integrated into the classwork of courses all around campus. Since the start of 2022, the museum has been visited by 10 sections of Introduction to Earth and Environmental Studies labs for a total of 190 student visitors using museum spaces as a classroom. 

Samuel Taylor, instructor for a lab section of Introduction to Environmental Sciences, brought his students to the museum in February. Taylor believes experiential learning offered by the museums facilitates a better understanding of class concepts. 

“Combining lectures with experiential learning develops lifelong knowledge,” said Taylor. “[My students] have heard the lecture material, they now are experiencing the concepts we discussed, connecting the two.” 

Introduction to Earth and Environmental Sciences lab visit to Museum of Natural History

During Taylor’s class visit, students filled out a worksheet about the food webs in different ecosystems, making note of specific energy transfers between species. Iowa Hall’s prairie, marsh, and woodland ecosystem exhibits provide excellent examples of this concept. The prairie exhibit’s tall grass contains a variety of camouflaged insects perched on flowers, while the marsh exhibit contains turtles and crayfish hidden in a small pond. The woodland exhibit displays a variety of fauna, as well as owl pellets, beetles, and a shrew. Many details in these exhibits are easily missed at first glance, rewarding close and careful examination. 

This assignment aimed to help students understand the function of biodiversity, ecosystems, and food webs. According to Taylor, understanding the intricacies of these concepts is difficult without visual learning. The museum provides static images of these environments in every season, allowing them to learn despite the snowy weather. 

“Moving from forest, marsh, to prairie with minimal effort was incredible for reinforcing what is taught in the classroom,” said Taylor. “Taking all of my students through these separate environments in the real world is just impossible within the timeframe of the class.”

Introduction to Earth and Environmental Sciences lab visit to Museum of Natural History

This is one of many ways the Museum of Natural History can be of service to instructor's teaching goals and objectives. Pentacrest Museums Visitor Services Coordinator Elizabeth Fouts organizes these visits, serving campus and working with instructors and organizations to arrange visits outside normal museum hours. Fouts also believes in the effectiveness of high-impact learning opportunities provided by the museum.

“[Students] come into Iowa Hall thinking that they are going to have just an ordinary lab/lecture. Then they see the space, get going on [a] worksheet that they use the exhibits to answer,” said Fouts. “At the end of the class, there are a lot of the students that want to come back or are totally blown away that museums are science!” 

Introduction to Earth and Environmental Sciences lab visit to Museum of Natural History

Learn more about scheduling class time in our museum spaces here or by connecting with our Visitor Services Coordinator.

Story by Pentacrest Museums Communications Assistant, Abigail Fowler