Programs, those involved say, are fueled by necessity — a scarcity of arts and science educators.
You don’t typically expect to go to a museum and come out with a degree in higher education. But the American Museum of Natural History now offers a master of arts in teaching and a Ph.D. in comparative biology.
“Many of the most important issues of the day have science as a foundation,” says Ellen V. Futter, the museum’s president. “There’s a real need for a public understanding of these issues and, as a result, a stronger need for more scientists.”
The programs are part of a larger transformation in the role of museums around the country; education is not just about field trips anymore.
The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago has a teacher development program. The Wildlife Conservation Society — the umbrella group of institutions in New York that includes the Bronx Zoo and the New York Aquarium — offers a master of arts in teaching in the biological sciences and a master of arts in biology.
And last year Lincoln Center joined with Hunter College and the New York City Department of Education to train and certify arts teachers in city schools.
“A national problem”
These programs, those involved say, are fueled by necessity — a scarcity of arts and science educators. “It’s a national problem,” says David R. Mosena, the Museum of Science and Industry’s president and chief executive. “There’s not enough kids going into these careers and a need for a science-literate workforce.”
The museum teaches inquiry-based science to middle-school teachers who don’t have a background in science. Since starting its programs in 2006, the school has trained nearly 1,000 teachers. All the money to pay for it is raised privately — $3 million to $4 million a year.
The museum also offers an after-school science learning program in conjunction with 130 partners in Chicago’s poor neighborhoods. And a program for families gives 200 children in-depth science learning at the museum.
“Our ulterior motive is to expose them to science and the careers and get them excited about it and hopefully inspire them to go into those fields,” Mosena says.
“It makes the institution a proactive education that is not just a passive place people come to but goes out into the community,” he adds. “It leverages the institution.”
The American Museum of Natural History’s degrees, authorized by the New York state Board of Regents, are administered by the Richard Gilder Graduate School, part of the museum. Both the Ph.D. in comparative biology and the master’s, which focuses on teaching earth science, are fully funded and offered at no charge to students. Both programs provide full scholarships and stipends to all who are admitted.
The teacher candidates in the master’s program are taught by educators and scientists tackling current research questions, drawing on the museum’s 33 million specimens and objects. The program is meant to address the shortage of qualified teachers, particularly in underserved neighborhoods.
“There is an acute need for better-trained science teachers,” Futter says, “especially in the earth sciences, where something like 40 percent of those teaching earth science in New York City have not been certified.”
During the Wildlife Conservation Society program’s first two years, 45 graduate students have enrolled, including teachers, environmental educators and a number of the society’s staff members.
Participants must attend courses on site at one of the Conservation Society’s facilities, as well as take Web-based courses through Miami University in Ohio. Tuition and fees are about $3,500 a year.
In 2007, the society created its Online Teacher Academy, workshops and graduate courses offered through its website that introduce educators to life science content, teaching methods, new technology and the use of science resources (zoos, aquariums, museums and the like). The academy has so far served nearly 3,000 teachers and supported about 87,000 students.
In October, the Phillips Collection joined forces with the University of Maryland to expand its education programs, which will also allow the university to increase its arts programs.