Monday, January 25, 2010

CSTL Helps a New Generation of Scientists Find Their Way

When I entered the Amazing Animals room at the Center for Science Teaching and Learning (CTSL) on Saturday, Buddy the Macaw perked his head up in interest. Though he'd been greeting visitors all day, he appeared as excited to meet me as I was to meet him. "Hello!" he squawked, unfolding his wings to show me his magnificent yellow underside. He darted from side to side on his perch, and leaned in to better inspect me. He turned around to show me his brilliant turquoise back. And then cocked his head to the side as if waiting to see what I thought of his little show. His curiosity is fitting as this is a science center.

[Above: Buddy the Macaw poses for a picture.]

Located in Rockville Centre, NY, the CSTL sits on Tanglewood Preserve, a 17-acre nature preserve featuring ponds, streams, nature trails, as well as local pieces of history, such as the last remaining ice house on the South Shore. Directors Ray Ann Havasy and  Eric Patysiak have carefully planned exhibits and group activities to help stimulate discussion and excitement about science. As former teachers they were alarmed at the low levels of science literacy they encountered in both children and adults, and formed the CSTL to help make science accessible to persons of all ages. The results are carefully planned programs that highlight the sciences, anthropology and paleontology, conservation, and history. In addition to meeting Buddy, visitors can also view and learn about several reptiles, including snakes, lizards, and caimans. Amazing Animals also includes an outdoor display where visitors can view owls and a hawk—both species were once plentiful in the area and provide a potential platform to discuss development and conservation. Children also have the opportunity to be paleontologists and unearth dinosaur bones in the Dino Dig activity. The CSTL Science Lab allows them to examine fossils and take part in many other hands-on activities.  [Right: Father and son look at a resident hawk at the CSTL.]

[Above: The Fossil Station in the Science Lab.]

The CSTL provides fantastic opportunities to get interested in science. During my visit, there were many families with young children investigating the grounds. Much of the CSTL is self-guided, unless you schedule a group visit in advance and arrange for program facilitation.Though self-guidance allows visitors to explore at their own pace. I watched as a a family made their way through the Amazing Animals display, the parents read the information cards and supplementing their youngsters' exclamations with tidbits of information—eliciting more exclamations. It was exciting to see families engaged in this way. And no visit to the CSTL would be complete without a final visit to Lexus, a retired police horse, who quite docilely accepts cookies from visitors.  However, the CSTL isn't just a place to learn about science, it's a place where people are encouraged to share their passion for science and history with others. Volunteers in all areas are most welcome. To schedule a visit or learn how you can help, visit to learn more. And if you see Buddy, tell him I said hello.

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