At the Harvard Museum of Natural History, Rindge Avenue Upper School students got a taste of life before them. Yvonne Salazar and Kemani Holder checked out a Kronosaurus (photo 1), while gallery guide Curt Smith talked other dinosaurs with Teesa Manandhar and Larisa Cay (photo 2). “HMNH is all about kids” in local schools, said Rindge teacher David Suchy (photo 3), who helped out Nafisa Farah (from left), Salazar, and Cay.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

A museum as school lab

3 min read

Cambridge sixth-graders flock to Harvard to learn about natural history

Hundreds of Cambridge sixth-graders flocked to the Harvard Museum of Natural History (HMNH) last week, exploring what Wendy Derjue-Holzer, the museum’s education director, called the great “lab” of Cambridge Public Schools.

While preparing a 12-week geology unit for the city’s sixth-graders, public school officials enhanced the in-class curriculum by collaborating with the HMNH to build a broad-based program.

“The fossil sets we had in the classroom last year — little shells — just couldn’t compare to the large fossils here,” said David Suchy, a science teacher at Rindge Avenue Upper School. “There’s content, and then there’s inspiring kids to want to learn. Those big, inspiring fossils are right here at the museum.”

Museum staff and school officials built a day of programming that included an hour-long class on New England’s prehistoric past, exploring the galleries, and closely examining fossils from the Cambrian and Triassic eras and the Pleistocene epoch.

“HMNH is all about kids” in local schools, Suchy added. “It couldn’t be a better relationship. They’re very accommodating and always on board to help.”

For Derjue-Holzer, the opportunity to bring classes into the museum is an opportunity to make strides in student learning.

“The museum really is a lab for the schools,” she said. “When you’re here with your family, you’re here to explore. When you come with your class, you are coming here with a learning agenda. There are specific things that the museum, the teachers, and the schools want students to take away from the experience.

“And obviously, they don’t have a Kronosaurus at their school,” she added with a smile, referring to the museum’s 42-foot-long prehistoric marine reptile, the only mounted example of its kind in the world.

HMNH provides a wide range of options for educators, including classes for grades K-12, self-guided visits, after-school visits, and tailor-made programs.

About 35,000 students and teachers visit the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture, which includes the HMNH, each year.

“When they came to us, it meant that the museum was creating something that was really useful to them,” Derjue-Holzer said. “I’m a former teacher, so I know the school side of things. And for me, it’s really important for it to fit very closely with that curriculum. It’s wonderful to be able to work” with the Cambridge schools “to provide content for a very clear, curriculum-based purpose.”

To learn more about additional partnerships Harvard has with local schools, visit Harvard Community Connections on the Web.