Thompson Hall renovation plans were under consideration. A commit-
tee was formed, and after a year of research, suggestions were made.
The first recommendation was to keep the museum and make it
more visible, and the other was to increase the amount of education and
outreach that goes on through here,”Wimberger said.
With that decision, Slater became teacher to thousands of Tacoma-
area school children—2,572 of them since the fall of 2011. The outreach
has been received with open arms.
Colette McInerney Babson ’79, a teacher at Jennie Reed, has invited
the program into her classroom for the last two years. “My kids are
always so fascinated,” Babson says. “It’s really powerful.”
And a great resource for teachers tight on budget and time. “A lot
of schools don’t have the money for field trips,”Wimberger says. “Some
teachers were lamenting how they couldn’t get outside. Some didn’t
feel comfortable leading the class on outdoor field trips. So we tried to
develop something that was a field-trip-in-a-box. The first part is prac-
ticing observational skills without them going outside. We give them
objects and ask them to describe these things.”
Many of the students Krauszer teaches have had only limited expo-
sure to the natural environment. Some have never been to the beach,
seen the Puget Sound, or touched a starfish. At a time when children are
more and more removed from nature because of computers and TV, the
field-trip-in-a-box helps make what they
see outdoors more mean-
ingful. And it’s not just for local public school teachers. A mother of a
Puget Sound student drove from her home in Salem, Ore., to pick up a
kit for use with her class. (The kits are offered without charge.) A UPS
grad borrowed some kits to use for teaching in a YMCA after-school
Babson’s eager fourth-graders greet Krauszer with a chorus of “Good
morning, Miss Mary.” One by one, she hands each student a preserved
bird from the Slater collection. There are ooohs and aaahs as she distrib-
utes sparrows, ducks, owls, hawks, hummingbirds, crows, and gulls.
Most people don’t let kids hold stuff from museums,” Conzuelo
says. “Usually you look at it through glass. This is great!”
We need to act as careful scientists,” Krauszer tells them. “These
specimens are very fragile and not easily replaced.” To stroke the feath-
ers, she tells them to softly use the backs of two fingers. After the han-
dling instructions, Krauszer then asks the students—or, as she refers to
them, “naturalists”—questions about their birds.
What can you tell me about your bird’s beak?” she asks.
Rather than lecture, she encourages the children to make their own
observations and record them in journals they’ve been keeping.
One student raises his hand. “Is this a Mallard Duck?” he asks.
Smiling, Krauszer answers, “We’re just getting started with our
research. Do you think I’m going to tell you that this early in the
Shaking their heads, everyone in the classroom says, “Nooooo.”
The investigation continues with excitement. Krauszer asks the stu-
dents to examine the shape of their birds’ beaks and think about them
as tools—a nutcracker, say, or a spear. From these observations the stu-
dents make predictions about the natural history of their birds—where
they lived and what they ate—before finally learning the identity of
their specimens.
Each of the three lessons is designed to maximize inquiry, saving
the “answers” for the end and allowing the students to be curious
scientists, working on their own individual mystery for as long as
Five years ago, Puget Sound got the start-up money for the program
from an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant. Wimberger
used part of the $140,000 to put together a curriculum and bounced
a pilot program off some public school teachers, getting their insights.
The college also received donations from the Wells Fargo Founda-
tion and the Mortenson Family Foundation to develop more kits and
The Slater staff has been assessing, before and after the lessons, the
students’ observation, description, and reasoned-hypothesis abilities.
They are noting a huge jump in these skills, all of which are practiced
by “real” scientists and encouraged in the Washington State Science
Standards for the grade levels that are using the teaching kits.
Gail Wood ’79
The Nature in the Classroom kits are described in detail at www.
nature-in-the-classroom. If you are a fourth- or fifth-grade teacher
and are interested in bringing a presentation to your school, con-
tact Mary Krauszer ’12, Slater Museum education and outreach
coordinator, at
or 253-879-3356.
Ariel Mitchell, a fourth-grader in the class of Colette Babson
gets a close look at a male Anna’s Hummingbird.