It’s a late Wednesday morning and these three high school students from Meriden should be hunkered down in the classroom. But here they are, jammed around a digital monitor at the Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, fingers hovering over the touchscreen display that morphs scorpions and other critters through evolutionary time.
“Oh, wow,” says Alexis Rivera, 16, neck craning and eyes fixed to the screen. “This is crazy.”
Rivera was among 40 biology students from Orville H. Platt High School who fanned across the museum last week for a field trip on biodiversity, peering at ecological dioramas and touching interactive displays. To education experts, this is “informal” or “free-choice” science learning, which means it’s happening outside of school.
“When we’re in class, we can say, ‘Do you know that bird, the so-and-so?'” says Walt Zientek, the school’s special-education teacher for science. He is standing in the dimmed exhibit hall on Connecticut birds as his students weave their way through the museum’s three floors.