Modern society benefits when people understand science concepts. This knowledge helps explain how cryptocurrency works, why climate change is happening or how the coronavirus is transmitted from person to person.
Yet the average American spends less than 5 percent of their lifetime in classrooms learning about such topics. So, besides school, where else can people go to study and explore science?
Visitors to national parks dramatically increased over the past two years as the pandemic inspired people to go outside and enjoy nature more regularly. However, people often don't realize that many parks offer lecture series, nature walks and interactive science learning opportunities for those interested in adding an extra layer of scientific and environmental knowledge to their outdoor experience.
For those who don't wish to venture into the great outdoors, the National Parks Service has a variety of online resources, such as virtual park visits and webcams that present real-time views of weather, dramatic scenery, wildlife and more.
Biological field stations are usually associated with universities or other research institutions. While scientific and environmental research is the primary focus, many field stations provide programs for adult learners, as well as opportunities to interact directly with scientists.
Field stations tend to be in more rural areas, where there are fewer zoos, museums, aquariums and other science-learning venues. Yet nearly 80 percent of the U.S. population lives within an hour's drive of a biological field station. This map can help you identify one near you.
The W.K. Kellogg Biological Station in Michigan has a bird sanctuary that offers adult courses on botany, ornithology and nature drawing, as well as volunteer opportunities. There's also a dairy center that hosts open-house events where visitors can learn about cutting-edge dairy management and research.
For learners who want to get involved in the scientific process, engage in a longer-term experience or participate as a family, Mohonk Preserve in upstate New York enlists volunteers to monitor bird activity and habitats, record the seasonal changes in plants and engage in other activities.
4. Marine Labs
Marine laboratories are similar to biological field stations but are typically located on coasts or other water bodies.
In Alaska, the Behind the Scenes program provides adults a look at the skills and science of running the Sitka Sound Science Center, like monitoring the genetic interaction of wild and hatchery salmon. Its feature event, the Sitka WhaleFest, includes wildlife cruises guided by scientists, science lectures and storytelling. For learners worldwide, the center hosts a podcast and offers recorded lessons on how to say the names of local animals in Tlingit, the language of the Sitka tribe.