Bats to elephant ears
Marjee Chmiel, Arts ’99, Grad ’03, knows how bats find food in the dark.
Thanks to her, students across America learn pretty cool things about bats, crash dummies and elephant ears. Chmiel brings bat science — really many of the experiences of the Smithsonian Institution — to science classrooms in her job as director for curriculum and communications at the Smithsonian Science Education Center.
Chmiel remembers discovering her own fascination with science at age 5, when a neighbor introduced her to dinosaurs. She realized then that the world is more strange and amazing than she could ever imagine. Now she helps teachers create a similar sense of discovery in the classroom by creating curriculum inspired by the Smithsonian. “One of the things we strive to do here, as we’re working with the curriculum, is to think carefully about how scientists and engineers use technology in their day-to-day lives to solve problems,” Chmiel says. “The thing that’s really fun for me is thinking about what that means for a kindergartner or a first-grader.”
That means elementary students are conducting experiments and solving problems caused by erosion using sand tables in the classroom to represent construction sites in Wisconsin. They’re exploring what elephants’ ears reveal about where they live, how bats find food in the dark, and what we learn from a crash test dummy during an impact. “It’s thinking about how to translate that into something visual but still quantitative and start getting students thinking about how technology can be a portal into getting information,” she says. “But the students are really the most important part of that system of tools because they’re the decision-makers and the thinkers.” — Lauren Brown, student-intern