By Mary Alice Hartsock, Photos by Mike Servedio
There are at least 50 children in the Art of Science Gallery, all wide eyed and definitely not using their inside voices. The hall is practically vibrating with their energy, and Academy educator Cindy Geiger-Jenkins is unfazed.
“This is nothing,” she says, gesturing toward the crowd as she gently shifts an acrobatic spiny-tailed lizard back into his container. She is managing the Cart of Curiosity, answering questions, sharing artifacts, watching sticky fingers, and handling animals all at the same time.
Cindy’s day started with a trip into the Academy’s Live Animal Collection, where she chose animals to introduce to the day’s guests. After signing the animals out of the collection and making notes on any behavioral issues to watch out for, she packed them into travel enclosures. With the animals and an armload of supplies and artifacts, she pushed a heavy Cart of Curiosity onto the floor of the museum.
The Academy’s Carts of Curiosity allow visitors to have up-close encounters with live animals, research, and technology. Equipped with microscopes, cameras, and computers, the carts enable our educators to make science larger than life. Visitors gravitate toward magnified images of animals and specimens on the sizable overhead screens. During the run of Reptiles: The Beautiful and the Deadly, the Carts of Curiosity feature reptiles even more than before!
Today, Cindy has the overhead microscope camera trained on the scales of the 10-year-old spiny-tailed lizard so that young visitors can see a close-up of those scales on a huge computer screen. At the same time, she has to make sure that the camera angle is just right, because the spiny-tailed lizard will challenge his reflection if he catches a glimpse of himself. Cindy has studied fact sheets, she knows her audience, and she enumerates spiny-tailed lizard details faster than I can write them down. She has brought along touchable artifacts for the kids to touch and inspect.
Standing behind the cart with her, I can’t believe how much she’s handling all at once. As Cindy is explaining what the lizard eats, visitors are trying to step into the staff space behind the cart to take pictures, kids are reaching toward the artifacts, and the lizard is climbing out of his plastic container, over and over and over. But she doesn’t miss a beat. And she catches the attention of even the most distracted schoolchildren.
This is what’s so great about Cindy, and so many other educators here at the Academy, at least in my humble opinion. They are smart, and they know what you, our visitors, want to know. They are more than happy to answer your questions, and if they don’t know the answers they will do everything they can to find out for you.
Have you stopped by a Cart of Curiosity in the museum lately? The live reptile Cart of Curiosity runs every Tuesday morning and for one day each weekend. You can call the museum at 215-299-1000 for more details. Other Carts of Curiosity are located throughout the museum every day. Reptiles: The Beautiful and the Deadly is open through January 10, 2016. Visit today!
The Academy’s Carts of Curiosity are made possible thanks to a generous grant from the Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation.