Museum to unveil interactive program to spice up its telecasts

The University’s Bell Museum of Natural History will not unveil its newest live interactive education program until next October, but work on the one-hour broadcast has already begun.
The program, in which the interaction of animals, fish and other organisms in aquatic ecosystems are studied, will be the latest in the award-winning “Bell LIVE!” series, a distance learning project that the museum has produced for the last three years. By using interactive technology, students can participate and ask questions via telephone, fax or e-mail from anywhere in the state and across the country.
The program is aimed at students from fourth through ninth grades and is broadcast to schools, museums and nature centers that subscribe to the program. Last year, the program was shown at 70 sites across the nation.
“What ‘Bell LIVE!’ is trying to do is take kids behind the scenes (of) research places and show them that anybody can go into science,” said Amy Theisen, director of distance learning education at the Bell Museum, and executive producer of the program. Theisen said engaging students in and exciting students about environmental science is the goal of the program.
The Bell Museum staff, composed of public educators and University professors, is in charge of writing and designing the content of the programs. Conus Communications, a division of Hubbard Broadcasting, arranges the satellite connections and cameras and also oversees other technical aspects of the show.
During the live broadcasts, which are performed three times during a scheduled day each October, scientists perform experiments for students to observe. For example, during last year’s program, “Fire and the Forest,” researchers burned three one-acre plots at the University’s Cloquet Forestry Center in northern Minnesota to demonstrate how fire rids forests of dead material, and encourages new growth.
“It is unpredictable, and that’s what is fascinating. You don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Dede Barnum, producer of “Bell LIVE!” and a 1977 University graduate.
The scientists then answer students’ questions, making the program a highly engaging learning activity, Theisen said.
“Science relates to your everyday life,” Theisen said. “(With the program) children get a sense that they are connected to the world, no matter where they happen to live.”
In 1994, the museum produced “Raptors LIVE!,” a program depicting how the University’s Raptor Center takes care of injured birds of prey. In 1995, “World of Wolves” focused on understanding wolves’ behavior and survival.
Each of these programs received awards, most recently “Fire and the Forest,” which gained the United States Distance Learning Association’s first place award for its outstanding role in distance learning education in March.
But perhaps more importantly, the program received acclaim from educators who used the program in their classes.
“It was good educational information for my students,” said Cherokee Rova, a science teacher at Esko High School in northern Minnesota. “We as teachers are always looking for new ways to get the kids interested in the curriculum.”
Some teachers said the fact that the program is broadcast live is crucial to keeping students interested.
“It’s a hands-on activity,” said Jeanne Petermeier, a fifth grade teacher in Monticello, Minn. “Kids are very active (during the program); they see real scientists working.”
As a part of the program, subscribers receive a curriculum packet with educational activities to prepare students and participants for the broadcast.
“What we try to do with this curriculum is to get teachers hands-on activities that lead to sciences standards,” Theisen said.
But teaching science and how the world works are not the only areas the programs focus on.
“We stress safety,” Theisen said. “You can imagine what it is like to do an hour of TV show with unpredictable eagles, wolves and fires.”