Editor’s Note: This article was originally written by Alexis Forde, Gabby Jorio and Mallery Rockwell for Ithaca Week, an Ithaca College student publication. It is republished with permission.

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ITHACA, NY – The Museum of the Earth held their annual commemoration of Charles Darwin, known as Darwin Days, Feb. 8–13. The annual event is meant to stimulate curiosity about biology and evolution among the Ithaca community.

Darwin Days is open to all ages, and the activities are catered to accommodate everyone. Robert Ross, the associate director for outreach at the Paleontological Research Institution and its Museum of the Earth said, “We choose a variety of events so that they are appropriate for a variety of audiences.”

Family Day was one of the more popular events held at the museum. Families with children gathered on Feb. 13 to engage in various activities meant to educate and peak interest about Darwin’s life and theories. Through activities like arts and crafts, and scavenger hunts, children are able to explore science in an enjoyable way.

The Paleontological Research Institution’s Museum of the Earth was established in 2003 as a public, educational space. One of the museum’s goals is to use interactive displays, exhibitions, and activities to educate its visitors. Ross said, “I think the biggest impact we would have is to send the kids away interested in organisms and animals and plants, and everything else and to be aware of the idea that different kinds of organisms are related to each other…”

The theme for this year’s Darwin Days was the tree of life. The theme was chosen because the Museum of the Earth is working with a variety of other educational  institutions to build a website called The Tree Room, that will explore how trees can be used to explain how organisms are connected. The Museum of the Earth also currently has a temporary exhibit about trees that educates visitors about how trees are crucial to the environment.

Some of the other activities at the museum included making animal mobiles and connecting pictures of species on a tree drawn on a whiteboard, showing that animals, insects and humans are all connected.

“We’re just going to throw pictures up there and we’re going to make these weird connections, but the whole idea behind what we’re talking about is that we’re all connected: we as well as the insects, as well as the trees, all eventually come together in one connection,” said Maureen Bickley, the museum education manager at the Paleontological Research Institution.

She then said that Darwin Days serves as a learning step for children to immerse themselves in science in a fun and interesting way.

“My philosophy in teaching is that it is a stairway and you can’t be on the fourth step unless you’ve taken the first three.”

Bickley also expressed how she hopes the activities at this event will change the minds of children who may already have a negative view of science.

“Maybe they’ll think back and say ‘God, making that cookie was so much fun,’ and so they’ll sit down and listen to whatever it is that you know the biology teacher is saying later on.”

Some of the children at the museum for Darwin Days Family Day didn’t need help getting involved with science at all. There were a few of them who were museum regulars that just wanted to come out to support this event because they really enjoy the museum, as Rebekah Coleman-Brahler, a mother who brought her children to Darwin Days, explained.

“We’re here a lot and so we always like to try to come out and support the events, because they do such a great job with all the activities for kids and we live really close so it was just a great place to come and hangout.”

Robert Ross and Maureen Bickley gather at a table at Family Day.

As much as this day was for the visitors of the museum and their children, many of the people helping out with the event on this day said they benefited as well. The young and the old were both able to take something away from Family Day, all relating to science, Alana McGillis, assistant to the director of the Museum of the Earth, said.

“I just love education and earth science. I studied last year, majored in geology and now I get to be here and be a part of it, so it’s fun to watch people’s faces as they like go around and explore and figure out how cool the past is.”

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