Partner Highlight: Sustainability and Citizen Science at Long Island Children’s Museum

Claire Flynn, STEM Initiatives Program Director, Long Island Children’s Museum
LICM Milkweed garden

In 2017, Long Island Children’s Museum participated in the Sustainability Fellowship program at Arizona State University, which is part of the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability in Science and Technology Museums initiative. The project provides professional development, educational materials, and other resources to help museums integrate sustainability into their program, operations, and community partnerships. Beginning in 2019-2020, NISE Network will partner with Arizona State University to offer a new series of Sustainability Fellowships.

Over 150 museums around the world have already participated in the Sustainability Fellowship program, which brings museum staff together in small groups to learn about and share sustainability science and practices, then develop projects at their own museums. Many of the participants are long-time NISE Network partners.

Through the Sustainability Fellowship program, Long Island Children’s Museum created a Milkweed Garden and offers programming that allows visitors to participate in the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, a citizen science project based at the University of Minnesota. I chose this project because I wanted to create an experience that involved our visitors in citizen science and gave them a way to consider how climate change is affecting our local community.

Work on the project began shortly after our intensive, in-person workshop in April 2017. A few months later, in June 2017, I planted 30 milkweed plants (Red Milkweed, Sullivant’s Milkweed, and Whorled Milkweed) in Our Backyard at the Long Island Children’s Museum.

As part of our summer programming, families are invited to learn about monarch butterflies and the plants that they use for their habitat. A sign posted next to the milkweed garden explains the purpose of the garden, and that scientists at the University of Minnesota will be analyzing the data that we collect.

We measure the amount of rain that has fallen over the past week using a rain gauge, the height of the milkweed plants, and the number of monarchs we find, along with what stage they are in. We also note the presence or absence of aphids on the plants.

 

 

The data we collect are analyzed by scientists at the University of Minnesota to help them understand butterfly migration and to conserve this threatened species. This is a collective effort along with other citizen scientists from all over the United States and Canada as part of the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, developed in 1997 to collect long-term data on larval monarch populations and milkweed habitat in North America.

The children who participate in the program often have a lot of prior knowledge about butterflies and their lifecycle, which allows them to engage fully while they collect data. Parents and children alike are excited to find monarchs at different stages.

 

Our citizen scientists have studied monarch butterflies in LICM’s Milkweed Garden during the summers of 2017 and 2018, and the program will continue in 2019.

Aimee Terzulli, Director of Education at Long Island Children’s Museum, says “The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project was a wonderful addition to our educational programming at LICM.  We often hear squeals of wonder from children investigating their new discoveries. It allows our young visitors to develop skills needed for scientific study that are easily recalled and applied to their learning. As visitors explore the natural world and interact in it, they quickly began to realize they are part of it!”

 

In addition to engaging our museum visitors, the program has been fascinating for museum staff. Many of my colleagues spend time looking at the milkweeds and searching for monarchs, and some have even started to plant milkweeds at home.

Acknowledgements

The Rob and Melani Walton Foundation is the lead sponsor of the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability in Science and Technology Museums program.