“Do you think that this is relevant?”
“Yeah, this is going to look amazing!”
“Every teenager likes stuff like this!”
This type of conversation happened often among members of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History’s Youth Advisory Board (YAB). Tasked with bringing the teen perspective to the planning of NMNH educational experiences, Camila Moscoso, Diego Jauregui, Mario Oreillana, Olivia Persons, Jasmine Jackson, and Facundo Severi met weekly between February and September 2012 to learn about how people learn in informal learning settings, and applying that to creating and advising on ways NMNH can better serve its growing teen audience. Their biggest accomplishment was a museum-wide teen scavenger hunt, the Adapt or Die! EvoTrek this past August.
The EvoTrek was a pilot project that the YAB conceived of and executed, along with NMNH Education and Outreach staff, in just one month. What made this event unique is that it took learning outside of the box by engaging teens to learn about evolution through interactive challenges, tricky puzzles, and exciting photo ops. Participating local teens formed teams with their friends and competed for prizes, such as an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of any Smithsonian museum. The event culminated with an all-team competition to create supercreature species that they felt could survive better than others. In a silent auction, each team bid on adaptive traits suited for survival in a dry, arid climate to build their supercreatures and convince judges that theirs was the best adapted. The event was a hit, with all of the participating teens saying they would love to participate in future events like this.
Four of the current YAB members are graduates of the NMNH Youth Engagement through Science (YES!) program, which is aimed at giving local teens an opportunity to engage in real world science and research by collaborating with NMNH staff scientists, while the other two members previously worked on a project with the Marian Koshland Science Museum. The knowledge that they drew from these previous experiences made this year’s YAB a strong group of teens whose insights are invaluable to NMNH staff and their work.
With their last meeting in September, the YAB’s departure on a consistent basis from NMNH is already being felt, but their work will be present in the museum for a very long time. The feedback they provided the past few months has been extremely helpful in shaping future teen experiences at NMNH.