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Field Trip Not An Option? Facebook Live Brings Carnegie Museums To The Classroom

Bonnie Isaac held up a piece of cardstock with a leaf glued to it. It was a large-seeded-forget-me-not that was collected in 1995 in Greene County. The botanist said it was the first specimen found in Pennsylvania.

“We considered listing it as rare or endangered, but when we started looking around we thought there’s just too much of it out there so we decided not to list it,” she said. “But it’s a fairly new thing.”

While standing in one of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s back rooms, a spot the public rarely sees, Isaac spoke to a cellphone mounted on a tripod. With a cabinet full of plant specimens behind her, Isaac explained her job and briefly detailed just how large the museum’s collection is.  

“It’s home to … 530,000 dried plants from all over the world,” she said.

She was talking to local students and other viewers via Facebook Live, which lets users share videos in real-time. She fielded their questions, handily explaining the special paper used to mount dried plant specimens, called herbarium paper. 

Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Mag Burroughs, a volunteer with the museum, displays a specimen mounted to herbarium paper.

She couldn’t choose which plant was her favorite, but when a Kindergartener from Verona asked how long plants have been around, she had an easy answer.

“A long, long time,” she said. “Before the dinosaurs.”

Kathleen Bodenlos, the museum’s director of marketing, said the idea was inspired by conversations with her daughter who is a teacher in Ohio. Her daughter often complained that her students didn’t get to see museum exhibits because the school didn’t have enough funding for field trips.

Bodenlos said they decided to take their work to the classroom.

“What we’re trying to do with this series is also bring some of the science and some of the hidden collections to people, things they wouldn’t see if they came here on a field trip,” she said. “So even if you are a regular museum attendee and come to all of our events and field trips it would give you a different perspective, as well.”

In addition to Isaac’s presentation, a paleontologist, who studies fossils, and a malacologist, who studies mollusks and snails, have presented their work via Facebook Live. Bodenlos also plans to host a session about the museum’s collection about bird ecology.