Library grant promotes 'informal science learning' for adults

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STEM learning is a popular approach to incorporating science, technology, engineering, and math in school curriculums.

For many adults, our awareness of science is limited to what we gather from the media. We may seldom consider the role science plays in our everyday lives. A need for science education for adults will be addressed by a series of programs at Cloquet Public Library beginning in February.

The library joins two other public libraries in Minnesota and 110 nationwide as recipients of a National Science Foundation grant to promote awareness of science. Informal Science Learning (ISL) will be introduced in these libraries through "Pushing the Limits," developed by California-based Rural Gateways, a project of the National Science Foundation.

Participants in the library's program will read four books by popular authors having a scientific theme. Participants will then meet to discuss each book and view two brief videos: an interview with the author and a mini-documentary that brings the book's science ideas home.

Pushing the Limits believes that science learning can be enjoyable even for those who do not consider themselves as science- or technology-oriented. There are no lectures, experiments, or use of technology devices (though the library has many new technology devices to offer). Instead, participants can expect a relaxed discussion in an informal setting, a "book club meets science café," if you will.

Rather than focusing on specific technical information, the program introduces broader issues centering on four themes: Nature, Connection, Survival, and Knowledge. Each participant will receive a copy of the four books: "When the Killing's Done" by T.C. Boyle, an ecologically themed novel set on the Channel Islands off the coast of California; "Thunderstruck" by Erik Larson, concerning a true-life murder case whose outcome is entwined with the launching of Marconi's wireless telegraph; "Arctic Drift" by Clive Cussler, a thriller bringing global warming and carbon sequestration to the forefront; and "The Land of Painted Caves" by Jean Auel, which illustrates the experimental steps taken by a woman that lead to progress in her pre-historic society.

Coordinating the discussions will be Betsy Dugan, an experienced lab researcher in molecular biology who did post-doctoral work at Johns Hopkins and the University of Michigan. Since moving to Minnesota several years ago, Dugan also received her Master Naturalist certification.

"I am happy to promote science learning in the community," she said. "Pushing the Limits will allow people to expand their interest and curiosity about the science issues impacting our world today."

All four readings address scientific or technologyl issues that are as current as today's headlines. We see this even in two of the books which are set in the historic past: the theme of Larson's non-fiction Thunderstruck is innovation in communication, something we are witnessing almost daily with new technology. And Auel's 2011 novel, drawing from recent discoveries in anthropology and archaeology, presents the author's theory how Homo sapiens' organized memory allowed humankind to push the limits of advancement, a process that continues today.

The upcoming Pushing the Limits program is the first of two phases in Informal Science Learning at the library. The second phase for Cloquet is scheduled for 2018-2019.

Anyone interested in joining Pushing the Limits should contact me at the library at 218-879-1531.