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Teaching Science to the General Public Mission of the Wagner Free Institute of Science Wagner Free Institute of Science, 1700 W. Montgomery Ave., Philadelphia, PA Chartered in 1855 “Science education should be available to everyone” Branch No. 1 of the Free Library of Philadelphia (1892)

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Teaching Science to the General Public

Mission of the Wagner Free Institute of Science

Wagner Free Institute of Science, 1700 W. Montgomery Ave., Philadelphia, PA

  • Chartered in 1855

  • “Science education should be available to everyone”

  • Branch No. 1 of the Free Library of Philadelphia (1892)

  • Museum of natural history specimens

  • Scientific Society

  • Sponsored expeditions in the late 1800s-early 1900s

  • Published scientific journal


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William Wagner 1796 - 1885

  • 1815 joined the Academy of Natural Sciences

  • 1816 went to sea for the Phila. financier Stephen Girard

  • 1840 - 1842 Retired from active business ventures and remarried. Took an extended “honeymoon” to Europe; he did extensive collecting of specimens and visited European natural history museums and scientific societies.

  • 1847 Wagner began giving free lectures in his home on geology, mineralology, metallurgy and chemistry

  • 1855 charter signed establishing the Wagner Free Institute of Science The courses were so popular that they were moved to a city municipal building. Faculty were recruited from Penn and Princeton, including Joseph Leidy.

  • Courses were six nights per week, free and open admissions policy

  • 1859 Construction begans on the current building and was completed at the end of the Civil War. Dedication on May 11, 1865. Architect - John McArthur. (He later designed Philadelphia’s City Hall.)

  • 1871 Univ. of Penn tried to “acquire” the Institute, but Wagner refused

  • 1876 Visitors to the Centennial Exposition visited the Wagner.

  • 1885 Wagner died, leaving the bulk of his estate to his institute.


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Institute has continued to carry out Wagner's initial goals of offering free science courses, while also functioning as a library, lecture hall and museum. In this sense, the Free Institute exists much as it did in the 19th century, although the surrounding North Philadelphia neighborhood has lost the opulence which fostered the museum. Due to its now remote locale, the museum has sunk into relative obscurity, and is unknown even to many Philadelphians.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wagner_Free_Institute_of_Science


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Joseph Leidy

  • 1845 joins the Academy of Natural Sciences, later becomes its President

  • 1855 begins teaching at the Wagner

  • Professor at Swarthmore College 1871-1885

  • 1884 founded the Dept of Biology at the Univ. of Penn.

  • 1885 named President of the Wagner

  • 1891 Board joins with other Philadelphians to apply for a charter for the Free Library of Phila. The Wagner became branch No. 1. Leidy dies in 1891.

  • The Wagner’s exhibition hall is essentially unchanged since Leidy’s death.


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Leidy personally developed and supervised the reorganization of the collection into systematic displays. Specimens and cases were arranged so that visitors moved from simpler to more complex organisms and through geologic time as they walked through the exhibition hall.


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Current Wagner Educational Outreach Programs of the collection into systematic displays. Specimens and cases were arranged so that visitors moved from simpler to more complex organisms and through geologic time as they walked through the exhibition hall.

  • Programs for elementary and middle school students

    • 8 – 10,000 students per year come to the Wagner on field trips

    • Saturday open houses, summer reading programs at neighborhood libraries

    • GeoKids – Formal year long program in specific schools

      • NSF grant and partnership with St. Joseph’s University

      • Focus on 2-5th grades, working to PA standards for natural science education

  • Adult Education Programs

    • Evening adult lecture courses taught at an introductory college level. Lectures are once per week and courses last for either 6 or 12 weeks.

    • Courses are offered at sites throughout the city that provide free meeting spaces

    • Tours for adult groups

    • Reference library for research in the history of science in the 19th century


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My Wagner Genetics Courses of the collection into systematic displays. Specimens and cases were arranged so that visitors moved from simpler to more complex organisms and through geologic time as they walked through the exhibition hall.

2000-2001 Genetic Engineering And Its Impact On Society 2001-2002 Human Genetics in the Genomics Age 2002-2003 Bioterrorism 2003-2004 Genetic Aspects of Infectious Diseases2004-2005 Genetics and Popular Culture 2005-2006 Genetics of Inherited Diseases

Participants/Audience

diversity, expectations from the course (content), self-image as “students of science”

Challenges as the instructor

presentation of highly technical information, limited resources, impact of controversial topics, designing assignments for the certificate program

Other outreach – Home schoolers, Genetics Mentor Network, responding to random website inquiries


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Teaching for the Wagner of the collection into systematic displays. Specimens and cases were arranged so that visitors moved from simpler to more complex organisms and through geologic time as they walked through the exhibition hall.

  • Evening adult lecture courses taught at an introductory college level. Lectures are once per week and courses last for either 6 or 12 weeks.

  • Why genetics? 2001 course homepage

  • My goals

  • Challenges:

    • create an interesting syllabus

    • matching the level of the course to the level of the diverse student population

    • style of the course - balance of lecture and discussion

    • mentoring

  • Expectations of the students

    • reading assignments and resource utilization

    • homework assignments for the certificate program

  • Surprises

    • interest level and awareness of technological issues

    • diversity of audience

  • Rewards


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