Education Collections

The Education Collections supports educational programing for all ages—science is everywhere and for everyone

The mission of Education Collections is to get real artifacts and specimens from the natural world into the hands of our community. Objects from our collection allow ANYONE to access science on a personal level. You can explore in ways that allow you to make your own connections and discoveries. Any artifact or specimen you interact with that isn’t behind glass while visiting the Museum is managed by the department.

This isn’t a team of curators—just science geeks who know how to manage museum collections and have broad skills across the sciences. They’re a rather informal, quirky squad that nerds out on everything from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to phreatomagmatic volcanoes and the proper fermentation of woad (an herb).

The team is a little bit scientist and a little bit science communicator in Education Collections. As such they are involved in the Museum’s strategic initiatives and temporary exhibition teams. They work closely with Museum educators to come up with the best science stories to tell using the best objects to tell those stories. Because, after all, science helps us all tell the story of the world—and universe—around us.


Evelyn Busch, MA

Collections Manager of Education Collections, Health Sciences and Scientific Instruments

Colleen Carter

Assistant Collections Manager of Education Collections and Health Sciences

Melissa Bechhoefer, MS

Director of Integrative Collections

Courtney J. Scheskie, MA

Business Support Specialist

Teen Science Scholars

Teen Science Scholars (TSS) complete hands-on summer internships with the Science Division staff. The  interns receive a monthly stipend, bus passes, and Museum cafeteria vouchers to offset cost of living expenses during the term of their internship.

In 2018, four Scholars, over six weeks, helped move nearly 30,000 objects and specimens from Education Collections’ old home—for 29 years—to their new home on the second floor.

In 2019, the Scholars worked with the Education Collections managers to continue rehousing and cataloging the teaching collections. As with any move—even when YOU move, like your house or apartment—you find things. Things you didn’t know you had, things you haven’t seen in years and things that you decide you want to arrange different going forward. This is where the collections managers are now.

Collections moves are not solitary, discrete events—they are multi-phased and often filled with unforeseen rabbit holes. As with being in nature, the collections staff work to leave things in a better state than they found them, and our TSS interns are an extremely important and valued part of this collections move.


Exploration Stations

When you visit the Museum, you are literally surrounded by the Education Collections, although you might not yet realize it! This team maintains 18 Exploration Stations, including for temporary exhibitions. If you can touch it and it’s a museum-y like thing, it most probably is part of the Education Collections and is wielded to teach science to Museum guests.

Pioneering some of the first “touch carts” in the nation back in the 1980s and 1990s, Education Collections has worked with Museum educators to kind of break the “4th wall” of exhibitions by taking artifacts and specimens out from behind glass and putting them into your hands to discover on your own or through conversations with the Museum’s knowledgeable volunteer corps.

The Education Collection team works with the educators to develop narratives for the Exploration Stations by thoughtfully choosing the objects that best demonstrate and enhance the main idea of the story. In addition to adding the “DMNS Touch” to temporary exhibitions, Exploration Stations also allow interaction and extended learning in our diorama halls. These special collections reach hundreds of thousands of visitors from these stations every year.

Field Trip Adventures

Education Collections are used every day.  Over the course of a year, objects are used in over 2,000 Field Trip Adventures—our onsite programs for schools. Together with our educators and exhibit developers, the Education Collections team designs memorable learning experiences for students. They’ve had fun creating everything from an escape-room type experience, where students try to catch a villain who has poisoned a museum scientist—a fictional scenario of course—using our collections as clues, to creating an American black bear’s den and ecosystem for our earliest learners.

Our Home

Education Collections has a central storage room, both for ease of use and access (everything is in one spot, ensuring everyone has what they need when they need it) and as a way to provide safe and secure homes for all of the objects. Everything is separated out into what we call “sub-collections,” collections within collections … that’s very meta come to think of it … anyway, the sciences are kept together. For example, geology is all in one spot, and then organized by mineral family or rock type. So, if you are looking for something, you know right were to go. They also have a database for this as well, in the event you don’t know that calcite will be under carbonates.

Some objects require special shelving or storage furniture. “Wet” collections are most commonly preserved in ethanol and isopropyl alcohol and run the risk of combustion. These are kept in fire safe cabinets. Dinosaur bits can get real heavy real fast, so these need special shelving that can support the weight.

Micro environments are created in other cabinets to prevent things like “pyrite disease”—yes, that’s a thing—or they serve to keep out pests that might eat or nest in our collections. Our goal—the goal of any museum collection—is to make it last as long as possible. In this case, it’s ensuring that things are still around years from now to learn from. 

Your Own Personal Discovery

We at the Museum love science, and access to real museum objects is central to the Inquiry Learning at the core of the science programs offered at the Museum. Inquiry Learning is an activity-oriented learning process that reflects scientific investigation, specifically the observation, experimentation, and reasoning used by scientists. Object-based activities are invaluable as part of the Inquiry Learning pedagogy. Object-based activities are just that, activities where a teacher works with the students to use well-thought-out initial questions to stimulate the students’ thinking about their objects and to develop further, deeper questions. Education Collections is the source of these objects, from bald eagles to amoebas, allowing the development of such engaging programming. Working primarily with the Museum Programs and Exhibits Departments, the Education Collections combines our understanding of science education pedagogy with collections care and scientific knowledge. This perspective is shared with strategic initiative teams and exhibit core teams throughout the institution, and directly results in more Museum collections on the floor for the public to interact with and learn from.

Education (Teaching) Collections

The Education Collections serves as a resource center for science programing at the Museum. As such, it is necessary to maintain a large breadth of high-quality collections that represent all of the major study areas of our research departments,and even some that are not represented but that Education Collections will offer programming for.  Education Collection staff has competent knowledge in most of the sciences represented in the collection as well as fluency in education theory and science communication styles. As such, the team also acts as content specialists when necessary for Museum program and exhibit developers by merging these two characteristics of their roles.

Currently, the Education Collections are accessioned, cataloged, and maintained following the Research and Collections Policies and Procedures Manual. However, the Education Collections team is planning to evaluate this standard and update as necessary to modernize practices and facilitate the care and use of the collections more efficiently. The Education Collections are stored and maintained separately from the research collections because the use of the Education Collections  aren’t always used in environments free of pests and food, which could introduce agents of deterioration into the research collections. The Museum understands that while the research collections are entrusted to the Museum for perpetuity, the same cannot be said for the Education Collections. With increased access to collections comes the risk of physical damage, chemical damage, biological damage, and theft. These are risks the Museum has chosen to accept in order to make science more accessible to our visitors and to our community. The Education Collections staff evaluates the individual level of access for each object that is put out in programming. The staff recognizes that their job is to allow access and facilitate tangible leaning moments; they also, simultaneously, have a responsibility to preserve and conserve the collections and work to increase their longevity; especially CITIES listed species that are under federal regulation and fossils that are protected by U.S. and international entities.

The Education Collections also retains a few institutional icons, including a large Ponderosa pine trunk cross section from a picnic area in the White River National Forest of Colorado (although current dendrochronologists believe it may have been growing further south toward the Four Corners area), which sat unseen in storage for nearly a decade. It was refurbished by the University of Arizona’s Dendrochronology Lab and returned to public display in 2010 and today sits in Edge of the Wild on Level 2. Another well-recognized object is the full-scale model of a Mars Exploration Rover, which is currently on display near the Planetarium entrance and will be retained in the new version of Space Odyssey.

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