Supporting graphics and signage for the event were developed by Stuart Greenwell and David Tompkins of AAAS-Science.
President Barack Obama, looking at a child's basketball shot
For the first time in at least 30 years, AAAS was asked to contribute a science-focused activity in support of the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama to serve some 30,000 guests.
The AAAS-Science table, located directly adjacent to the White House, drew thousands of visitors—from young children to teachers and parents who were encouraged to learn about animal diversity by exploring an array of replica eggs and their animal parents.
Following an invitation to the AAAS CEO from Thomas Kalil, deputy director for policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and John P. Holdren, assistant to the president for science and technology, AAAS designed and staffed an exhibit at the 2009 Easter Egg Roll.
The exhibit—a joint effort by staff members within AAAS Education and Human Resources and the Office of Public Programs, with support from Science's marketing and graphics departments—featured an interactive "egg-matching" game in which children were asked to match reproductions of six bird eggs with their animal parents. Children also had an opportunity to view live amphibian eggs, and to learn about the life cycle of a frog and the structure of eggs. An informational coloring sheet emphasized the array of animals that lay eggs.
Also at the exhibit was Kenneth Brown, professor of biology and genetics at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and graduate student Kamali Carroll, who showed children fish and frog eggs through a microscope and fielded an array of questions.
The programmatic content of the AAAS-Science table, and a small sign near the microscope display, emphasized that "it's not just birds" that lay eggs. Children learned, for instance, that several mammals, including the platypus and spiny anteater also lay eggs, though most mammals do not.
The AAAS exhibit on egg diversity was positioned on the South Lawn, directly behind the White House and alongside other activities including yoga, soccer, cooking, and egg-dying stations. In keeping with the First Lady's theme for this year's Easter egg roll—"Let's Go Play!"—which encouraged children to lead healthy, active lives, President Obama took to the basketball court, shot hoops with local school children, and also read a book to young visitors during the event.
As reported by journalists such as Jake Tapper of ABC's World News Tonight: "As with so many acts taken by President Obama, there was an effort to make sure even his Easter Egg Roll was markedly different than President Bush's." For example, in addition to the science activity provided by AAAS, a number of same-sex couples were invited to bring their children to the 2009 egg roll at the White House. Military couples also were invited, while many of the other 30,000 guests had scored tickets through an online booking system.
"Science is an increasingly integral aspect of modern life, and it is all around us in the natural world," said AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner, executive publisher of Science. "One goal, in developing the AAAS-Science exhibit, was simply to introduce families to everyday examples of science that can be shared with children. AAAS educators also worked to address age-appropriate learning goals."
For example: "Very young children, up to age 6, can learn that many different animals lay eggs, and they can become engaged in science by examining differences in egg shapes, colors, and sizes," said Shirley Malcom, director of AAAS Education and Human Resources. "From about age 6 to 8 years old, children can generally understand that the building blocks for the whole animal are inside the egg, and it requires the warmth of a parent or water to develop. Older children then can learn about egg structure as well as concepts such as learned versus inherited behaviors."
The AAAS-Science exhibit was structured to try and provide "something for everyone," Malcom explained. "Science is everywhere, it's all around us, and you're never too young," she added, summarizing the key messages being conveyed during the tabletop activity.
The AAAS-Science booth at the White House
At the exhibit, AAAS staffers such as Stacey Pasco, Suzanne Thurston, Tiffany Lohwater, and many others stationed themselves behind animal parent "cubes"—colorful boxes featuring high-resolution images of six birds as well as their eggs and environments: the ruby-throated hummingbird, the American robin, the blue jay, the red-tailed hawk, the osprey, and the king penguin. On the White House lawn, other staffers armed with baskets containing replica eggs invited children to match eggs with animal parents. Adhesive Velcro material helped children affix eggs into the correct positions in front of the corresponding animal parents.
Children looking through the microscopes
At the same time, Brown and Carroll helped children peer through several different microscopes at live frog eggs, or examine a sea urchin, which can lay up to 200,000 eggs at one time. Young people also learned about the rainbow trout, which digs a series of gravel-covered nests called a redd, and the snapping turtle. An egg diagram and models showing the life-cycle of a frog also were on hand.
Crayons and a coloring sheet "take-away" item—posted to the AAAS Web site, EurekAlert!, along with other resources—encouraged children to guess which animals do not lay eggs. [To download the take-away, log onto http://www.eurekalert.org/eggs.] The sheet further provided fun animal facts, including these:
- Many different types of animals lay eggs, including birds, reptiles, fish, and a few mammals.
- Sometimes both males and females care for their eggs.
- Male seahorses carry fertilized eggs in a pouch until their offspring hatch.
- The male king penguin has a pouch of fat that helps to keep his egg warm in very cold weather.
- Sea turtles lay up to 200 soft, round eggs at a time.
- An ostrich egg is one of the largest eggs and can weigh more than 3 pounds.
- Hummingbird eggs are the size of a jelly bean, or smaller.
- A bald eagle builds one of the largest nests for their eggs. Nests can be 5 to 10 feet across.
Damonte Barber (left) and Melvin Holloway, 5, students at Francis Stevens Educational Campus, Washington, D.C., looking at a King Penguin egg
Pennsylvania native Jason O'Malley said that his son was fascinated by the various eggs on display. "I have no idea what that's even called," O'Malley said as his "penguin-crazy" son approached the AAAS-Science table yet again, "but if he's into it, that's great."
"It's called ornithology," responded Lohwater, who serves as AAAS public engagement manager.
For D.C. public school science teacher Althea Smith, the exhibit was an opportunity to confirm the importance of technology in the science classroom. "I don't have a microscope because we can't afford it," said Smith, who brought some of her fourth-grade students to the event. "But I'm trying to teach them the best I can with the resources I have."
Brown emphasized the importance of leveraging students' natural curiosity at an early age. While explaining her educational strategies, one of Smith's students interrupted by tugging on the teacher's arm and exclaiming: "I saw frog eggs!"
"I heard a lot of, 'Wow!' 'Cool!" and, 'Neat!" said Brown. "That's the same stuff my college-level students say. That's when you know you've got them."
Real-time updates about the association's participation in the White House egg roll were posted online at http://www.twitter.com/gingerpin.