Teaching How Water Works: Informal Science Education through Exhibit Design

Author(s): Brzuszek, R.

The mission of the Crosby Arboretum, Mississippi State University Extension (located in Picayune, Miss.), is to preserve, protect and display plants and their communities native to the Pearl River Drainage Basin. The Crosby Arboretum's nationally award-winning master plan has designated a portion of its facility for the creation of a small stream swamp forest educational exhibit. Small stream swamp forests are wetlands situated on bottomlands of small streams that are predominated in species type and frequency by black gum (Nyssa biflora) and sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana). As specified in Mississippi's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (MDWF), small stream swamp forests are considered vulnerable in the state of Mississippi. The proposed swamp forest exhibit will address MDWF priorities through the construction and management of the habitat type, as well as providing a venue for public education and experience in this vulnerable forest.

The Crosby Arboretum Foundation was awarded a grant to create a small stream forest educational exhibit. Graduate students in the Department of Landscape Architecture at Mississippi State University utilized a semester-long class project in spring 2011 to research and design the proposed exhibit. Students conducted a literature search on small streams and related wetlands and visited several in situ small stream swamps in Mississippi. Students recorded environmental data at the natural wetlands to inform the restoration design. Students also conducted an environmental inventory and analysis at the proposed exhibit site that recorded the site's hydrology patterns, plant species, soils and other data. A design charrette, or a collaborative session to determine solution to the design problem, was conducted with wetland specialists and landscape architects to develop the preliminary design. This paper will discuss the method used to develop the exhibit design and will exhibit the drawings for the proposed stream and associated wetland types. Long-term vegetation monitoring will be initiated after construction.

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