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The Q? Blog

Volunteering in Q?rius: Learning by Doing

by Connie -- Dec 22, 2015
Q?Crew Volunteer Connie

My name is Connie and I’m 16 years old. My favorite subject in school is chemistry. I would like to study international affairs/security policy or...

Q?Crew volunteer Connie sits at a rocks and minerals activity table in Q?rius. She uses inquiry-based learning techniques to help visitors analyze specimens. Photo by Melissa Cannon, Smithsonian.
Q?Crew volunteer Connie sits at a rocks and minerals activity table in Q?rius. She uses inquiry-based learning techniques to help visitors analyze specimens. Photo by Melissa Cannon, Smithsonian.

As a Q?Crew teen volunteer I have not only improved my communication skills, but also in general learned about many different specimens such as orangutans, sharks, and especially rocks and minerals. There is a difference between learning about science communication at training and actually doing so with visitors. At the rocks and minerals activity station, I’ve learned how to apply inquiry-based learning techniques, such as asking questions, to guide the visitors through analyzing the different colors, textures, and structures of two rocks.

One of my favorite places to use inquiry-based learning is at the Q?Cart when I’m displaying the orangutan skull. It is difficult to figure out what animal the skull belongs, and moreover its gender. After I lead the visitors through a series of questions about the skull’s teeth and facial features, they eventually conclude that the skull belonged to an ape, specifically an orangutan.

The most impactful experience I’ve had at Q?rius took place this past summer. A boy came into the Margaret A. Cargill Collections Zone with a couple of rocks he had picked up near a nearby hotel. He looked at them under the microscope. I asked if he knew what the rocks were called, but he had no idea and neither did I. His father suggested that they might be calcite. Browsing in the Collections Zone, we found a specimen of calcite that, side by side, looked similar to the unknown rock. Looking at the calcite specimen under the microscope, it was clearly the perfect match. The kid then became excited to figure out what his other rocks were called. The discoveries that visitors make in the Collections Zone are fascinating for them, and it is a great feeling to have helped them, whether I just adjusted the microscope focus or helped search for a certain object.

Volunteering at Q?rius is not only fun and interesting, but also educational for the volunteers and visitors. While the visitors are trying to use analytical skills to figure out a puzzle, the volunteers are learning how to foster inquiry-based learning. The experience at Q?rius has not only given me more confidence when it comes to explaining science, but also new techniques to use when I tutor students at school.

Interested in volunteering? Learn about opportunities for teen volunteers and adult volunteers