October 26, 2023
October 26, 2023
When we learn new words, we see new things. When we see new things, we imagine even more. We think big.
A few years ago, my friend Dan Menelly taught me the phrase charismatic megafauna. A charismatic megafauna is a big, engaging animal—like a panda, a dinosaur, or a mastodon—that connects regular people like you, me, and our kids with science and nature. Dan is the CEO of the DoSeum in San Antonio and a long-time science educator, and he loves giving others a window into his world. The concept of charismatic megafauna explains why lions, elephants, giraffes, and gorillas draw the most attention at zoos, and why dinosaur exhibits boost attendance at museums. Humans instinctively find charismatic megafauna compelling: You don't have to convince your kids to feel awe at the sight of a blue whale or a polar bear, they just do. And it makes them want to learn more.
When Dan taught me about charismatic megafauna, he gifted me with a new lens for seeing science education in action. I suddenly saw how exhibit designers, curators, and interpreters pay attention to the tiniest details of what motivates humans to engage with the world, how they use this understanding to craft exciting experiences, and how they leverage that connection to introduce the next concept at a time we're most receptive to it. I saw the science of learning science, and it made my world bigger.
This Halloween, when your kids are busy imagining themselves as grizzly bears or tigers or Tyrannosaurus Rexes, it means they're thinking big. So consider a trip to a science museum or nature center to expand their horizons even further. This is a beast you definitely want to feed.