Helping the Curious to Find Their Own Answers
Anne Richardson discovered the field of environmental education (EE) as an undergrad at Northwestern University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in art history. Inspired by her love of the outdoors, her time spent with Northwestern’s Outing Club, and a postgraduate naturalist position with the city of Chicago, Anne found that she had a special interest in the interconnection between humans and the rest of the natural world.
So she moved to New England to pursue a master’s degree in environmental studies with an EE concentration at Antioch University New England (AUNE). “I chose Antioch because of the emphasis on students selecting and directing their own research projects, and the emphasis on students working in their fields of study during their time in the program,” Anne said.
While studying at AUNE, Anne co-developed the K-8 curriculum ‘Great Lakes in My World for the Alliance for the Great Lakes.’ Her goal was to help educators provide learning opportunities focused on a sense of place. She co-crafted and co-designed the lessons that explored the importance of the Great Lakes and the ecological issues they face. The units included activities to connect with and investigate lakes, sand dunes, wetlands, human communities, history, and geology of the Great Lakes region. After her internship was over, Anne continued with the Alliance for the Great Lakes.
Harnessing her loves of art and science, Anne found herself at the Exploratorium, in San Francisco, California. The Exploratorium, the brainchild of Frank Oppenheimer, is a science museum focused on hands-on learning, art exploration, playful fun, and curiosity-led investigations. This world-renowned, cutting-edge museum, which operates on the explore-it-for-yourself model, just moved to a larger, more eco-friendly location at Pier 15 on San Francisco’s historic Embarcadero. Anne has been working at the Exploratorium since 2003, most recently as the associate director of the Field Trip Explainer Program.
The Field Trip Explainers, or early-career educators, offer guidance to the museum’s guests, perform demonstrations, and encourage visitor discussions all while learning themselves. They also participate in professional development training, peer mentoring, and self-guided study. Anne oversees the whole process, from the visiting groups to an Explainers’ graduation from the program.
“Learning is a joint venture,” Anne said. “I enjoy helping people think through strategies for discovering answers to their own questions. This is the most exciting form of learning, and it opens me up to new questions and ideas.”
In 2006, Anne began doctoral work at AUNE, while still working at the Exploratorium. She investigated how the work and peer-learning of her educators, in a nontraditional setting, contributed to their identities as science learners. This program provides an excellent model for other environmental studies learning centers. Anne completed her PhD thesis, Explainers’ Development of Science-Learner Identities Through Participation in a Community of Practice, in 2012.
She is now the director of Helix by Exploratorium, a new satellite location of the museum, located in downtown Los Altos, California. Designed as a community center, this branch will feature Exploratorium exhibits, programs, and retail shops. Anne is overseeing the launch of the Helix location, whose doors will open to the public by mid-December.
“Looking back,” Anne said, “some of the best advice I have received during my career has been from Mitchell Thomashow, chair of the Department of Environmental Studies from 1979 to 2006: ‘Good work follows good work.'”
Anne’s advice to current and future Antioch students, as well as all science learners: “Work hard, think deeply, and don’t worry too much.”
By Liz Ellsworth, MS ’07