A Roly Poly Summer

What has six legs, a body like an armored tank, and spent all summer in the Curriculum Development offices at the Smithsonian Science Education Center? If you answered roly polys, you would be correct! However, the roly polys weren’t the only new addition to the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) this summer. I also spent my summer as an intern at the SSEC, and it isn’t one I’m going to forget. My experience at the SSEC was unique. I learned a lot and spent time doing new things.

Image of roly polys which are crustaceansRoly polys are actually crustaceans

I was an intern in the Curriculum and Communication department of the SSEC. This is the part of the SSEC that works on developing curriculum in order to help students learn and gain a passion for science.  As an intern, I worked on the activities for a curriculum unit on protecting animals when their habitat changes. This is where the roly polys come in. The roly polys were part of two activities that I worked on. The first was an engineering activity that would help students apply what they had learned about what animals need to survive. For this activity, my job was to think of and test different materials that students would use to build a roly poly classroom habitat. This was definitely a new experience for me. I usually run from bugs; I don’t try to find them suitable habitats where they can thrive. Eventually, I came to really enjoy caring for the roly polys. Designing this activity also helped me gain an understanding of how much thought goes into developing lessons for students. As a student, I usually only see a curriculum once it has been completely finished and is being implemented in classes. At the SSEC, I got to see the other side of this curriculum. I had to run multiple trials and experiment with a plethora of materials before I could come up with a list of suitable ones that would work well and would provide clear results for the students.  Going through this whole process made me realize how involved a process making a good curriculum actually is.  

Image of a salamander tunnel Testing whether roly polys prefer leaves or grapes for food

I also worked on the salamander tunnel activity with the roly polys. This is the culminating activity for the whole module and is designed to help students learn about the importance of amphibian conservation.  It allows them to use all the knowledge and skills they had acquired in the previous lessons. This was a very interesting activity to work on. Much like the habitat design activity, I had to source and test different materials to make sure that the activity would work for students when they did it in the classroom. Again, I got a taste of how arduous the curriculum design process is. However, the moment when I saw the roly polys actually walk through the tunnel like little pseudo-salamanders made all the hard work worth it.  Seeing the physical results of my work was very rewarding and definitely one of my favorite parts of my experience at the SSEC.

Image of interns testing salamander tunnelsTesting the tunnel for the first time

This summer was an eventful and fun one for me. Hopefully it was fun for the roly polys too! My internship at SSEC was everything I could have hoped for. It gave me opportunities that I never would have had the chance to experience otherwise. I learned a lot about both roly polys and the work and teamwork it takes to write a good and strong curriculum. I will always remember and take my experience working at the SSEC with me wherever I go.  

Image of intern officeA view of my office after spending a summer as a curriculum developer                              

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About the Author

Anusha Holavanahali
Curriculum Development Intern

Anusha Holavanahali is in her senior year at Thomas Jefferson High School in Science and Technology. She did a 9-week internship with the curriculum development team at the Smithsonian Science Education Center in summer 2016.