Natural history museums play an important role in engaging the public in critical conversations about science and society. However, understanding complex concepts such as the Anthropocene requires thinking at large spatial and temporal scales. This challenge is at the forefront of a research-practice partnership between the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (Museum) and the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments (UPCLOSE). Together we designed a tool to help museum educators engage visitors in conceptualizing and connecting deep time with pressing environmental concerns. We observed educators using the tool in two settings: summer camp and on the Museum floor. We then interviewed educators to understand how they frame learning goals for understanding deep time and how their strategies support learner connections to the Anthropocene. While the tool was generally well received by educators, our observations and interviews also revealed two fundamental tensions. One tension was in pedagogical approaches – either inquiry or transmission – and the other was in learning goals – either wonder or relativity. Going forward, the Museum plans to use the tool both for exploration of deep time and as a professional development tool for Museum educators to better balance their use of these different approaches.
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