This June, the American Museum of Natural History will introduce its first Master of Arts in teaching program, in which students with a background, if not a career, in science can spend 15 months learning to become earth science teachers. Tuition is free, thanks to the New York State Board of Regents, and students will receive $30,000 stipends and health benefits. “We’re looking for people who want to make a career of teaching and stay in the business,” said Ellen V. Futter, president of the museum, “whether they be just out of college or former participants in a volunteer corps or career changers or veterans.” The goal is to produce 50 new science teachers over two years for the state’s middle and high schools, which have long coped with a critical shortage of math and science instructors. As with nearly any attractive offer, there is a catch: Graduates must commit to spending four years teaching in a high-needs public school, and may be assigned anywhere in New York State. “Will the address of the teacher be taken into account when assigning residencies?” asked a young woman from Yonkers who attended an open house for prospective applicants this month. The short answer: yes, whenever possible. The open house, which drew about 90 people, gave the museum an opportunity to pitch the program — which also meant selling the museum-as-classroom concept. After answering questions in the Astor Turret, a cylindrical, high-ceiling room that overlooks Central Park West, staff members gave the prospective applicants a private tour of the museum. Rosamond Kinzler, the senior director of science education at the museum, led them through the gem and minerals collection, casually testing their knowledge of rock formation and plate tectonics. “The courses will be graduate-level science courses,” she said, “but they’ll be taught specifically with an eye toward preparing individuals to teach science in the classroom.” The curriculum that the graduate students will study (and that they will eventually be teaching) focuses heavily on planets and their orbits, water and weather, and basic geology. New York’s physical environment — including Central Park, across the street from the museum — will also play an important role in the courses, several instructors said. That was welcome news to Andrea Lewis, the principal of Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers in Manhattan. It is one of six high-needs schools where the graduate students will hold residencies while pursuing their degrees — and may end up full-time. “I’m looking to find teachers who can bring the exterior world into the classroom,” Ms. Lewis said, “take their kids outside the building, to really learn how to analyze, and hopefully get involved with science because of the experience they’ve had.” To groom more good teachers for the state’s schools, the Board of Regents approved a pilot program two years ago that authorized groups like Teach for America to create their own master’s degree programs; previously, only education schools were allowed to do so. This opened the door for the American Museum of Natural History, which already hosts graduate students in various scientific fields. “Schools of education are preparing thousands of teachers in New York State,” said Merryl H. Tisch, the chancellor of the State Board of Regents and an overseer of the museum program. “Unfortunately, they continue to prepare teachers in certain subjects and areas where there are no shortages. So we’re preparing a lot of K-3 teachers, but no one is hiring elementary school teachers.” The state received $700 million from Race to the Top, a federal education program, and the Board of Regents set aside some of it for the Natural History Museum’s program. The application deadline for the first year is Jan. 31. For now, the museum is approved for only two graduating classes of about 25 students each. Whether the arrangement is renewed, Ms. Tisch said, depends on available money and the program’s success. Given the tight job market, museum officials are optimistic about getting a strong pool of applicants. The crowd at the open house consisted mostly of recent and soon-to-be college graduates, but also included some midlife career changers. Tim Roselle, 60, a retired financial worker from the Upper West Side, said he was lured by the prospect of attending school in one of the city’s most beloved museums. “I love this place,” he said. “I don’t know if my background is strong enough, but I’m here all the time, so I figured I’d check it out.” Lauren Donnelly, 29, an environmental educator for a New York City park, attended the program to see about becoming a professional teacher like her husband, who was seated next to her.