Science Snapshot: Observing

A few weeks ago I facilitated an early-education program for our museum visitors 6 and under. A parent in the audience snapped this great shot of our small group adding ingredients in our experiment and observing the results. The theme that week was…TOOTHPASTE. We discussed teeth, dental hygiene, and Elephant Toothpaste. The last is connected only in name, but a terrific experiment for all ages. A quick Google search, and you’ll stumble over multiple scientists, entertainers, and communicators demonstrating this awesome chemical reaction. The kids (and parents) at the program really seemed to enjoy it. At the end we clarified…elephants should definitely not brush their teeth with this “toothpaste.”

A year ago, conducting such an experiment with visitors would have made me pause and likely get nervous and unsure. Now, thanks to a busy spring rush, with lots of school groups and public programming, I really enjoy it! Working with STEM subjects at the museum has really expanded my comfort zone with educational content and artifact interpretation. While I certainly don’t know everything, I feel comfortable researching and exploring themes and concepts and then experimenting! In this photo, you may also notice an animal skull or two…We used these to talk once again about the different types of teeth animals have – and what they may be used for (or on). I’m always excited when we can focus on object-based learning in programming, as it combines two of my professional interests – artifact interpretation and audience engagement/education!

Looking ahead, we’re about to kick off week four of our summer camps. The theme? Amusement Park Engineers! What have you been up to this summer? Traveling? Taking in a museum or two?

Young visitors observe as we add ingredients to our experiment.

Young visitors observe as we add ingredients to our experiment.

Connecting to Collections at Summer Camp

We’ve integrated a couple of mini-Artifact Experiences into our summer camp sessions – so far, so good!

Our first camp theme this summer was “World Safari” – granting campers aged 6-13 a chance to explore animals and the environment. Once again using our natural history teaching collection, campers and I discussed what exactly scientists can hypothesize about a given animal given its skeletal remains. Campers in the 9-13 group really enjoyed using different magnifying glasses to examine the bones, while younger campers in the 6-8 group seemed to like feeling the different textures of the specimens. I always try to pull in the senses, so in addition to examining with eyes and hands, campers also smelled the bones – and briefly inhaled a light veneer of dust and discovered the smell of mothballs. Both sessions agreed it was pretty cool to, as one camper put it, “see the empty head of a horse.” (Or, skull, if you will.) 

After we explored some collection items, campers then had an opportunity to mold and create their own animal skeleton, using a combination of Crayola’s Model Magic (a favorite of the campers and myself) and Crayola’s Air-Dry Clay. This second clay worked really well for some of the older campers, who were intrigued by the fast-acting nature of this clay, and its cartlage-like color. For tools, campers were given a range of simple in-house materials such as tooth picks, popsicle sticks, and tongue depressors. I also had some markers available, and a little bit of color nicely blends with the Model Magic. A couple of campers even integrated some of the tools into the construction of their models – which is pretty neat, considering how the fabrication of some large-scale specimens or specimen models are displayed in museums! Some campers were directly inspired by the specimens, while others opted to create a model of a favorite animal, or, in the case of a couple of campers, invent their own animals!

Here are some of the campers’ awesome creations, I was really impressed by all of the creativity and attention to detail!: 

Horse Skull

Horse Skull – Credit: K., aged 10.

Turtle Shell

Turtle Shell – Credit: A., aged 9.

Horse Ribs

Horse Rib Cage (with still beating heart!) – Credit: H., aged 12.

Alligator - Credit: M., aged 7.

Alligator – Credit: M., aged 7.

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Mini Artifact Experience: Giraffe

Mini Artifact Experience: Giraffe

I’m continuing work on enhancing our public programs and visitor experience by integrating our teaching (and occasionally permanent) collection into programming. One mini-Artifact Experience program focuses on the museum’s giraffe skull, jaw, and some of its vertebrae. In this pop-up science demonstration, educators may focus on giraffes, herbivores, and/or vertebrates. Also pictured are magnifying glasses and gloves.

As this program continues to evolve, I’m developing some educational materials to support the teaching collection and enhance our intellectual control. I’m also working on designing a mobile storage and demonstration cart to ease facilitation, storage, and polish the overall look of the demonstration! Thankfully many of the museums and intuitions I have reached out to have provided some terrific resources and knowledge about their own educational or docent cart programs. I am always blown away by the amazing collaboration demonstrated by colleagues and the museum field in general!

As always, if you have any thoughts or suggestions on this project, I’d welcome them! Thanks!

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Science Snapshot: Earth Day Pledge

Science Snapshot: Earth Day Pledge

This year to help mark Earth Day I developed a simple activity to encourage museum visitors to pledge to protect the planet. While Earth Day itself is Tuesday, April 22, I went ahead and facilitated this activity this past Saturday, in an effort to reach a wider demographic beyond our scheduled school field trips this next week.

With a blank canvas of the world (well, Western Hemisphere), visitors promised to protect the Earth with their unique finger prints using paint. I also provided some simple ways individuals and families can make a positive impact on the world – i.e. recycling, using rechargeable batteries, planting a garden or a tree, and bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store etc. I was initially going to have handouts to share with families and visitors, but then that seemed fairly anti-Earth Day with all the extra paper. Instead, I had a couple of copies handy at the paint station. I also provided some wipes to help with the resulting mess. I wanted to avoid lots of blue, brown, and green finger prints all over the galleries! It was a quiet day at the museum, but I got a fair amount of participation. It was a good opportunity to have some conversation with our visitors, as well as be a visible presence on the gallery floor.

In the future, if I were to help orchestrate a similar activity, I would probably try and use stamp ink or a different type of paint. This paint was a little too thick, and some of my smaller participants were extra generous with their pledges! Another thing I may tweak to this specific project is to develop a larger canvas – or at least try and include a truly global map – including the Eastern Hemisphere as well. As always, my coworkers were awesome in helping craft this activity – from design assistance to actual fabrication!

What are you or your institution doing to help celebrate Earth Day 2014?

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Throwback Thursday – Shedd Aquarium

Throwback Thursday - Shedd Aquarium

Throwback Thursday – My sister (left) and I highlight signage at the Shedd Aquarium.
I may still have that jacket. . .

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Encountering Corpses (And following best practices in museum standards….)

samantha:

Check out this neat blog post from across the pond, which explores interpreting, conserving, and exhibiting corpses! Fun fact: This post was thoughtfully composed by a fellow University of Glamorgan (now the University of South Wales) alum. Small world!

Originally posted on Exploring the Collection...:

Museums, in order to achieve accredited status, must adhere to correct standards and policies. Alongside this it is essential to address the ethics of dealing with certain collections items. Collection items such as human remains.

The conversation is an interesting one to have – should museums display and/or store human remains? Do they even have the right to? What gives them that right? What are the advantages, or the disadvantages? And how should display and interpretation be attempted, what is there to accomplish?

This is why I jumped at the chance to attend ‘Encountering Corpses’, a day of lectures and debates presented by Manchester Metropolitan University’s (MMU) Institute of Humanities and Social Science Research (iHSSR) and held at Manchester Museum (MM).

The event aimed to “specifically address how the materiality of the human corpse is treated in and through display, exhibition, sanctification, memorialisation, burial and disposal”. This meant that although…

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World Autism Awareness Day – April 2

Autism Awareness Day!

Autism Awareness Day!

Ignore the glossy-eyed look – it’s 7:30 AM and the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet. Traffic was minimal, and I got to work too early – enough time to quickly share a post!

Today is Autism Awareness Day, and one of our new staff members crafted some homemade Autism Awareness Day pins. Our staff is excited to help spread awareness, and this highlights not only a positive and supportive community, but also an openness to new ideas and program research!

Several staff show support for Autism Awareness Day.

Several staff show support for Autism Awareness Day. Photo: Courtesy of our awesome Marketing/PR guru

We recently started to investigate low-sensory programming, inspired by The Children’s Museum of Houston. The CMH works to reduce light, sound, and high number of crowds on low-sensory days, and offers specific recommendations for other times of year – i.e. in the afternoons during the school year, or early in the mornings during the summer, when crowds are smaller. This parallels our busy times with school groups here at the museum, specially during this busy spring season and post-testing season. The CMH also offers ear-defenders, to help cancel out noise which may be overwhelming. The website makes a special note on these low-sensory days, and highlights that no music is played. Additionally, it should be noted, the CMH is closed to the public on these specific days.

Does your museum or institution offer low-sensory programming?

What have you found which works – or doesn’t?

As we continue to explore offerings to make all our visitors feel welcome and engaged, I am curious about your experiences! At this stage in program research, we are exploring programs and opportunities at other museums – especially other children’s museums and science centers – and seeking professional insight and experiences. While museums definitely encourage bustling galleries with excited and engaged visitors, this does not always create a positive visitor experience – especially for visitors with heightened senses and needs.

Side note: As you can tell in this early morning shot, my gaze is directed toward my snazzy Brain Scoop poster, which, while decorative, also raises a lot of questions from other staff members unfamiliar with this terrific YouTube program, now hosted out of The Field Museum by their Chief Curiosity Correspondent.

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Hipster Jones

Hipster Jones

This meme has been around for awhile, but I thought I’d share it here. The last time I saw it, I think it graced the walls of our grad lab…

It’s Friday and Spring Break here at the museum – so things are pretty busy. What are you or your organizations doing to mark this busy time of year? Extra programs? Special presentations? I’m eager to hear your thoughts!

Regardless, when in doubt, Indiana Jones.

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Throwback Thursday – History Land

History Land Highway

History Land Highway, a stretch of road which runs along the Northern Neck of Virginia.

Snazzy sign, eh?

Here’s a throwback to Summer 2012, when I was enjoying the summer interning in the Northern Neck of Virginia at the birthplace of Robert E. Lee at Stratford Hall Plantation. What a summer! When I wasn’t discovering the collections of the Georgian-style home – I tried to explore this part of the country. Along the way, I discovered several wineries, plentiful antique stores, a rich food scene, and no shortage of history! When I spotted this sign in my travels –  I couldn’t help but snag a picture. The rural countryside you see in the background is a pretty sharp contrast to the theme park imagery that the name may conjure up!

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Golden Age of (Re)Discovery – Museum Collections

Golden Age of (Re)Discovery – Museum Collections

If you haven’t yet seen it, check out this article fresh from The New York Times. Even the most well-managed of museum collections may hold a secret or two, as this article on museum collections points out.

As both a museum professional and enthusiast, I found this article engaging, interesting, and perhaps most importantly, a reminder to try and apply best practices in inventories, research, and, of course, interpretation. Easier said then done, perhaps! Regardless, it is always exciting and rewarding to see museums making headlines – especially in positive and exciting circumstances.

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