Monthly Archives: October 2013

List Time

As I continue to play the tourist in my new city I look forward to exploring nearby museums and cultural centers. I’ve already managed to visit a couple of museums including the Clinton Presidential Center and the Old State House, but there are still so many left to see (and then to revisit)! Of course, to me, nearby states now appear slightly more “local” now than when I was living in Illinois. Living in the “Natural State,” I’m also excited about exploring several state and national parks. The tricky part will be to find the time!

For those interested, here is my ongoing list. It’s a work in progress.

I’m very excited about all my upcoming field trips. Do you have any suggestions about what I should see and do in this new region? I would love to hear them. Thanks in advance!                               

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

 

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Artist Spotlight: David Macaulay

Combining architecture, engineering, and down-right awesome illustrations, David Macaulay is perhaps best known as a children’s book illustrator. You may recognize some of his most popular works  – The Way Things Work, Cathedral, or, and this is easily my favorite, Motel of the Mysteries.

Cover of Cathedral (1973)

Cover of Cathedral (1973)

Born in Lancashire, England in 1946, Macaulay was raised in New Jersey and attended the Rhode Island School of Design. At the RISD, Macaulay focused his studies on Rome and Pompeii. Combining his academic interests, attention to detail, and some witty humor, much of Macaulay’s work is grounded in intricate designs and architectural renderings of buildings throughout time.

An illustration from Pyramid (1975)

An illustration from Pyramid (1975)

The illustrator focused on children’s nonfiction for the early portion of this career, producing some of his most well-known works. Additional titles include Pyramid (1975), Castle (1977), and Unbuilding (1980).

An illustration from Underground (1976)

An illustration from Underground (1976)

As I mentioned, my favorite of Macaulay’s work is Motel of the Mysteries (1979). This book focuses on future archeologists encountering a highway motel dating from the 1980s. The archeologists are led by Howard Carson, a young professional, designed with a nod to Howard Carter, of Tutankhamen fame. With limited data, the motel is soon interpreted as a religious burial site, with each room seen as a sacred tomb. Misguided conclusions are made, many of them terribly wrong. (A motel room’s TV is seen as a sacred alter, the toilet seat a decorative necklace…) Here, and in many of his other works, Macaulay presents some scientific lessons in observation and data gathering while producing a creative story with layers of history, archeology, and architecutre. I first encountered this book in the sixth grade, when a reading/social studies teacher read it aloud to our class. I still remember that day, and thinking “This is cool.” It was around this time that I became interested in how the past is interpreted and material culture.

An illustration from Motel of the Mysteries (1979)

An illustration from Motel of the Mysteries (1979)

In the 1990s and early 2000s Macaulay began producing some children’s fiction and picture books, such as Angelo (2002). Angelo follows the friendship of an Italian preservationist who, while working on a rooftop in Rome, encounters an injured pigeon. Overcoming a lifelong disdain for the animal (and its effect on historic buildings), the two form a friendship while the craftsman works to preserve the building. You can see why this illustrator appeals to me and others in the field.

Cover of Angelo (2002)

Cover of Angelo (2002)

In 2007 the National Building Museum featured an exhibition focused on the author, David Macaulay, The Art of Drawing Architecture. I’m sorry to have missed the exhibit, but I thoroughly enjoyed examining the exhibition designer’s renderings and photos – I even spotted some familiar gallery seating. The chairs utilized in the exhibition appear to be the same the Illinois State Museum features in its hands-on children’s gallery, The Play Museum! (For those interested: The chairs are Ikea Benjamin stools, here creatively utilized outside a museum gallery.)

I recently signed up to be a reader for National Reading Day through our local Volunteer in Public Schools Program (VIPS) in Little Rock. I look forward to selecting one of Macaulay’s works and sharing it with new audiences!

Have you read any of David Macaulay’s works? Do you have a favorite? I’d love to hear some recommendations!

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Starting out with a Bang (Literally)

For those in the STEM or science education community, the name Steve Spangler may ring a bell – perhaps even a Pavalovian one.

For the rest, the name may not sound so familiar.

Spangler is, as described by his website, “The science teacher you always wanted to have in school. Things just happen to fizz, pop, smoke and explode, and before you know it, you’re a part of his learning experience. His passion is to find the most creative ways to make learning fun.” For those who grew up in the 1990s and early 2000s, he’s in the same league as Bill Nye the Science Guy (though has yet to Dance with the Stars). Spangler has been a frequent guest on the Ellen Show, and is perhaps best known to general audiences as “the guy who made all those Diet Coke bottles explode with Mentos.”

Last month I was fortunate to meet Spangler while attending a professional development workshop hosted at the Science Museum Oklahoma. This was my first major science education workshop, and I enjoyed every minute of it. From the start, the SMO was incredibly organized and efficient in setting up this opportunity for educators – formal and informal alike. I look forward to returning to the SMO someday to further explore the Museum itself. I was able to attend this workshop through my museum network, and I quickly met other likeminded educators from across the region. At my workshop table we had museum professionals as well as middle and high school science teachers. The diversity of experience and backgrounds was great when we were able to work as a team and try some of our own experiments.

Steve Spangler focused the workshop on a wide range of science content, but his primary focus was on presentation and working with different audiences. We worked hands-on with everything from exploring kid-friendly density and mass experiments to messing (literally) with polyvinyl alcohol slime. For me, this engaging format was a great introduction to both Spangler and even some of the content. Having a primarily history and art-based academic and professional background, I immediately felt at ease and engaged with the content through learning some effective demonstrative techniques. Much of what Spangler emphasized focused on showmanship – that the way to best engage your audience was to hook them through a “WOW” moment. It was important, Spangler emphasized, to be able to push beyond that “WOW” moment and deliver the essential content.

One of my favorite experiments during the workshop explored what happens with a build up of gas in a confirmed space. To demonstrate, Spangler utilized film canisters (with lids), Alka-Seltzer tablets, and tonic water. When the tablets and water combine in the sealed film canister, the pressure within becomes too much and POP! the lid is flown off. It seemed every workshop participant had to try this experiment at least three times…for several minutes after, during Spangler’s presentation there was the occasional POP! as someone continued to experiment!

Throughout the day-long workshop, Spangler pulled many attendees on stage to assist with demos, and  the energy in the room was palpable. Several times throughout the event Spangler compared the room of nearly 150 educators to excitable third graders (the POP! of the occasional film canister did nothing to go against this assessment)! This excitement was based not only on Spangler’s infectious enthusiasm, but also to the generous supplies and materials given away at this workshop. At the close of the day, each workshop participant was able to walk away with a full goody bag of demos, equipment, dvds, and signed Spangler books. The book giveaways are now on my desk, just waiting for future program brainstorming sessions. I left Oklahoma excited and energized to try some of the experiments myself, and I mentally began planning some hands-on activities and possible summer camp programs…

Before we ended the workshop however, Spangler had one last “WOW” moment to share with the crowded room. After discussing engaging ways to present Boyle’s Law, Spangler detailed how he liked to use potato gun launchers as instructional devices to showcase how the pressure of gas and volume impact one another. The room was able to watch video clips of the launchers in action, and there were murmurs of interest from every table. Then, without much warning, Spangler invited every educator to grab a potato gun launder from the back, head to the field outside the SMO, form armies, and launch potato bits at one another! Needless to say, it was quite the epic battle.

 

 

 

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