Category Archives: Activities

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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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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Citizen Historian: Unique Volunteer Opportunity

Hello, all.

I’m excited to share a neat online volunteer opportunity and educational resource. In January the BBC reported on the digitization of British World War I diaries from the collection of the National Archives (UK). About 25 volunteers scanned hundreds and hundreds of boxes of diaries from military units, and today these are part of Operation War Diary. Operation War Diary allows “citizen historians” or public volunteers, access to these diaries in an effort to catalogue and gain intellectual control of the documents. The website is the result of a partnership between the National Archives, the Imperial War Museums (London), and Zooniverse – a tech savvy web forum to allow for active scientific research by the public.

Through a user-friendly website volunteers can systemically go through and “tag” diary pages for information such as date, location, person, military life, etc. Multiple readers go through each document, the website stresses, so users do not need to feel pressured about exacting 100 % of the information or making a permanent and irreversible error. There’s a brief tutorial on how to “tag,” and users must register an account on the site. Operation War Diary outlines its project outcomes as the following:

  • to enrich The National Archives’ catalogue descriptions for the unit war diaries
  • to provide evidence about the experience of named individuals in Imperial War Museums’ Lives of the First World War project (another exciting endeavor to help mark the centennial remembrance of the Great War)
  • to present academics with large amounts of accurate data to help them gain a better understanding of how the war was fought

I’ve registered and volunteered my time on three separate occasions so far, and I find it engaging and interesting. One thing I should point out is that these are military unit war diaries – so not personal diaries of soldiers. Handwriting is tricky at times, but the pixilation on the scans is very strong, so feel free to use the zoom feature liberally. Another thing I found especially accessible about the project so far is the fact that, again, the website lets you know that no single user is having a final say on specific diary pages. Multiple readers will go through and review each document, so there is a check and balances system in place to ensure accuracy. Finally, there appears to be no minimum requirement of time (i.e. 10 hrs/week), so this is flexible project for both time and energy.

It’s free, easy, and will help historians and the public alike utilize historical documents. Win, win, & win!

 

For even more information, check out Zooniverse’s blog on the project, which boasts updated stats on users, the data, and additional project goals.

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Artist Spotlight: Pulaski County Kidos!

Happy (Belated) Pulaski Day!

As a Chicagoan, I have fond memories of enjoying the first Monday in March off of school due to this famous Polish explorer. Celebrated in places with large Polish populations, Illinois actually enacted a law in 1977 to celebrate this American Revolutionary War hero. Born in Warsaw on March 6, 1745, Casimir Pulaski emigrated to North America to assist revolutionaries with military actions. He is known as “the father of the American Calvary” and was awarded honorary United States citizenship when he died, following injuries earned at the Battle of Savannah.

Now that we have relocated to exotic Arkansas, I was a bit disappointed (though not surprised) to find that Pulaski Day is not celebrated as such here. Little Rock however is located in Pulaski County – which is in fact named for Casimir Pulaski!

On that note, I wanted to share a couple of images of artwork created by Pulaski County children for The Art of Recycling Sculpture Contest and its resulting exhibition. This exhibition helps highlight the creative and continuous use of recyclables, while also emphasizing the importance of recycling by reusing and reducing waste. The top four winners (selected by a mysterious panel) won $300 for their school districts’ art programs. How neat is that?

Materials: Large Goldfish cracker box, gallon milk carton, newspaper, rainbow loom bans, cardboard, toilet paper and paper towel cores, trash bag tie, brown paper, GoGo squeeze toys, glue, ink sharpie pens.

Materials: Large Goldfish cracker box, gallon milk carton, newspaper, rainbow loom bans, cardboard, toilet paper and paper towel cores, trash bag tie, brown paper, GoGo squeeze toys, glue, ink sharpie pens.

“The Giving Tree” was created by students in third and fifth grade at Forest Park Elementary in the Little Rock School District. One thing that strikes me about this piece is the diverse recycling materials the classes utilized (with guidance from an art teacher). The range of material helps create multiple textures and an exciting amount of depth on this tree – inspired, I believe, by the popular children’s book The Giving Tree. The leaves pop out – at least to my eye. There is a great amount of detail on this piece, a bird on the branches, with a swing set hanging from another. The subject matter itself, about a tree continuously giving for multiple purposes for a little boy until (spoiler alert…) the tree is merely a stump, also uniquely supports the contest and exhibition’s theme about utilizing resources wisely.

Another piece I wanted to share from this special display is, well, pretty darn adorable.

Materials: Newspaper, toilet paper roll cores, bottle caps, milk cartons, paperboard

Materials: Newspaper, toilet paper roll cores, bottle caps, milk cartons, paperboard

Titled, rather whimsically, “Fuzzalina” this piece was submitted to the contest by two second grade students at Williams Magnet School, also located in the Little Rock School District. Fuzzalina looks a bit like a baby harp seal:

Adorable Baby Harp Seal - Source: Wiki

Adorable Baby Harp Seal – Source: Wiki

“Fuzzalina” is fun, rather quirky, and rich with details – which suggests time and effort by its young artists. The whiskers are probably my favorite – rolled strips of newspaper. : )

In short, some great pieces created by local young artists to celebrate recycling AND the arts!

Still me – I promise!

 

Hello, all.

After some thought, I’ve revamped the Wunderkammers page. After a year, let’s consider this a birthday rebranding, of sorts. Rebranding – a name, logo, slogan – often comes with the fear of confusing audiences or may be associated with a change of management or mission. FEAR NOT! The mission of this blog remains the same: to highlight an emerging museum professional’s experiences, reflections, and inquiries. I will also continue to be at the helm. 

In addition to signifying a change in mission or management, rebranding also signifies an awareness of marketing and public image. Rebranding too often or without significant direction is when confusion arises. Last year the Whitney Museum made headlines with its minimalist logo and rebranding, completed after about ten years of its previous logo – a short time. The move to rebrand however coincides with the institution’s physical move and a massive construction project. After much consideration, while “Wunderkummers” (wonder rooms, cabinets of curiosity) still remain at the core of the blog, the title itself leaves a bit of room for confusion and interpretation. While museum geeks and enthusiasts may instantly recognize this – and many have! – I wanted to make the blog a bit more accessible, open. Another key factor in my rebranding was also my shift from graduate student to emerging professional, and physical shift in location.

Inspired by none other than Downton Abbey‘s favorite butler, Mr. Carson, I thought this quotation fit with my mission both as a museum professional and museum enthusiast: “The business of life is the acquisition of memories.” How…perfect. I believe this quotation reflects the mission of this blog, as well as highlights the mission of many a cultural institution – acquiring and interpreting artifacts, art, and ideas. 

To sum up: It’s still me. The title and font have changed, but the mission, writer, and, yes, URL, have remained the same. Questions? Ideas? I welcome them. 

What do you think? Do you agree with Mr. Carson? 

Image

                                     Mr. Carson knows all, really

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The Museum of Our Soul

“That which we elect to surround ourselves with becomes the museum of our soul and the archive of our experiences.”Misattributed to Thomas Jefferson

It’s a lovely thought though, isn’t it?

In a recent outreach program I brought a selection of teaching collection items from the museum to an after school program. These included some animal bones and American-Indian pottery. During the program the kids (aged 5-10, a bit of a range) in the outreach wore nitrile gloves and explored these objects, taking notes on their observations. I gave some prompting questions – but really left it to the group to gather data and clues and try and decipher what each object was etc (The lion skull was a hit.) Following this exercise, and after we identified the materials, I asked, “Now, why do you think the museum has these objects?” The answers ranged from a simple “Because” to “So we can learn” and to a hesitant and questioning “No one else does?”

I created this mini lesson with the goal of getting the group to think about museums and what exactly museums do, and how visitors (i.e. they) can fully engage with museums. Because of the group’s age and time limitations with the outreach, I emphasized hands-on activities and lots of brainstorming with group discussions. We had a great time thinking about all the museums the kids had visited (or seen on tv and in movies), and I highlighted some unique (some would say “weird”) museums and museum collections across the country and globe – i.e. the Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers. The kids had a blast with this part. Following this activity, I utilized some images from a very cute and clever sketchbook titled My Museum (which I found in our museum’s store and promptly suggested we invest in additional copies for educational purposes). Using some blank pages with empty galleries, cases, and shelves – we designed our own museums. We discussed what was important to us now, and what type of collections we would want to share with people in town, across the world, and in the future. All the kids came up with great ideas and their exhibit sketches were inspiring.

At the close of the outreach, each member of the group presented on his or her museum to the audience – which was another exercise for the group in presentation skills and listening. Here are some of the brainstormed museums:

  • The Museum of Fruits and Veggies
  • Historic Girl Clothing and Makeup and Hair
  • Museum of Carrots
  • Ninja Museum
  • Museum of Cars
  • Animal Bone Museum

What do you think? This was my first time bringing the program out – any tips or suggestions on how to improve? I am excited to tinker with this concept – especially continuing to develop more object-based activities.

 

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Raising the Bar

Happy 2014!

As I look forward to the New Year and all its rich and exciting possibilities, I wanted to take a moment to recognize some major personal professional milestones that 2013 saw and outline some goals for the future. During the last year I….

  • Completed a competitive, yearlong internship

  • Successfully completed and defended my graduate exams 
  • Walked across the graduation stage and earned my Masters Degree

  •  Accepted a position – in a new state 

  •  Moved to said state and passed a probationary period of employment

  • Discovered a charming historic neighborhood we call “home,” for now  

While I continue to grow in my new position, and we continue to explore this new geographical region, I am going to make an effort to be more mindful of blogging and attempt a greater frequency of posts. Easier said than done, correct?

Another goal I am keen to pursue is to volunteer more. While living in Springfield I enjoyed volunteering with the arts association and public library, but now that I’m in a new town – it is time to expand my horizons. While I enjoy volunteering in my field – I consider this a great way to give back to a community AND grow, I am eager to volunteer in fields unrelated to my own.

One organization that I grew to really appreciate and respect last year is Optimist International. A volunteer with the ISM was highly involved with the Optimists, and I was able to present on behalf of the museum to this organization in July 2013. The mission of Optimist International is “By providing hope and positive vision, Optimists bring out the best in kids.” For more information, check out their website. While attending the organization’s meeting in July, I was struck by the positive attitude of its members and their dedication.  I look forward to exploring local branches of this organization, and seeking out similar volunteer opportunities. 

In addition to blogging and volunteering, I am also eager to travel. Through work I’ve been able to explore some of the immediate region through educational outreach. Beyond this though, I am eager for day-trips full of photography, winding roads, towns big and small, and seeing what exactly is unique to the so-called “Mid-South.” A few posts ago I made a list of cultural and historic sites of interest. I look forward to adding to this list.  

So, reader. What sort of organizations do you volunteer with? Any recommendations? Also – any adventurous tips for this Yankee? I look forward to pushing myself personally and professionally during this next year – to explore this new position and all the regional possibilities this area may offer.  

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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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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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