Category Archives: Arkansas

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.

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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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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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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!

Professional – and Personal – Development

Yesterday I was able to sneak out of the office (during my lunch break, it wasn’t that scandalous) and attend “Legacies & Lunch” a brown bag lecture series supported by the Arkansas Humanities Council. Hosted at the brand new Ron Robinson Theatre in the River Market District, the theatre was a mere hop, skip, and a jump away. The subject of the lecture was in keeping with Arkansas Archeology Month (this month!), and presented by the State Archeologist, Dr. Ann M. Early. With a presentation titled “Big News from Old Stuff” I was hooked even before I sat down. In a quick hour, Dr. Early explored the provenance of several collections within the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) archeology museum collections – including some with ties to the museum. By focusing on a few key collections, Dr. Early helped tell the story of collections as a whole, as well as highlight significant historic archeology events in the state. Many of the local connections and archeology sites were new to me, and there were a few times when a physical map of Arkansas was presented as evidence where I was a bit confused (which river is that again?). Thank goodness Little Rock is located in the dead center of the state!

 Museum-Collections-Rack-Card

Attending the lecture was very fulfilling. Recently I have been feeling…a bit cut off from academia. Despite visiting several sites of informal learning in our new home, and taking advantage of the documentary selection available on Netflix, I have been missing the scholastic atmosphere of a classroom. You may recall I blogged about brown bag lectures last year around this time, when I was invited to present my own brown bag with the Illinois State Museum. I also miss the element of working with a research museum as well, I think. There is something engaging and invigorating about attending all-staff meetings and hearing about the latest publications from peers! Thankfully, there are several volunteer opportunities I am currently exploring in the area to keep myself professionally active and personally satisfied. I am also hopeful to take a stronger role in my alumni organization as a potential board member, and attend at least a couple of national conferences this year, in addition to other regional and local opportunities. Work is also very busy, with some new programs and events debuting as we brace for Spring Rush with oh so many field trips – never a dull moment. Should be a busy time!

What do you do – in or outside your workplace, to stay professionally active and satisfied? Is there even time? Some days there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day or energy left!

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Science Snapshot: Celebrating Sixth Grade Students in STEM

Science Snapshot: Discovering Excellence in Arkansas

Arkansas Governor Beebe and the Museum of Discovery celebrated nearly 100 sixth grade students, their families, and teachers at a recent event, Discovery Excellence in Arkansas. Students represented schools from across the state. It was a busy evening – but a fantastic one!

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Science Snapshot: Artifact Experiences

Recently I proposed, planned, and implemented a new visitor experience program at the museum, “Artifact Experiences.” In an effort to interpret our collection (of +1,500 objects!), “Artifact Experiences” seeks to curate temporary, facilitated displays of artifacts from the museum’s collection that connect with a temporary exhibition, special event, or program. Since becoming a more hands-on science center, the museum’s collection is largely otherwise uninterpreted to the public. Combining my museum collections and education background, this program seeks to safely and carefully interpret the collection as appropriate. I created temporary object labels to specifically connect with the new exhibit, Tech City. I also placed the objects on muslin cloth during their temporary display. 

At all times carefully facilitated by museum staff, interested visitors had the opportunity to don gloves for a careful hands-on exploration. I also provided mini-magnifying glasses for curious eyes to get a closer inspection. The display offered visitors an entirely new opportunity to connect with the museum’s collection and mission, and I had a lot of great questions and enthusiasm from visitors. 

This Friday, February 7th I kicked off the new program with a small display connecting to the new exhibtion in our WOW Gallery, Tech City. Focused on themes of industrialization, manufacturing, and communication (all key elements to a modern city, eh?), the temporary display highlighted a small sample of our truly awesome collection. 

Curated pieces included: 

  • An Automatic Fire Alarm Repeater (c.1899) 

  • Hallicrafters Model 505 Television (1948) 

  • Wooden Planer (c. 1850) 

  • Dalton Adding Machine (1912) 

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    An Artifact Experience

     

    Any suggestions for this program as it continues to grow and evolve? I’m eager to continue to safely highlight our collection while continuing best practices. 

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Twister, anyone?

My sister is visiting from Chicago, so it has given me the chance play tourist with an actual tourist to the area. We’ve been able to visit serval fun stops in the last few days, including art galleries, historic sites, and probably too many restaurants. One of the places we’ve explored is the Historic Arkansas Museum. Part of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, the mission of the Historic Arkansas Museum (or H.A.M.) is to “communicate the early history of Arkansas and its creative legacy through preserving, interpreting, and presenting stories and collections for the education and enjoyment of the people we serve.”  

While at H.A.M. we enjoyed several of their permanent and temporary galleries, an orientation video, a tour of several historic homes, and the museum store. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, I was really impressed with my visit, and I can’t wait to return as a visitor – or perhaps a volunteer, if they’ll have me!

I wanted to take  a quick moment and highlight an awesome interactive we enjoyed at the Historic Arkansas Museum in a hands-on children’s gallery. 

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Arkansas Twister

I love this interactive.

It’s quickly identifiable to the popular game Twister, requires limited instruction, educational (left foot in Texarkana!), and definitely combats any museum fatigue. (There is seating nearby for caregivers or family members to watch players from a safe distance.) Throughout the rest of the galleries there are several hands-on opportunities – many digital and computer based, but something about this “Arkansas Twister” stood out to me. From an exhibits stance, the construction and fabrication of this seems fairly basic – as does the upkeep. From an educational perspective, the color, left v. right coordination, and map are all awesome aspects that are neatly included. Looking at this interactive further, I wondered about year of the map (my Arkansas state history is a bit rough…), but was very impressed about all these connections. And, it was 100% on mission.

What do you think? Are there any children’s exhibits that have stood out to you? Any that I should check out?  

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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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The Day I Worked at the Exploratorium

In early November I was lucky to join the Arkansas Discovery Network for a professional development workshop with the Exploratorium. The ADN has a long-standing relationship with the Exploratorium, which, to put it simply, is both like a “sister museum” of ours as well as a “mother ship” of science center innovation, insight, and creativity. I last visited the Exploratorium in December 2011 when it was at its original location at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. This was a wonderful experience, as I had just started learning about Frank Oppenheimer, its founder, during graduate school, and his key role in hands-on informal education. Now the museum is located at Pier 15/17 in a brand new facility, with down-right awesome tech features as well as being incredibly environmentally friendly. It was great to revisit this institution in its new setting, especially with my new position in the STEM/STEAM field.

During this workshop, professionals from institutions within the ADN (including the Museum of Discovery, the Mid-America Science Museum, The Art & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, and Amazeum) came together to learn from educators and innovators at the Exploratorium about audience engagement, teamwork, tinkering, and planning and implementing floor activities. It was invigorating, exhausting, and educational – but mostly fun!

The workshop took place from Thursday, November 7 – Sunday, November 11, and concluded with an activity on the museum floor (aka: I got to work at the Exploratorium for a day!!!) Our mission during this workshop was to design a “chain reaction”  tinkering activity or a Rube Goldberg machine. After designing the activity, we would then present it on the museum floor in the Exploratorium’s awesome Tinkering Studio.

I  am an official Tinkerer.

I am an official Tinkerer.

Our group began by first experimenting with circuits. This was neat, and a little nerve-wracking for some of the workshop participants. Educators, administrators, and executives attended the workshop, so there was a mix of academic and professional backgrounds – always a good thing for creativity! Some participants were more comfortable with circuits than others. After some basic circuit work we created our own mini chain reaction. Our supplies and materials ranged from wooden blocks, to deconstructed toys (think a dancing Santa toy without a face or costume), to Legos, pipe cleaners, and beyond. We also included circuits within our chain reactions, incorporating this element of technology as both a creative element, as well as a possible reactor to setting off the chain reactions. We paired into teams of two, each creating a mini chain reaction within a larger group reaction. This emphasized teamwork, as well communication within the larger group, to ensure each mini chain reaction impacted the next. One thing I found especially helpful about the organization of this activity was I was able to meet and get to know several individuals within the Network. As the new kid on the block, there were many folks to meet!

After we implemented our own chain reaction, we took our experiences and discussed the most effective ways to incorporate this activity on the museum floor. This part was a bit tricky. There were several nut and bolt issues to discuss. For example:

  • What was the age range of the activity? Should it be open to all?
  • How long should the activity last?
  • How many participants (or pairs?) should be allowed?
  • What supplies could (or should?) we incorporate?
  • Who should facilitate what? Or was facilitation necessary?
  • What was the most practical way to arrange the room?
  • How could other visitors aka non participants, become a part of this activity?
  • Should there be multiple sessions of the activity?

With a group of diverse museum professionals from multiple institutions of varying size and scope, we had several lively discussions on the most effective means to implement the activity. We had multiple brainstorming sessions within a day and half time period. In the end, we incorporated several of the group’s thoughts, while also utilizing our workshop leaders’ recommendations based on their knowledge of both the space and the activity.

The day of the activity arrived. We decided to have two sessions of a chain reaction. Each session lasted about 90 min, with visitors welcome to join throughout this period with the understanding of the time commitment. We decided due to the nature of the activity ages 10 – adult would be encouraged to partake, with a limit of about 12 teams in each session. There were several family groups, a few couples, and some groups of friends who joined together. The creativity of the multigenerational pairings was really neat to see. The age limit did cause some disappointment from younger Tinkerers, but most visitors accepted this caveat without any trouble. We arranged tables within the Tinkering Studio to allow participants ease of access to materials, as well as strong visibility to passerby, so other visitors could watch the session unfold. Materials included a range of ramps, wooden blocks, circuits, misc crafty materials, as well as fun supplies we purchased from Cliff’s Variety in the Castro District.

At the close of each chain reaction session a large group gathered to see the reaction take place. Both reactions went off (mostly) without a hitch. The most rewarding aspect of the activity was seeing the dedication of participants (90 minutes can be both a short and long amount of time, depending on your enthusiasm!) and their joy in watching the chain reaction take place.

The workshop was a terrific opportunity to facilitate on the floor of the Exploratorium and to learn from our workshop leaders about audience engagement techniques. In many ways I am still processing the trip and the workshop experience – so much of what I gained from the workshop came not just from implementing the activity, but also from exploring the museum floor, interacting and meeting professionals in the field, as well as visitors at the museum.

This post attempts to sum up a great professional development opportunity. Do you have similar experiences with professional development? What has been your best experience to date? I’d love to hear your experiences. Also, I’d be interested in hearing if anyone has been the Exploratorium since their reopening. Thoughts?

 

 

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