Category Archives: Familes and Children

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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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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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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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!

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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Favorite Childhood Museum Memory?

In keeping with the rebranded title of this blog, I thought I’d pose a question. What’s your favorite childhood museum memory?

Sometimes this moment acts as the catalyst which may drive folks into the field. For others, a favorite childhood museum memory is merely the first of countless, as they enjoy sites of heritage, art, and science throughout their lives as visitors and/or volunteers.

One of my favorite childhood museum memories is visiting the Swedish American Museum in Chicago, Illinois. Located mere feet from where some of my family were born and bred, the museum is located in the heart of a very Swedish neighborhood, Andersonville. I remember visiting this museum with my sister, mom, and grandma, and taking in the bright blues and yellows of the walls, exhibits, and museum store while fervently inhaling the smells of the Swedish bakery across the street. While short on actual content, the welcoming and warm impression that I got from the museum has stayed with me through today.

The Swedish American Museum is located in the heart of Andersonville, a Swedish neighborhood on North Clark Street in Chicago, Illinois.

The Swedish American Museum is located in the heart of Andersonville, a Swedish neighborhood on North Clark Street in Chicago, Illinois.

As museums work to create engaging and educational exhibitions, diverse programs, and special events, an important concept which event planners, programmers, administrators, etc.  keep in mind is the “tone” of the event. Visitors don’t need to come to the museum. Museums can’t force visitors through their doors (as much as some may want to…). For the most part, museums aim to create welcoming atmospheres of informal learning, where visitors are invited to explore, discover, and form a relationship with the museum. Whether the resulting relationship is a one-time visit, a yearlong membership, or a lifetime of dedication to the museum’s mission, the initial and lasting impressions that visitors get when visiting an institution may often stay with them, long after the content and facts may fade.

Side note:  I’ve since been back to the Swedish American Museum several times –  it’s fantastic. I can’t wait to return again. Perhaps in May this year, when we briefly return to tour the great state of Illinois…

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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) 

    Image

    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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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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