Category Archives: Science

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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Science Snapshot: Cary Grant as a Paleontologist

Science Snapshot: Cary Grant as a Paleontologist

Cary Grant (right) portrays mild-mannered paleontologist David Huxley in the 1938 screwball comedy, Bringing Up Baby. Engaged to a stern woman (Alice Walker, left), the paleontologist’s world is soon rocked by none other than Katharine Hepburn and a quest to locate a leopard, Baby! There’s a fun subplot involving a missing dinosaur bone too, as well as the museum’s need to secure funds from a wealthy donor. While much of the action does not take place in the museum, it helps set the stage for this classic film. There are some great moments. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend.

Do you have a favorite museum-themed film? There are a few good ones out there – Would love to hear any suggestions. My Netflix queue could use some new additions…

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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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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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Science Snapshot: Neptune’s Daughters

Above: Decorative stained glass featured on the ceiling of the men’s bath hall inside the historic Fordyce Bathhouse in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The glass was put in by the Condi-Neal Glass Company from St. Louis in 1914-15 when the Fordyce Bathhouse was being built. Titled “Neptune’s Daughters,” the stained glass figures are celebrating the god of water (rather appropriate for a bathhouse).The Fordyce Bathhouse is part of the Hot Springs National Park. About an hour from Little Rock, this is a great day trip and an opportunity to explore some unique cultural and natural history. I’m counting this as a “science snapshot” due to the earth science and environmental connections with the natural hot springs in the area! (That hot springs were a welcome element on a slightly chilly day.)

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Science Snapshot: Sea Nettles

Science Snapshot

Sea nettles are common along the west coast in the fall and winter. They eat small drifting animals, can form huge swarms, and are very photogenic. These sea nettles live at the Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences. Photo credit: author.

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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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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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