Tag Archives: STEM

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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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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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 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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Artist Spotlight: David Macaulay

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

Cover of Cathedral (1973)

Cover of Cathedral (1973)

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

An illustration from Pyramid (1975)

An illustration from Pyramid (1975)

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

An illustration from Underground (1976)

An illustration from Underground (1976)

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

An illustration from Motel of the Mysteries (1979)

An illustration from Motel of the Mysteries (1979)

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

Cover of Angelo (2002)

Cover of Angelo (2002)

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

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

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

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Starting out with a Bang (Literally)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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