About Nicole

Nicole has worked for HMNS in some capacity since 1996, whether part-time, full-time or as a volunteer. She taught for seven years in public school, including four years in Fort Bend and a short stint overseas. While she never taught science, she was always the teacher called when someone needed to remove a swarm of bees, catch a snake in the playground, or get the bat off the ceiling of the cafeteria.

Educator How-To: How to Make Your Own Pet Squid

The days just after Thanksgiving are always busy at the Museum. There are flurries of children on field trips, shoppers looking for that unusual and prefect gift and, my favorite, the annual installation of the holiday trees in the grand hall. The trees, which are decorated by local area non-profits, celebrate a variety of themes and causes and are not to be missed. My particular favorite each year is the tree decorated by the Houston Conchology Society. My department also gets to decorate a tree and it is always an ode to science. This year’s theme: Cephalopod Christmas. How can you go wrong there?

We know you will be out to visit the trees this year, and we assumed that you would want a cephalopod for yourself so I whipped up this little tutorial for your very own pet squid.  He’s adorable. He’s a cephalopod. Most importantly, he doesn’t have to be fed, walked* or cleaned up after. 

(*You might look really awkward trying to take your cephalopod for a walk.)

Ed How To - Squid 1

Materials:

1 Paper towel tube
1 Toilet paper tube
Paint – color of your choice
Paint brush
Scissors
String, yarn or thin ribbon – 2 to 3 feet.
Tape
Straw
Glue
Black permanent marker
Stapler

Procedure:

  1. Color your tubes with the paint of your choice. (Don’t clean up the paint quite yet. You’ll need it again in a minute.)
    Ed How To - Squid 2
  2. Set the tubes aside and let them dry.
  3. Pinch one end of the toilet paper tube shut.
    Ed How To - Squid 3
  4. Use scissors to cut a 45 degree angle off each side of the tube so you now have two triangle pieces and a pointy tube.
    Ed How To - Squid 4
  5. Use a stapler to keep the tube flat. I aligned my staple with the length of the tube so as to not get in the way of the next step.
    Ed How To - Squid 5
  6. Use the scissors to cut 8 legs from the paper towel tubes. The legs should go up the tube about 2/3 of the way.
  7. Use the rest of the paint to color the pieces you cut off – both sides and the inside of the legs you just cut. The legs may get a little floppy when they are wet with paint, but don’t worry – they’ll firm up when dry. If you have some weird delaminated bits, you can always add a little bit of glue.
    Ed How To - Squid 6
  8. Once everything is dry, cut one of the triangle pieces down the fold so you have two pieces. Cut the other triangle piece into two feeding tentacle pads.
    Ed How To - Squid 7
  9. You are going to use the halved triangle pieces to make the fins of your squid. Apply a little bit of glue to the hypotenuse of the two triangles (opposite the 90 degree angle) and slide them in between the two pointy bits of the toilet paper tube – one on each side.  The 90 degree angle should be the part sticking out and making the fin.
    Ed How To - Squid 8Ed How To - Squid 9
  10. Now grab the paper towel tube. Use the scissors to shape the legs as you see fit. I like mine a little bit more realistic but, really, you can leave them as is.
  11. If you so choose, you can also curl or shape the legs for more realistic appearance. For mine, I did this by rolling the legs over a round marker – switching from the inside of the leg to the outside of the leg every so often.
  12. Now, glue the feeding tentacles to the string. You can also staple or tape them on as you see fit. Go crazy.
    Ed How To - Squid 10
  13. Tie the middle of the string into a small knot. This will give you a little bit more material when you attach the feeding tentacles.
    Ed How To - Squid 11
  14. Holding onto the knot, drop the feeding tentacles down through the uncut end of the paper towel tube.
    Ed How To - Squid 12
  15. Staple, glue or tape the end of the knot to the edge of the paper towel tube to secure it in place.
    Ed How To - Squid 13
  16. Cut a 2 ½” to 3” slit in the uncut end of the paper towel tube. This will allow you to overlap these edges and fit the “legs” into the “head”.
    Ed How To - Squid 14
  17. Now let’s make a siphon. Cut a straw slightly longer than your slit. Let’s say 3 ¼” just for fun.
  18. Flatten the straw a bit and then attach the straw to one of the edges of the slit you just made.
    Ed How To - Squid 15
  19. Curl the side of the slit without the straw behind the side of the slit with the straw. Then, fit the “legs” into the “head.  Push it all the way in.
    Ed How To - Squid 16
  20. Once you know it fits, take the “legs” out, put a little glue on the top edge and fit it back into the “head”.
    Ed How To - Squid 17Ed How To - Squid 18
  21. Last step! We need to add some eyes! Using your black permanent marker, make two dime sized circles on your guy on the “leg” piece between the “head” and the legs.  They should line up approximately with your fins.
    Ed How To - Squid 19
  22. Done! Enjoy your pet squid and take him on lots of walks to the park.  Squid love going on walks. Here’s the final product.I have named him Maurice.
    Ed How To - Squid 1

 

Educator How-To: Be your own knight in shining armor with homemade chain maille

When people think of knights, they generally think of armor, too. The plate armor most associated with knights was actually a fairly recent invention. Armor started as quilted shirts and thick leather pieces to cover arms and legs (if you were fortunate enough to afford it!).

Chain maille was a pretty fantastic innovation for the time, but it had its drawbacks, too. It was heavy and cumbersome and only as strong as each individual link. Because the links were made of steel or iron, they rusted quite readily, and those rusty links were the proverbial “chinks in the armor.” They were points of weakness that might allow a sword point or arrow to penetrate. 

The job of armor maintenance was given to young boys that might otherwise be underfoot. To start, the armor was placed in a barrel of sand and sealed up. The boys would then roll the barrels back and forth across the yard and the sand would scour the blood and sweat and rust off the links. Even a well-maintained chain maille shirt would need repairs quite often and the color on even the best of days would be a dull dark gray.

Further innovations led to the plate armor that we know today, but even then, it wasn’t always so shining. Here is a suit of armor that belonged to Henry VIII. 

Youth Ed Armor 2Youth Ed Armor 1 

 

Beautiful? Yes. Well-crafted? Yes. Shining? Not so much.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that body armor like this was a strictly European invention.  Most cultures that engage in warfare have some sort of armor to counteract the weapons. Some of the armor is ceremonial, but more often than not, it is clever and particular to the local environment. 

The Maya and Aztec, for example, wore knee-length jackets of tightly-woven quilted cotton called ichcahuipilli. The jackets were soaked in salt water and then the water was allowed to evaporate. The salt left behind would crystalize between the quilted portions of the jacket, creating small, thick, sturdy plates of protection which were effective against arrows, atlatl darts, obsidian swords and batons.

Youth Ed Armor 3

Youth Ed Armor 4

 

They didn’t have cotton in Micronesia, so on the islands of Kiribati, they used what they did have: coconuts. Helmets, leg coverings, shirts and chest protection were made from tightly-woven coconut fibers as protection against another natural resource: sharks (or more accurately, shark teeth). The teeth of the sharks were drilled in the roots and then attached to the base with bits from the veins of the coconut leaf or human hair. The shark-tooth swords were intended to disembowel an enemy or open a major artery so he would bleed out. Yikes!

Want in on all this exciting armor action? You’ve got two options!

Option 1: Bring your crew down to see Magna Carta before it leaves on August 17th.  You have three short weeks! If you want to bring a school group or day care, be sure to contact fieldtrips@hmns.org to get the school rate. You will also want to consider coming on a Friday mornings at around 11.

Youth Ed Armor 6

Option 2: Can’t make it to us? Then try your hand at making your own armor. Sort of.  Here’s a pretty easy chain maille bracelet you can make at home. It won’t offer you much protection but it will allow you to practice your technique before trying something a little more complicated.

Materials:

-Jump rings or chain maille rings (The bigger they are, the less work for you.)
-The clasp of your choice or a piece of leather or ribbon to tie the bracelet ends together
-2 pairs of jewelers pliers (or needle-nosed pliers if you are in a pinch)
-A tape measure or piece of paper to measure your wrist

Procedure:

  1. Measure how long you want your bracelet to be using a tape measure (or even a piece of paper). The standard size for women is about 7 inches and the standard size for men is about 8.
  2. Open several of your jump rings. To open them, you DON’T want to pull them apart.  Instead you want to twist them open. If the individual rings start off as an “O” shape, you don’t want to make them into a wide-mouthed “C”. Instead, you want to slide the ends away from each other, one towards you and one away from you. Because of the way the rings are made, they naturally take that shape, so that should help you get started. If your rings lay flat when opened (rather than in a twisty shape), you will need to try again! Once you have a pile of open rings, things get a little trickier. You can keep up though. I believe in you.

    Youth Ed Armor 7

  3. The next step is to put four closed rings on an open ring and then slide the open ring back into the closed position. Then repeat this step over and over. You will need probably 10 of these 4-in-1 sets for a 7-inch bracelet.

    Youth Ed Armor 8Youth Ed Armor 9

  4. Once you have the 4-in-1 sets made, you will need to use your pliers to separate out two rings from the four. The set should hang from your pliers as two rings, with one ring in the middle and two more rings at the bottom. You are then going to feed an open ring through the top two rings. Shift your pliers around so that you are now holding onto that open ring.

    Youth Ed Armor 10Youth Ed Armor 11

  5. Using your other set of pliers, pick up two rings on another 4-in-1 set. Loop those two rings through the open ring (effectively creating a new 4-in-1 set) and then close the open ring. You should have created a small chain at this point. Great job!

    Youth Ed Armor 12

  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you have 4 or 5 small chains. I am doing 4, but I have pretty small wrists.

    Youth Ed Armor 13

  7. Getting close to being done! You will need to link these small chains in exactly the same way you did the sets. Take two rings from the top of one small chain and put them on an open ring with two rings from the top of another small chain.
  8. Now, repeat step seven with your longer chains!
  9. Finish up by adding a single jump ring to each end. This will let you tie the two ends together, or you can add a clasp to that last ring before you close it up. You’re done!

    Youth Ed Armor 14

Educator How-To: The eyes have it in this DIY optical illusion

Your eyes are amazing sensory organs. They help you understand shape, color and form, judge distance and alert you to potential dangers. What you perceive as “seeing” is actually the result of a complex series of events that occur between your brain, your eyes and the world around you.

Light reflected from an object passes through the cornea of the eye and moves through the lens, which focuses it. The light then reaches the retina at the very back of the eye, where it meets a thin layer of color-sensitive cells called the rods and cones. Information from the retina travels from the eye to the brain via the optic nerve.

Because eyes see from slightly different positions, the brain must mix the two images it receives to get a complete picture. The light also crisscrosses while going through the cornea so the retina “sees” the image upside down. The brain then “reads” the image and turns it right-side up.

The rods and cones are what you call photoreceptors. When they are overworked, they lose sensitivity. Normally the small movements of your eyes that you make unconsciously, or regular blinking, will keep these photoreceptors sharp and happy. If you are looking at a large enough image, where your eyes can’t rest, or if you purposely hold your eyes still, you will tire out your poor rods and cones and they will adapt to this overstimulation by no longer responding. When you move your eyes to a blank space, your worn out photoreceptors create an “afterimage”.  An afterimage is where your eyes produce a ghost image, like when you stare at something a little too bright and you see dark spots in your field of vision. In an afterimage, light portions of the original image are replaced by dark portions and dark portions are replaced by light portions.

Try this out for yourself by doing the following activity. 

You will create the Texas state flag in some unusual colors. After you stare at this incorrectly colored flag and have worn out your photoreceptors, looking at a blank wall will create a ghost image of the Texas state flag in red, white and blue!

Activity:  Negative Afterimage

Materials:
Scissors
Glue
Paper
Green construction paper
Black construction paper
Yellow construction paper 

Ed How To Optical Flag 1

Procedure:

1. Cut your green and yellow papers in thirds, width-wise.

Ed How To Optical Flag 2

2. Cut a star out of the middle of your yellow piece.

Ed How To Optical Flag 3

3. Glue the yellow piece to one end of the black piece.
4. Turn the black paper so that your yellow piece is placed on the left.

Ed How To Optical Flag 4

5. Glue the green piece to the bottom of the black piece.
6. Trim off any extra green.

Ed How To Optical Flag 5

Now stare at the flag for a minute or so. Try not to have much in your peripheral vision so that you can concentrate on the flag.

Look away from the flag at a neutral colored wall or piece of paper.  You should be able to see the flag in red, white and blue!

Ed How To Optical Flag 6

Have a school group and want to know more about how your eyes work?  Sign up for an Eyeball Dissection with our Labs on Demand.  These labs make a great addition to a field trip, but are also available to come to your school.

Interested in knowing more about how your body works?  Visit Body Carnival, a carnival-themed interactive exhibit that explores the connections between perception and the laws of physics in the human body, at HMNS Sugar Land. Enjoy learning about the human body while investigating force, pressure, light, and color. Crawl through a giant artery to see and hear the effects of restricted blood flow, test your balance in the 10-foot Dizzy Tunnel or don a pair of vision-distorting goggles and discover how sight affects your ability to walk straight. There’s a lot to explore!

 

School’s (almost) out for summer: Time to xplore with our Xplorations Summer Camps!

Summer Camp is here again!  As we busily prepare, buying all the weird odds and ends it takes to run camp here (everything from plastic spoons to sheep eyeballs), I thought I would share a bit about camp with you.

Xplorations Summer Camp 14Recently I gave a presentation to fellow HMNS staff members about Xplorations Summer Camp, just a little informal FYI. I was surprised at how many of them stopped me later in the day and said, “I didn’t know that ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_________.” 

The No. 1 item they commented on was the sheer size of our summer camps. We have approximately 550 campers per week at HMNS in Hermann Park. This means that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, we are larger than your average elementary school each week for the eight weeks of camp. 

Because of this, we take safety very seriously … which brings us to the second most surprising camp fact I shared: Staffers were also amazed to learn that all the full-time Youth Education Programs staff regularly has First-Aid, Epi-Pen injection, and Heart Saver/AED training. We have found that parents really like getting their campers back in the afternoon in same condition as when they signed them in in the morning. To that end, we feel like we should be prepared for a whole range of potential problems — everything from a Band-Aid solve-able boo-boo to a zombie apocalypse.

Our number one goal is to keep our campers safe!  A close second is to have fun while learning.

And because we are always learning new things around here, I learned how to make this infographic with some of the other numbers and statistics our staff found interesting about Xplorations Summer Camp. 

Summer Camp InfographicIf you haven’t signed up your little scientists, you’d better do it quickly.  Spots are vanishing before our eyes! 

Camp is an excellent, hands-on way to introduce kids to topics in science. They learn, have fun and are able to explore themes and careers that can help them change the world. Perfect for kids age 6-12, sign up for Xplorations Summer Camps today! Click here to see our full catalog of age-specific camps.