Girls take home STEM prizes at annual GEMS event!

Two weeks ago, we celebrated our annual Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS) public event! We had an amazing turnout from local STEM organizations presenting fun activities and demonstrations for kids of all ages. They also helped us find our top three student projects! These projects were presented at booths by students in middle school and high school. We had many amazing projects, and it was unfortunate we could only choose three winners! We’re proud to present the top three student projects.

3rd place winners

In third place, we have a group of high school students from the Jersey Village robotics team, Jersey Voltage. Their project entitled “Up, Up & Robots Away!” focused on the robot the group built in just six weeks. The robot was programmed to pick up and stack boxes more than six feet high. They hope to use their winnings to fund parts for their robot and their entry into robotics competitions.

2nd place winners

Our second place group presented a project called “Fun with Fizix,” which discussed several areas of physics. This group of girls from Awty International School demonstrated Bernoulli’s principle, as well as surface area and conservation of energy. They’d like to use their winnings to go on a field trip to see physics in action!

First Place Winners

Finally, we’d like to introduce our first place winners! The group of girls from Girl Scout Troop 21276 presented a project about genetically modified organisms called “GMOs: The New Revolution of Food.” They experimented growing different varieties of food to determine the effectiveness of GMO produce and food. The group created a model that described how genetically modified rice could last longer during the wet season than non-genetically modified rice. They plan to use the grand prize winning for the T.H. Rogers science program and perhaps a Night at the Museum!

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Thank you for coming out to GEMS 2016! If you’d like to participate next year, please email gems@hmns.org for more information. Join us at next year’s GEMS event on February 18, 2017! 

 

Let’s Make an Art Journal

Let's Make an Art Journal

Something I have been thinking about for some time is starting a nature/art/travel journal. This little project has been sitting on the back burner for a while, but recently got moved directly to the front when I got the opportunity to travel to Saudi Arabia for work.

I love the combination of compact information and artistic license that this type of journaling affords. I found these examples below during a quick search on Pinterest. There are a million different ways to create these journals but the three examples below most closely align with what I am thinking of creating.

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While I do have some experience with the arts and crafts, I have been hesitant to start this specific project.  Why? Here’s a fun fact:  I am not a very good drawer at drawing.  Seriously.

You know those books about combining circles to create body shapes and then animals? This is pretty much how I feel.

 

 

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You know those people who can draw three wiggly lines on a page and end up with a bird? This is not a skill I have. 

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In the past I have skirted around this issue by taking a picture of the thing I want to draw and then drawing that picture. This seems to work reasonably well for me. I can then focus on two dimensional shapes and the thing isn’t moving. I will also admit that it takes me a looonnnnggg time to fuss with the drawings to make sure they are accurate. Or at least reasonable.

So…limited ability combined with and abundance of enthusiasm…. This is going to be great.

In starting this journal, I had some stipulations for myself. I wanted it spiral bound so that it seemed more like a book when I was finished and, more practically, this gets the cover out of the way without bending the pages. Plus, if I want to rip out a page and send it to my mom or whatever, there’s not a raw jagged edge in the middle of the book like there would be in a bound book. I wanted a book with pages that were thicker than sketch paper and had more tooth than drawing paper because I didn’t want the images to bleed through and I also wanted to add color at some point. So, watercolor paper is what I picked. It is juuuuust thick enough that, if you don’t linger, your sharpie won’t bleed through.

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I also wanted a book with fewer pages than a sketch book. The first sketch books I looked at had 200 pages. This seemed like too much of an emotional commitment for a project that I wasn’t 100% sure about anyway. So off to Texas Art Supply I went, where I found this watercolor book with only 24 pages. Perfect!

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All the options.

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What I ended up with.

Step one in this project was to create a cover page. This was my mental equivalent to getting the first scratch on a new car. I did it while watching a movie and tried not to think too much about it. I just doodled and erased until I ended up with something that I liked. Once I had the letters outlined, I tried to add some details to make it a little more interesting.

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The second step was to set some “rules” for myself. These are the things I want to make sure I incorporate into each page. I decided on the following:

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• A date
• A location
• A picture
• Information about the picture. (This can also include questions to answer later about the subject matter.)

Everything else is subject to negotiation!

So the first entry into my brand new journal was about our adventures to Al uqair. On the second day of our trip our hosts very kindly took us into the desert to see this ancient fort of Islamic origins. The fort, which contained a market, a jail, customs offices, and more, has been there so long and was so continuously occupied, that no one is certain when it was established. Linked by some to Gerrha, and located a short distance from the fertile oasis of al hasa, Al uqair has been a well-established trading post for hundreds of years. Before that, thousands of years ago, and just 300 miles north, the Mesopotamian, Sumerian and Babylonian cultures flourished. More recently, in 1922, it was the site where political leaders met to define the borders between northeastern Saudia Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq and, to meet the needs of the Bedouin tribes, to determine a “neutral zone”.

I made this short .gif with an app on my phone so you can see the process I went through on this the first page of my journal. I kept forgetting to stop and take pictures so it goes pretty fast!

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Perfect Pixelations: Fine art with building blocks

If you’re like me, you’re not a grown-up, despite all indicators to the contrary, and as such, you like playing with toys. I like the challenge of a good puzzle, and I like the sense of completion that finishing it brings.

In preparing for Block Party, I wanted to create a pixelated image and the project turned out to be quite the puzzle. Instructions for this type of image aren’t really available online, but examples are fairly easy to come by. Armed with no actual information but a few ideas, I decided to try my hand at building one of these “paintings.”

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The first challenge is finding a good picture. Unless you have a large and wicked variety of building block colors and sizes, you’ll need something that’s fairly simple, doesn’t have a lot of shading, and is color blocked. If you’re nervous, practice with one of Mondrian’s paintings. This will help you understand the process and can be completed quickly.

Step two is “pixelating” the image. Because not everyone has fancy photo software, we’re going to cheat a little bit. First, find an image that you’d like to pixelate; then insert your image into a word document. You don’t need a particularly large or high quality image, but we’ll get back to that in a bit.

Now, click on the picture so the “format picture” menu becomes available at the top of your document. Click “Artistic Effects” on the left side under “Color” and “Corrections.” Then click on the “light box” effect in the bottom left-hand corner. Once your picture has been “pixelated” you can right click the picture and open the “format picture” menu. This should bring up a menu bar on the right hand side of your word document.

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Click on the “Artistic Effects” option and then adjust the grid size until you feel comfortable with the level of “pixelization.”

Having trouble with your image? Let’s explore image quality. If you have a super high-resolution image, here’s what happens.

Original:

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High resolution version (1861 X 2636):

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This one doesn’t look like anything happened because there are so many pixels and they’re all so tiny. Not a good option. Now let’s look at the opposite end.

Here’s a low resolution version (85 X 100):

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This one has way too few pixels and so you can’t really tell what the image is supposed to be.

Somewhere in the middle (380 x 455):

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Not bad!

All of the images above have the light box grid set at 5. The “light box” function has to account for each of the pixels in the image, so the larger the picture, the more detailed and the harder your job will be when you try to reconstruct it.

SO! Now you have an image. Make your image as big as possible in your document and make the margins as small as your printer will allow. Print at least two copies of your image to work with. The pixels should be clear and easy to see when the image is printed out. Here’s what I ended up with:

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Please note:  Depending on your image, you will need an insane number of building blocks in a wide array of colors… Like a lot. I spent a ridiculous amount of time on eBay trying to round out my collection of single-stud yellows, pinks and oranges. I’m just saying.

One thing that might help you if you’re overwhelmed is using a black and white image. I used the image from above and recolored it to grayscale in the “Format Picture” menu under the “Color” option. Now you’ll only need gray, black and white building blocks.

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One last thing before we start constructing — you will need a base plate or base plates. These are cheap and easy to get on eBay, but you need to know how wide and how long to make your image. Count the number of squares going across the top (the width of the image) and the count the number of squares going down (the length). The image above is 29 pixels wide and 37 pixels long. The base plates come in a range of sizes but it’s going to be tricky to cobble the right combination together to make 29 x 37.  Instead I am going to aim for 30 x 40 and just expand the image on the top and the left.

At this point, you’ve got your image, you’ve got your base plates and you have an insane variety of building blocks. So let’s get building!

If your image is the same size or smaller than your base plates, you can skip this next step. If your image requires a couple of base plates to be used together, you may want to glue them to some sort of other surface such as a medium-density fiberboard or MDF, available at home improvement stores. You can also skip this step, but you’ll need to be more cognizant of your building brick placement as these will be the “glue” that holds everything together. You’ll also have a more difficult time transporting an image like this.  When you pick up the complete piece, the smaller base plates may fall off. There were a lot of upside-down cookie sheets involved with getting the completed Marilyn from my house to the Block Party exhibit in the museum.

Now if you’ve ever done a counted cross-stitch pattern, you’ll know how to count to the middle of your image and start radiating out from that center point. Since most of you probably haven’t tried your hand at counted cross-stitch, we are going to use an x,y axis grid instead.

Look at your image and figure out which two touching sides have the least amount going on. In both images, the top left has the least amount going on.

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By that, on Marilyn in particular, I mean that the image can be faked if it has to be extended to fill your base plate or a section can be totally cropped out if it is too big for your base plate.

The corner of the two busiest sides is going to be your 0,0 axis point. In Marilyn’s case, the bottom right corner is going to be the 0,0 axis. From this point, count up 10 pixels and make a horizontal line. Count up another ten pixels and make a second line. Continue this until you run out of image and then repeat vertically.

Mark your base plates every ten studs, so you don’t have to count all the time. You can do it with a permanent marker directly on the surface (it’ll get covered up anyway), or you can use sticky notes on the back of the base plates. Either way, this step will save you time and help keep you straight as you work.

Starting at your 0,0 spot, start working in those 10 x 10 squares you established. You can work in any direction, but if you skip around, make sure you use your markers. “There’s nothing worse than doing a section and realizing you’re off one line and having to move everything,“ says the voice of experience. 

Also, DO NOT WING IT. Someone in the office wanted to wing it using a slightly too large base plate and tried to incorporate the size difference while building. We started over because Marilyn looked like she was both expanding like a balloon and melting at the same time. It was awkward.

One issue I had while building is a lack of certain colors to finish a particular square. See zombie Marilyn below. There just wasn’t enough pink. BUT, because I had already marked my squares, my paper, and my base plates, I was able to just skip those spots without losing my place. In the pictures below you can both see my pencil marks on the printed Marilyn, and you can sort of see where I was folding the paper into the smaller squares so I could concentrate on one small spot.

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Almost done. I had to redo her lips because they looked weird.

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And the final product:

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And with that, I turn it over to you! You can build a prototype or test out your own ideas at Block Party, the perfect place to learn about building processes at HMNS.

 

 

Strong STEM Branches from GEMS: Girls Exploring Math and Science

The Houston Museum of Natural Science, along with the Girls Scouts of San Jacinto Council, cordially invite you to attend the Girls Exploring Math and Science event, Feb. 20 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. GEMS is a free event for members and is included with the purchase of a ticket to the museum’s permanent exhibit halls for non-members. It is open to girls and boys of all ages.GEMS4

Currently, women earn more college and graduate degrees than men, but a gender gap still persists in the fields of science and in higher-level math intensive fields such as engineering. The U.S. Census Bureau statistics place the percentage of women working in fields related to STEM at 7 percent in 1970 and at 23 percent in 1990. There has been little growth since, with an estimate of 26 percent, according to 2011 statistics.

There is plenty of evidence that demonstrates that many girls in elementary school show interest in STEM subjects and may even hold desires for future STEM-related careers. However, there is equal evidence that by fifth grade, interest appears to wane and continues to do so through high school in the general female population. While girls are not alone in this trend as it can be seen in other student demographics, it is troubling.

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Keeping girls interested in science and math long-term is a broad-spectrum problem with no easy solution. However, there are a number of curative steps that can be implemented to recoup interest in STEM subjects. Increasing the visibility of female role models in math and science is one important step. This helps girls envision themselves in such fields. HMNS and the GEMS program capitalizes on this idea by incorporating young and enthusiastic female role models with whom girls can interact.

In addition, during GEMS, the museum is packed with hands-on science and math opportunities, community booths, and other science professionals. Children and adults can take their time to fully explore the opportunities and careers available in the fields of science and math.

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Girls need opportunities and encouragement in a wide range of STEM-related activities not only at school, but also through extracurricular activities such as GEMS. Helping girls to see these fields as exciting, relevant, and viable will take hard work on the part of teachers, parents, community members, and volunteers. I encourage you to take a small step in providing this encouragement to a girl in your life by bringing her to experience GEMS.