HMNS in the Classroom: Amazing arthropods model for middle schoolers

Editor’s Note: This post was written by HMNS Outreach Presenter Sahil Patel.

Those expecting a typical runway show were in for a surprise; the models all had at least six legs, nobody was showing off the latest fall collection, and the paparazzi consisted of a group of art students at Johnston Middle School.

A student concentrates while sketching one of the eight legs on Peanut, the Costa Rican Curly Hair Tarantula. Peanut was very cooperative and stood still the whole day for the classes.

A student concentrates while sketching one of the eight legs on Peanut, the Costa Rican Curly Hair Tarantula. Peanut was very cooperative and stood still the whole day for the classes.

HMNS’ LyondellBasell Bugs On Wheels traveled to Christina Gutierrez Gonzalez’s art class October 1-2 to model for a group of talented middle school artists. Exotic specimens from the Cockrell Butterfly Center’s insect zoo spent the days playing muse as the students learned about the arthropods and practiced their sketching.

A student smiles while observing a Giant African Millipede attempt to escape its plexiglass enclosure. While it is just a little too small to get out right now, this millipede is expected to grow up to one foot long.

A student smiles while observing a Giant African Millipede attempt to escape its plexiglass enclosure. While it is just a little too small to get out right now, this millipede is expected to grow up to one foot long.

In February 2013, Gonzalez booked the TOTAL Wildlife On Wheels program for the same purpose, and after the presentation yielded fun and fantastic artwork, she decided to try it again, this time with bugs.

A student sketches a Giant Prickly Stick, who is just trying to blend in with his stick. This species of walking stick will curl its abdomen and mimic a scorpion if threatened.

A student sketches a Giant Prickly Stick, who is just trying to blend in with his stick. This species of walking stick will curl its abdomen and mimic a scorpion if threatened.

Many students got the chance to draw multiple of the five live and five once-living arthropods present.

HMNS Bugs on Wheels

A student colors in the wings of a Blue Morpho butterfly. While the butterfly’s upper wings are a brilliant, bright blue, the undersides are a darker brown with eye spots.

While the bugs lounged around, the students were hard at work, carefully drawing outlines in their sketchbooks and filling in gaps with pencils.

Two students draw the outline of Stewart, the Giant Long-Legged Katydid. This species of katydid may be the largest and loudest in the world, but they are herbivorous and very gentle; Stewart was a very good model!

Two students draw the outline of Stewart, the Giant Long-Legged Katydid. This species of katydid may be the largest and loudest in the world, but they are herbivorous and very gentle; Stewart was a very good model!

The event was a hit once again. One young man stopped the HMNS presenters as they left for the day and gave them a thumbs up, saying, “Thanks for the awesome sixth period!”

A student colors in the legs of Peanut with alternate bands of black and yellow. Peanut, like all arachnids, has eight legs and two main body segments.

A student colors in the legs of Peanut with alternate bands of black and yellow. Peanut, like all arachnids, has eight legs and two main body segments.

Bugs On Wheels and our other Outreach programs, such as TOTAL Wildlife On Wheels, ConocoPhillips Science On Stage, and Chevron Earth Science On Wheels, bring the wonders of the Houston Museum of Natural Science to you through hands-on and interactive presentations. For further information on these programs and more, visit our HMNS Outreach website or send us an email at outreach@hmns.org!

A student shows off his finished rendition of an Atlas Beetle behind the specimen itself. While its horns look scary, these beetles are not harmful to humans and are often kept as pets.

A student shows off his finished rendition of an Atlas Beetle behind the specimen itself. While its horns look scary, these beetles are not harmful to humans and are often kept as pets.

For more information on HMNS’ outreach programs, click here.

For more information on LyondellBasell Bugs on Wheels, click here.

About the author of this post:
Sahil has worked for HMNS in some capacity each summer since 2007 with the Moran Ecoteen Program and Xplorations Summer Camps. He quite literally grew up at the Museum; Sahil and his mom made biweekly trips at lunchtime until he started school at age 5, and he was a regular camper in Xplorations from ages 6-13. In 2014, he was hired full-time as Outreach Presenter, a job where his friends think he spends all day playing with alligators, tarantulas, and dinosaur fossils. He doesn’t like to contradict them.

Sharing The Love: HMNS Outreach fan mail shows kids and teachers agree, hands-on science is FUNdamental

Editor’s Note: This post was written by HMNS Outreach Presenter Sahil Patel.

Even with a brand new school year just around the corner, students, teachers, and parents alike are still raving about last year’s HMNS Outreach programs. During the 2013-14 school calendar, HMNS Outreach conducted about 500 presentations, helping foster a love of learning and science in thousands of children. But you don’t have to take our word for it; check out these comments, pictures and thank you notes, all from satisfied customers from around the Houston area and beyond!

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The cards, letters, comments, and notes posted below were sent to the Museum following Outreach presentations:


Our ever-popular Outreach programs have gotten some fantastic thank you cards over the years, featuring adorable artwork like the Triceratops below.

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Our programs get kids on the edge of their seats in excitement! It isn’t often real prehistoric fossils come to school…

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“My students thought the fossils were cool. I have one student that is a dinosaur “nut” and he was so excited!” wrote a teacher following a Chevron Earth Science on Wheels program. From dinosaur fossils to shark teeth, this program has something of interest for everybody.

 

…and the requests to return are endless once we leave!

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HMNS Outreach Programs have been fostering a love of science in children for years…

Outreach IMG 04“All of our students, parents, faculty and staff were highly impressed and appreciative to the docents’ time, knowledge and friendliness” wrote a supervisor following a Docents To Go program. Extensively trained Museum volunteers present on any of eight different topics in our lowest-price Outreach program. 


…for kids of all ages and backgrounds from all over Southeast Texas…

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“I enjoyed the fact that our students were able to see and ‘pet’ the insects. Also, the presenter introduced, treated and spoke about the insects like they were her own pets. She has deep passion for her work and it showed!” wrote a teacher about LyondellBasell Bugs On Wheels. Staff from the renowned Cockrell Butterfly Center will present bugs of all kinds, shapes, and sizes in a program sure to please even the entomophobic!

 

…leading to even the most unlikely of friendships!

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It’s great when kids think we’re super smart…

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…because that tells us they learned something.

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While we love hearing that kids enjoyed our programs…

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“The response was very enthusiastic. Numerous parents commented that they appreciated having the opportunity to let their children experience something that was both educational and fun,” a teacher wrote about Discovery Dome. The Museum’s most popular outreach program takes viewers on a voyage to outer space, a trip back in time, and more, with shows appealing for all ages.

 

…we are just as happy to hear that the students enjoyed being taught…

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“I have so many favorites from this presentation! Honestly, I think my teachers and I learned along with the students with this one!” wrote one teacher about our ConocoPhillips Science On Stage show. 2012 Educator of the Year Carolyn Leap leads the way as children and adults alike explore topics in chemistry and physics.

 

…and even happier to hear that it has spawned a love of science and learning!

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“Please have more programs like this one coming to school. It’s always fascinating for children to see live animals and not just pictures!” wrote a parent to a teacher following a TOTAL Wildlife On Wheels program. From salamanders and snakes to alligators and ferrets, kids get an up close and personal encounter with some of the museum’s exotic animals.

 

Inspiring children to consider STEM careers? We love that, too.

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And it’s always nice to know the teachers are pleased with us as well.

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“Love them all…you are a standard every year” another teacher wrote. Over 550 programs have already been booked for 2014, and spaces for 2015 and 2016 are already being filled!

 

The feelings are mutual. Our presenters love teaching and working with kids, and cards like these are why we love our jobs.

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All of the Outreach programs featured above are bookable for visits; we like to say we’re bringing the Museum to you. Bookings are already underway for the 2014-2015 school year, and programs are filling fast, so get in on the action today! For more information, please visit our HMNS Outreach website or send us an email at outreach@hmns.org!

About the author of this post:
Sahil has worked for HMNS in some capacity each summer since 2007 with the Moran Ecoteen Program and Xplorations Summer Camps. He quite literally grew up at the Museum; Sahil and his mom made biweekly trips at lunchtime until he started school at age 5, and he was a regular camper in Xplorations from ages 6-13. In 2014, he was hired full-time as Outreach Presenter, a job where his friends think he spends all day playing with alligators, tarantulas, and dinosaur fossils. He doesn’t like to contradict them.

 

Hands-on, brains on: Encourage and engage your students with HMNS Science Nights

We’ve heard the same story for years now: American students are falling behind in the sciences and becoming less competitive in the global workforce. But what can we do about it?

It seems that teachers and parents can agree that this is, in fact, happening — but where we struggle is finding ways to close the gap and really get kids to excel again. Nearly a quarter of American parents believe that their child’s school doesn’t place enough emphasis on science curricula. But is it really a lack of emphasis that’s occurring or a lack of resources? Or simply that a variety of approaches are called for in order to get kids to better engage with the subject matter?

Stage 2Ben Mardell, Ph.D. and researcher with Project Zero at Harvard University, believes that kids need to have better access to hands-on learning techniques. “Kids learn through all their senses, and they like to touch and manipulate things.” Research suggests that this method of learning helps kids not only to engage better with the subject matter, but to help them retain the information with better clarity and for a longer amount of time. For example, engaging in a simple, hands-on task, like doodling or cutting out shapes, prevents restlessness during a learning experience.

Wildlife 1Lynn D. Dierking, interim associate dean for research at Oregon State University’s College of Education, says, “Hands-on learning can be exceedingly powerful. What these opportunities do for children and adults is they help them understand at a deeper level some of the things that they have learned.”

Teachers on the ground agree. Paul Revere Elementary teacher Jessica Huang said in an interview with NPR, “When [my students] explore, they’re excited. They find things they are interested in.”

So if you want to get your students to engage with and retain material, the answer is simple – give them hands-on activities! We at HMNS want to help, which is why we have programs like Science Night where our outreach programs come to your school and help kids get excited about science!

Wildlife 2With Science Night we bring the museum to you with fun interactive activities:

You book at least one Outreach Program:
ConocoPhilips Science on Stage
Bugs on Wheels
Discovery Dome
TOTAL Wildlife on Wheels
Docents To Go
Chevron Earth Science on Wheels

And choose from the following activity stations:
Ink Chromatography
How Much Is A Million
Indicator Paper
Shrinking Plastic
Butterfly Life Cycle
Shaving Cream Marbling
Optical Illusions
Nautilus Stamping
Bird Beaks
Polymers
Shape Science
Venomous vs. Poisonous

To learn more, download our flyer here.

Click here to book Science Night today!

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Discovery 2

Discovery 1

Bugs 1

 

 

Welcome to the HMNS Animal Alcove: Where the wild things are

You’ve seen the animals on display in our African and Texas wildlife exhibits. While realistic, none of these mounts actually slither, wiggle or do much of anything, really.

But HMNS has a live animal collection that much of the public never even sees. These animals are not on display, but used to educate at our outreach programs. Outreach programs like Wildlife on Wheels (WOW) give students a unique and hands-on opportunity to learn the basics of animal life.

I was fortunate enough to take a tour of the Animal Alcove that houses more than 40 of the animals used in the outreach programs. Right when you walk into the room, you feel like you have stepped into a completely different environment. In fact, this is exactly what the staff in charge of these animals is shooting for.

My first thought was, “Does the Museum have any snakes?” Absolutely we do! The Museum houses both venomous and nonvenomous snakes ranging from a rattlesnake to a bald python. One of the newest snake residents at the museum is a rainbow boa. This particular boa is a female, and she is known to the staff as being a bit of a diva — which is her right, considering how pretty she is.

The Museum also has an in-house baby American alligator. The alligators that come through the Museum do not stay here long. The Museum has a foster program through Brazos Bend State Park and houses these alligators until they begin to mature and then they send them back out into their natural habitats.

Even though the snakes and reptiles were the first animals I asked about, they were not the first animals that caught my eye: that would be two green-cheeked conures. These two little guys are very beautiful to look at and they are also very charismatic. But be careful! These little guys draw you in with their charm and pretty feathers and then reward you with a little bite on the finger. They are a good example of the look-but-don’t-touch rule.

However, they are not the only birds that call the museum home. There are also two ring-necked doves. These love to be petted and held and will even make little laughing sounds for visitors.

Moving away from scales and feathers, let’s talk about the furry friends here at the museum. There are several adorable mammals here that can make you smile. There is a short-tailed opossum, two ferrets, and two degus, in addition to a sweet black rabbit.

The degus were my personal favorites. Degus are rodents, but they are more closely related to chinchillas and guinea pigs than they are to rats and mice. These two will greet you at the door of their cage begging for treats and will even crawl out onto your hand for some petting and loving. Then when they have had enough attention, they are happy climbing onto their exercise wheel for a little cardio.

In contrast to that were the two ferrets on the other side of the room. Both of these laid-back fellows were fast asleep in either a hammock or the corner of their cage.

All of these animals were very interesting, but I am one who picks favorites. My favorite member of the live animal collection at the museum is the axolotl.

I know, you’re thinking, “What on earth is that?!”

An axolotl is a salamander that is closely related to the tiger salamander (which you can also find at the Museum). What is so interesting about the axolotl is that it resembles a tadpole more than it does a full grown salamander.

Even though you may not have heard of an axolotl, you might already have an idea of what it looks like. Toothless, the black dragon from the movie How to Train Your Dragon, was modeled after an axolotl! If you look below, you can see the striking resemblance:

Meet our Axolotl!