Bringing the wonder to you: Science on Stage

We’ve got permanent exhibit halls, special exhibitions and an entire basement full of classrooms for camp and education. But did you know that we can bring HMNS to you?

HMNS outreach programs — which include Science on Stage, Docents To Go, Wildlife on Wheels, Discovery Dome, Bugs on Wheels and more — can be booked for school appearances, youth groups, or nearly anything else you can dream up.

Our largest program, Science on Stage, can serve an audience of up to 250 people, and offers three compelling programs: Exploring Energy, Cool Chemistry and Motion Commotion.

Science On Stage - HMNS Outreach Programs

Each program lasts about 45 minutes and can be customized for certain age groups or group sizes. Each program includes live demonstrations and strives to make learning visual by bringing student volunteers on stage and weaving a question-and-answer portion throughout. HMNS provides all the supplies needed for each program and manages clean-up — how great of a house guest are we?!

Youth Educator Carolyn Leap walked us through the Cool Chemistry program. “We start off demonstrating chemical reactions versus physical reactions, usually through combustion. Things on fire on stage usually get people’s attention.”

“In this program, the audience learns how fireworks function and engage in color-changing reactions, as well as experimenting with water-absorbing polymers,” Leap explained. “And, depending on the age of the audience, we make our own slime.”

Leap continued, “We use a concentrated form of hydrogen peroxide to create a foam reaction we call Elephant’s Toothpaste.”

“We dip all sorts of stuff in liquid nitrogen with the assistance of our student volunteers, who love to shatter frozen flowers and dunk balloons,” she said.

Science On Stage - HMNS Outreach ProgramsHMNS’ catalogue of outreach programs covers many fields, from life sciences with Wildlife on Wheels and Bugs on Wheels to anthropology with Docents to Go to our Discovery Dome portable planetarium  — and much more, thanks to a wealth of programming.

Most of our Science on Stage programs are hosted by Leap, who was this year named Educator of the Year by the Texas Association of Museums.

Science On Stage - HMNS Outreach ProgramsTo reserve Science on Stage for your students or group and get introduced to one of the best educators Texas has to offer, call 713-639-4766 or click here.

Those who can, teach: Tracking the Painted Lady life cycle with pasta

Hey there, today marks another installment of my handy how-to’s for educators.

This particular activity is awesome when paired with observing Painted Lady butterflies grow and change in your classroom.  It’s a visually appealing model that represents a unique hands-on opportunity to record the stages in the life cycle of organisms in their natural environment — using inexpensive materials and items gathered from outdoors.


Photo by squeakychu

What You’ll Need:

From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman (very basic)
The Lifecycles of Butterflies by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards (more detailed)
Light blue construction paper cut into 3 x 18-inch (8 x 35-cm) strips – one strip per child
Rotini pasta – one piece per child
Bowtie pasta – one piece per child
Mini shell pasta – one piece per child
Orzo pasta (rice also works well) – one piece per child
Small twigs or brown craft stems cut into 3-inch strips – three per child
Fresh leaves or leaves cut from construction paper– two per child
Wildflower or flower sticker – one per child
Washable markers
Liquid water color paint in green and another color of your choice
School glue

Kat-Caterpillar to Butterfly

What You Do:

1.    Cut construction paper into strips; one per child.
2.    Color rotini pasta and mini-shell pasta green by placing pasta in a baggie with green liquid water color and shaking gently.  Spread out and allow the pasta to dry.
3.    Color bowtie pasta a bright color of your choice in the same manner.


1.    Read:  From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman aloud to the class. This story is about a Painted Lady Butterfly raised in a classroom. Painted Lady Butterfly Kits are available in the Houston Museum of Natural Science Museum Store (use your educator’s discount!).  Live specimens will ship to you after you mail in the card contained in the kit — allow time for this.
2.    Take your class on a short field trip in the green areas on school grounds.
3.    Each child will collect three small sticks and two fresh leaves.  (Keep in mind that it is a good idea to check with school administrators to verify that collecting on school grounds is permissible.)
4.    Each child will fold a strip of light blue construction paper into four equal sections, creasing well.
5.    In the first section, a stick and a leaf are glued into the square, as if it were a leaf hanging from the stick.  Glue a single piece of orzo atop the leaf.  What does the orzo represent?
6.    Glue a stick and leaf in a similar way in the second square. Glue a piece of green rotini pasta to the top of the leaf.  What does this represent?
7.    In the third square, a stick should be glued with one mini-shell pasta hanging straight from the middle.  What does this represent?
8.    In the last square, a flower or flower sticker will be glued, along with the colorful piece of bowtie pasta.  What does the bowtie pasta represent?  Why do we have the flower in this square?
9.    Label each section as follows:  EGG, CATERPILLAR, CHRYSALIS, and BUTTERFLY.  They must be labeled in this order.
10.    Have children practice presenting the butterfly life cycle to one another using the project that was created.

Cockrell Butterfly Center

Questions to expand those  kiddie minds:

Why did you glue the “egg” and the “caterpillar” to the leaves?
Why did you glue the “chrysalis” to the stick?
Why was there a flower with our butterfly?
How many stages are there in the butterfly’s life cycle?
How is your life cycle similar to the life cycle of a butterfly?  How is it different?
Name other life cycles you observe around you.


All Summer Long

For 12 years I looked forward to the end of May. It symbolized the end of restriction and structure, and the beginning of freedom. I am, of course, talking about summer vacation, and a break from school. Now that I no longer have a regular summer break, I look back on mine with nostalgia. Kids all throughout the nation look forward to it each year. Just because we have a lull in organized education, does not mean that we should take a vacation from trying to save money or becoming more energy efficient. And here’s how.

Fur & Feather
Creative Commons License photo credit: Mrs Logic

Picnics are a wonderful thing. Especially at the Miller Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park. In the summer, after I get off of work, I can wander over to the Miller Theater and sit down and catch some bagpipes, classical music, jazz, musicals, plays and every other variety of show. How much better that would be with a picnic. When you plan your picnic make sure to use reusable containers and utensils, and not ones that you just through away.

The summer is also a great time to take trips with family and friends. This year plan local. Every city has lots of overlooked activities, some of which are free. In Houston we have the Miller Outdoor Theater, the Houston Museum of Natural Science,whose permanent halls are free on Tuesday nights, the Museum of Fine Arts, free on Thursdays, and the Houston Arboretum which is always free. Plan ahead, car pool, and park at a place where you can walk to all the fun places you are going to visit. Or even use the public transportation system. Just remember that the fewer miles you drive the less it costs and the greener it is. Carpooling is also a great way to save energy and money!

There are special summer foods that we all enjoy. I enjoy spitting out watermelon seeds on my Grandma’s back porch, or standing outside and talking to my brother in law while he grills. This summer think locally for you favorite summer foods as well. I think walking down the aisles at my local farmer’s market is a great experience. To see all the freshly grown fruits and vegetables, to go through them and pick out the perfect prize is a gratifying experience in itself. In this day and age of instant gratification, we don’t think about all the energy that goes into moving unseasonable fruits and vegetables to a grocery store. So save the environment and get better produce by buying local.

Go outside this summer. As I’ve already shown, there are lots of places to go this summer that are outside. And it can save money. How do I save money by doing activities outside, you may ask. It’s easy to explain. When you’re not inside running a lot of different electrical devices you use less electricity. Not all of this has to be rocket science. Everny hour you’re outside at the pool, the arboretum or your local park is an hour you’re not running your laptop, HD TV, video gaming system and stereo. On the same note, make sure to turn off everything (including the lights) when you do go outside. There is no reason you should be paying for what you’re not using.

Cherry Tomato
Creative Commons License photo credit: tboard

For some fun, outside, green projects this summer I suggest gardening. You don’t need a hydroponics setup to grow some of your own food and spices. I recommend picking something easy at first. So far I have tried grape tomatoes and basil. They both produced good size crops (handfuls of grape tomatoes and far, far more basil then I thought). You can include the whole family, giving younger members their own plots and having the older ones work a single large plot.

Another great green summer pastime is reading outdoors. You may ask how this is green? Well that’s easy. We have already shown that you use less electricity when you shut everything down and go outside. Currently most people still use actual books written on paper, so that requires no electricity either. A hammock is a wonderful way to dabble in summer reading, but a towel spread on grass works just the same (or maybe even just the grass itself, you wild bohemian you). Who knows, you may drift off if the weather is nice.

If you’re like me and have problems controlling your spending (at Half Price Books specifically) and are starting to have space issues in your domiciles, there is a cheap, fun and easy way to get new books all summer long. Its called a library. Shocking I know. The two different library systems in Houston (Houston City and Harris County libraries) have wonderful selections of old and new books, movies on DVD and VHS (I have heard rumors about this system from a long, long ago) and music. Also a number of the locations are next to parks or restaurants with outside seating. The perfect way to read all those new books.

Just remember there are lots of low watt activities all around you.

Diary of a Summer Camp Shopaholic

Summer camp is here and the lower level of the Museum is full of summer campers of all ages. Those of us who work in the Education Collections area, where we house all of the supplies for Summer Camp, really know how to shop.

Xplorations Summer camp is made of 20 onsite classrooms at HMNS, each with about 20 children each week participating in 20 hours of hands on activities with materials ranging from flowerpots and fingerpaint to raw eggs and racecars – we need a LOT of materials.

My weekends are filled with trips to the more obscure places for the more specific items like 10lbs of bulk flat sided plastic, gemstones for Star Warrior’s sashes and as many mini aluminum pie tins as we can find (believe me, I’ve been to about 10 stores looking for them – they are hard to find) as well as the usual trips to grocery stores and Target for several shopping baskets worth of goodies.

We also order from lots of scientific supply companies, restaurant suppliers and educational suppliers each week. My fabulous ExxonMobil Community Summer Jobs Program intern, Julia, heads out to Fiesta or Randalls at least twice a week for more eggs, milk or baking soda. I thought I’d take a few photos of our supply stash so that you all could see what it takes to fill our camp classrooms with fun for everyone.


Cups and Deli Containers and Plates – oh my.


We try to keep some method to the madness in our supply
room – labeled blue bins help us stay as organized as possible
among the craziness of camp.


Our very own candyland. Candy is used in camp for DNA
models, construction materials and certain candies can even
trigger soda explosions.


The camp crew is very proud of our new “Kitchen Land” where
all things kitchen and food related have gone to live this
summer — allowing them a separate home from construction
paper and fingerprint powder.

We have two refrigerators for camp in our supply area. One contains various “staining items” for Test for the Best’s stain remover test, Wizard Science Academy’s squid and swamp eel for dissecting and many containers of “flobberworms” (earthworms for non-wizard shoppers); the other seems to contain lots and lots of eggs and milk.

Camp trips to the grocery store usually involve at least two or three full baskets and it is always fun to see how long it takes the checker to ask what you’re doing with 20 chicken legs with thighs attached, 40 tubs of vanilla icing, a bag of dog food, 25 boxes of sugar cubes, eight boxes of dinosaur fruit snacks, eight varieties of milk chocolate bars, six, 18-packs of eggs, 44 small oranges and all of the marshmallows that came in on yesterday’s marshmallow delivery. Sometimes people are too embarassed to ask, but when they do and we tell them that it’s for HMNS Summer camp – it explains a lot.


What’s the wierdest thing in your fridge today? We have a vacuum sealed swamp eel (from Nicole’s favorite stop – the Asian market).