Skulls, Horseshoes, Parrots and Robots: Fall Teacher Tuesdays offer awesome classroom ideas

It’s officially fall, and I’d like to say the weather is cooling down and the leaves are turning bright and beautiful colors, but we live in Houston. So… no.

Instead, I can tell you that we’ve been hard at work this summer developing fun, fast and hands-on activities for this year’s ExxonMobil Teacher Tuesdays. For adults only, Teacher Tuesdays offer fun and interactive professional development opportunities for ideas to kick your lessons up a notch. We’re pretty excited about the line-up this fall, and we’re dying to give you a sneak peak of what to expect.


Our first ExxonMobil Teacher Tuesday has us focusing on one of our favorite topics: Day of the Dead! With all-new crafts, this workshop is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Check out the photo above for a hint at the items we’ll be making in class. For those of you who have been to a Day of the Dead workshop before, you’ll be pleased to know that the sparkle box is back!


In October, you can join us for an in depth look at the rock cycle with James Washington, Lead Concierge here at HMNS. James, who leads tours for the museum, has his very own collection of specimens he’s willing to share with the world. Anyone who has participated in what I refer to as “The James Washington Experience” leaves with a much better understanding of how all sciences are connected.


You also have the opportunity to visit the new Hamman Hall of Coastal Ecology on Oct. 27 to discover the critters in and around the ocean. You’ll even get the chance to get up close and personal with a horseshoe crab. (Fun fact: horseshoe crabs keep you healthy in ways you probably don’t even know about but will learn in this mind-blowing workshop.)


For November, pop down to the rainforest as you learn about the Amazon in the Out of the Amazon workshop. As part of the workshop, you will be treated to a rainforest wildlife presentation as well as a tour of the new exhibit Out of the Amazon. Dover and Frankie, our resident green-cheeked conures, might even make an appearance and will within minutes have entire room full of adults trained to do tricks.teacher7Join us in December for a viewing of Robots 3D in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre. HMNS’s own Kathleen Havens wrote the curriculum for this National Geographic feature, so you know it’ll be hands-on, fun and engaging for students while covering STEM objectives and careers. If you’d like to discover some reasonable engineering challenges you can do at school for your elementary and middle school students that don’t require a $3000 grant, this workshop is for you!


And that just takes us through December! The spring semester is just as exciting, covering everything from blood splatter to brain-based learning. Check out our complete schedule, and we’ll see you at HMNS!

Inside Discovery Guides: Why you should consider a museum tour with a concierge

by “Cretaceous” Chris Wells

The Houston Museum of Natural Science started small. Back in 1909, when the museum was founded, you could probably see everything we had to offer in 30 minutes. But since our opening, HMNS has been growing exponentially. These days, our main campus is the heart of an international network, bringing exhibits and lecturers from places like England, Egypt, Italy, and China. To see everything here would take at least two days, and that figure doesn’t even account for all there is to see at our Sugar Land campus or the George Observatory. Trying to decide what to do can be overwhelming for guests, but luckily, our staff has evolved alongside our institution.


Concierge Rigoberto Torres enjoys being the first to greet visitors to the museum, he said. “Once they come inside, we want to make sure their experience is good from the start.” Photo by Jason Schaefer.

The concierge service here at HMNS is like a mini travel agency whose services are free. All you have to do is walk up to the information desk, tell us what you’re interested in and listen to suggestions. It may seem like overkill, having staff just to explain what there is to see here, but consider this: our main campus covers four city blocks and contains 12 permanent exhibits and an ever-changing number of limited engagements visiting from all over the world. We also host a lecture series, adult education classes, multiple children’s education programs and much more. We have really interesting stuff, but it’s surprisingly easy to miss out.

Some visitors see the concierges standing at the information desk or sometimes patrolling the exhibits, and they don’t know what to think. Who are these people dressed in white shirts and black pants? They may look somewhat like used car salesmen, but they really aren’t here to sell anything. They’re here to help. Some members of the team have been with the museum for years, and they know the ins and outs of every department, so they can answer questions about membership, ticket sales, upcoming exhibits, you name it.


Concierge Rich Hutting explains to visitors Jullie Fugitt and Roy Hey why this Uintatherium might have looked so strange. She developed many different adaptations all at once. Photo by Jason Schaefer.

Some of the concierges, called Discovery Guides, offer tours of the exhibits. Every day, the Discovery Guides take groups through our two most popular exhibits, the Morian Hall of Paleontology and the Hall of Ancient Egypt. Each guide has spent countless hours studying the objects housed in our collections. The little plaques in the exhibits give interesting information, but the juicy details, the romance and intrigue, the struggle for life and limb… those you can only hear on the tours.


Corey Green explains illness in Ancient Egypt to a tour group of children. Egyptians used makeup to prevent flies from getting into their eyes, she said. Even men. Photo by Jason Schaefer.

Discovery Guides give interactive kid’s tours, too, where the children get to touch real fossils. On these special tours, the guides manage to explain what fossils are and where they come from without sounding like an audio version of paleontology textbook, so children and adults alike can walk away with a real understanding of the things in our exhibits.

The concierge team is blazing a trail toward providing better service to all who visit us at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Already, letters have come in calling us sweet and helpful, giving every guest the best experience possible. We are proud to offer a service not found in most other museums. A service that ensures there will be none of those awkward family photos where everybody looks tired and confused. Not when they’re at HMNS.

Editor’s Note: “Cretaceous” Chris Wells is a Discovery Guide at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Look, ma, no roots! Learn to grow your own orchids, bromeliads & other “air plants”

It’s that time of year again: the long cold of winter is lifting, and we can see spring around the corner. Here at HMNS we ring in spring with a BLOOM — with our horticulture adult education classes. Kicking off the season on Mar. 8, we’re offering a class on growing orchids and other epiphytes!

“Other epiphytes?” you may ask, wondering, “I just thought orchids were flowers.” While they are flowering plants, there’s so much more that makes them really incredible. You see orchids, and epiphytes in general, distinguish themselves from other plants in that they do not need to grow in soil. They actually prefer not to. They have amazingly adapted so that their roots can suck moisture directly out of the air. By attaching to a tree, high off the ground, they can also avoid getting gobbled up by most herbivores.

Epiphytes are non-parasitic, meaning that they do not steal any nutrients from the plant they grow on, creating their energy through photosynthesis (although some species like the strangler fig can eventually overtake their host). Notable examples include ferns, orchids and bromeliads, but the most familiar epiphyte to people here in the South is a wispy bromeliad by the name of Spanish moss.

If you have ever strolled through the Cockrell Butterfly Center you have surely seen our stunning epiphytes clinging on nearly every nook and cranny of the larger trees and struts in the center.

To learn more tips and tricks for epiphyte growing, join me for the HMNS adult education class “How to Grow Orchids, Bromeliads and Other ‘Air Plants'” from 9 to 11 a.m. on Sat., Mar. 8 in the Cockrell Butterfly Center. The class includes a behind-the-scenes tour of the Butterfly Center, followed by a hands-on class in which attendees will learn how to propagate, divide, mount and fertilize their own epiphytes. And finally, everyone goes home with their very own orchid or bromeliad to start (or add to) their collection.

Oktoberfest … right now? Yep, it’s possible with SCIENCE.

You’re probably familiar with Oktoberfest, the international festival held annually in late September and early October in Munich. It’s a family affair and a place to eat and party. Bavarians celebrate their heritage by wearing elaborate native costumes — think Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, but instead of cowboy hats and boots, men of every age sport lederhosen. People go for the day to see the livestock show, ride carnival rides, eat lots of unhealthy food, and drink beer. Lots and lots of beer.


When I arrived, my first question was “Where are the beer tents?” They were actually right in front of me, but they looked nothing like tents. They are elaborate structures with brightly colored paint and moving figurines. The insides are decorated with banners, flowers and chandeliers.

The Hoffbrau House and Lowenbrau tents are very popular for the partying crowd. The ump-pa-pa bands play traditional German beer-drinking tunes and the popular songs of the day. Seemingly every 15 minutes “Ein Prosit” is played and everyone stands on their bench and raises their mugs to the unofficial Oktoberfest theme song.

Oktoberfest traditionally starts in the third weekend in September and ends the first Sunday of October. (There are many laughs when the Americans show up throughout October for the celebration.)

HMNS celebrates the history and science behind Oktoberfest and beer every year at Saint Arnold Brewery with founder Brock Wagner and his beer-making mentor Scott Birdwell of Defalco’s Home Wine & Beer Supplies. This year’s date is Sept. 25. If you want to raise your stein with us, click here for more info and to purchase tickets. The deadline for ticket purchases is Sept. 19.

From the Munich Tourist Office:

Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, was married to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the happy royal event. The fields were renamed Theresienwiese (“Theresa Fields”) to honor the Crown Princess, although the locals have since abbreviated the name simply to “Wiesn.” Horse races in the presence of the royal family marked the close of the event that was celebrated as a festival for the whole of Bavaria. The decision to repeat the horse races in subsequent years gave rise to the tradition of Oktoberfest.

In 1811, an added feature to the horse races was the first Agricultural Show, designed to boost Bavarian agriculture. The horse races, which were the oldest – and at one time – the most popular event of the festival are no longer held today. But the Agricultural Show is still held every three years during the Oktoberfest on the southern part of the festival grounds.

In the first few decades, the choices of amusements were sparse. In 1818, the first carousel and two swings were set up. Visitors were able to quench their thirst at small beer stands, which grew rapidly in number. In 1896 the beer stands were replaced by the first beer tents and halls set up by the enterprising landlords with the backing of the breweries. The remainder of the festival site was taken up by a fun-fair. The range of carousels offered was already increasing rapidly in the 1870’s as the fairground trade continued to grow and develop in Germany.

Today, the Oktoberfest in Munich is the largest festival in the world, with an international flavor characteristic of the 20th century. At the foot of the Bavaria Statue, adjacent to the Huge Oktoberfest grounds there are also carousels, roller coasters and all the spectacular fun for the enjoyment and excitement of visitors of all ages.

The festivities are accompanied by a program of events, including the Grand Entry of the Oktoberfest Landlords and Breweries, the Costume and Riflemen’s Procession, and a concert involving all the brass bands represented at the “Wiesn.”

The Oktoberfest celebrated its 200th Anniversary in 2011, only wars and cholera epidemics have briefly interrupted the yearly beer celebration.

You will learn more beer history at HMNS’ Oktoberfest: The History & Science of Beer on Sept. 25 at Saint Arnold. Yes, that Saint Arnold: the patron saint of brewers.

Can’t wait until Sept. 25 to learn more about this saintly man? Click here.