Upgrade your gift this holiday season with HMNS’ fall Lego Robotics course

Editor’s note: Today’s blog comes from Xplorations Camp Coordinator Kelsey Friedemann

HMNS’ new Lego Robotics after-school program debuted this fall and was met with great success. The course was adapted from our popular Robotics summer camp, but was redesigned for a smaller class environment with more hands-on experience. Many of our fall students entered class with little to no experience, but they quickly learned how to build a robot and how to program it, as well.

Over the 10-week class, students were able to participate in specific programming challenges. As they advanced beyond introductory activities, they learned how to program their robots to make sharp turns, avoid objects using the ultrasonic sensor, and even perform a unique dance.

Lego Robotics now available for Fall courses at both HMNS locationsThe small class size allowed the students more freedom in constructing their robots, as well. One student decided to recreate the wheel for his robot — literally. He expanded upon the introductory wheel system and created a mega-wheel, but soon realized that a bigger wheel does not necessarily make a more effective wheel. Through experimentation, he was able to conclude that an earlier adaptation would make his robot more functional.

By the final week, the students could manipulate their robots to perform a multitude of tasks using several different attached sensors.

So take it up a notch this holiday season. Legos are always a hit, but this year, give the gift of knowledge!

Lego Robotics now available for Fall courses at both HMNS locationsHMNS’ Lego Robotics course makes a special, educational gift for any child – and it’s available at both Museum locations:

Ten Tuesdays at HMNS
Jan 8 – March 19
4:30 – 6 p.m.
$240 | $190 for members

Ten Thursdays at HMNS in Sugar Land
Jan 10 – March 31
4:30 – 6 p.m.
$240 | $190 for members

Festivals of the World at HMNS Sugar Land

Come join us this Saturday, December 11 from 10 a.m. til 2 p.m. at HMNS at Sugar Land for our Second Saturday event Festivals Around the World.

In cooperation with PACE (Parents for Academic Excellence), the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land will help children appreciate 7 different cultures from around the world and what makes each one unique. Each culture will have a display, crafts and story time.

For Chinese New Year you will see Chinese clothing, a table setting, zodiac animals and pictures of Chinese New Year celebrations around the world. Participants will learn about the Chinese zodiac, make a zodiac card and complete a zodiac word search.
Story time will feature information about the Chinese Dragon Dance.

The Hanukkah display will feature clothing and jewelry for the holidays, decorations for the holiday season and an example of a traditional meal. For crafts, children will create a Menorah using their hands as patterns and a paper dreidel.

The Cinco de Mayo celebration will feature traditional Pueblan clothing, a display of Cinco de Mayo party decorations and a demonstration of the traditional way of making salsa. Visitors will make a papel picado, which is a type of traditional Mexican folk art.
Story time will feature a Mexican dance!

The festival known as Eid will feature displays of a prayer rug, the Koran, colorful illuminations, crescent moon, patakas (religious flags) and gifts. For crafts, children will make an Eid greeting card and a personal prayer rug.

The Kwanzaa display will feature a traditional table setting with an explanation of what each item means for the holiday. You will see decorations, food, flags, a Unity Cup and much more. Children will make an almost beaded headband.

The Diwali festival will feature clothing and jewelry for the holiday as well as traditional decorations for the holiday season. The craft will be making a paper lantern.
Story time will feature an Indian dance.

The Christmas season will feature displays of holiday items and decorations. For the crafts, children will make reindeer from their footprints and handprints and create a Christmas card using their fingerprints.
Story time will feature Christmas pop-up books.

Parents, bring your camera! Santa will be at the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land for the Second Saturday celebration of Festivals Around the World.

This event is included with the price of admission to HMNS at Sugar Land.

The Unconquered Sun: Winter Solstice Today!

At 11:47 am Central Time on Monday, December 21, the sun is overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn. This is the farthest point south at which the sun can be overhead, indicating that the North Pole is tilted as far away from the sun as possible. At the Tropic of Capricorn and elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, the high sun results in the longest day of the year and the beginning of summer.  Up here in the Northern Hemisphere, however, the sun is as low as possible in the sky, and we have our shortest day of the year.  This is the winter solstice for us.

Ancient peoples across America, Europe and Asia noticed that the sun got lower and lower and the daylight shorter and shorter throughout autumn.  When the sun reached its lowest point, this meant that it had stopped going away and would return–a cause for celebration.  One of the many pagan winter solstice festivals was Yule, celebrated in northern Europe.  Another was the festival of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) celebrated in Rome on Dec. 25.  Keep in mind that in antiquity the 25 was the date of the solstice itself–the sun which had stopped going away and begun to return was ‘unconquered.’  Due to the imprecision of the Julian calendar, the solstice had shifted to Dec. 21 by the year 325 A.D., when the Nicene Council convened. Since Pope Gregory’s reform was calculated to restore the equinoxes and solstices as of the Nicene Council, the winter solstice is now on Dec. 21 (occasionally Dec. 22).

No one in antiquity knew what date Jesus was born.  For one thing, many of the early Christians rejected all birthday celebrations of any kind as a pagan ritual.  Even had folks wanted to observe Jesus’ birth, the lunar calendar used in Israel at the time would complicate the choice of date.  The Chronology of 354 is the oldest document to list Christmas as a festival.  When the church selected Dec. 25 for this festival, it was probably because late December was already a festive time across the Roman Empire.

Sunset over Chicago
Creative Commons License photo credit: kevindooley

Although today is the shortest day of the year, you may have already noticed that sunset is a few minutes later now than at the beginning of the month.  In June, the North Pole was tilted towards the sun as much as possible.  Since then, the North Pole has tilted a little more away from the sun each day.  Days have been getting shorter because each day the sun has taken a slightly lower path across the sky.  Sunrises have been getting earlier and sunsets have been getting later.  By late November the sun had already gotten about as low as it is now.  As the day to day difference in the sun’s height gets smaller, another effect begins to dominate.

Earth’s orbit is not a circle; it is an ellipse.  The orbit is almost a circle, however; the eccentricity (out-of-roundness) is just 0.016, where 0 is a perfect circle and 1 a parabola.  This is enough of a difference to bring Earth slightly closer to the sun in early January and take it slightly farther away in early July.  Therefore, Earth is now beginning to make its closest approach to the sun (called perihelion).  As a result, Earth is speeding up on its orbit.  This causes sunrise, local noon, and sunset to occur just a little later each day.  By the 21, sunset will occur at 5:27 pm, as opposed to 5:22 pm on Dec. 2 (the actual date of the earliest sunset).  Sunrise, however, will have shifted from 7:00 am to 7:13 am.  Thus, that days are still getting shorter even though the sunsets are a little later.

Many people assume that the winter solstice should be the coldest day, but this is usually not true. January is usually colder.  Although days get a little bit longer and the sun a little bit higher beginning Monday, it takes quite awhile for this to add up to an appreciable difference in the Sun’s height in the sky and in the amount of light and heat reaching the arctic.  Frigid air masses continue to form in the arctic and move across the Northern Hemisphere throughout January, February, and often March.  Although the sun is higher in those months than in December, the air can be just as cold if not colder.

Equinox 2

Hopefully, we are getting all of our cloudy, gloomy weather over with , and the solstice will be sunnier. If so, you can join us on the museum sundial at noon on Monday, Dec. 21 to observe the sun!  This is one of the Fun Hundred events celebrating our 100 anniversary here at the Museum.   On top of the gnomon on our sundial is a silver ball with three sets of holes, which allows the sun to shine through pairs of lenses near each solstice or equinox.  To account for cloudy weather, our gnomon’s holes are big enough that the sun aligns with them for a few days before and after the exact equinox or solstice date.  The holes aligned with the winter solstice are so big that you can still project the sun’s image through them deep into January!  If the weather does not cooperate Monday, you can come and observe the sun on our sundial near noon on any day in the next few weeks.

Preview: Disney’s A Christmas Carol [12 Days of HMNS]

Bah, HUMBUG! Today is the Third Day of HMNS! In the spirit of the classic holiday carol, we’re taking 12 days to feature 12 different videos that preview or go behind-the-scenes of a holiday museum activity, here on the blog (or, you can get a sneak peek at all the videos on 12days.hmns.org – we won’t tell).

For our third video, preview Charles Dickens’ timeless tale – A Christmas Carol, stunningly reimagined by Disney. Then come to the Museum to experience it as never before – six stories high at the Wortham IMAX Theatre. (Plus, tickets include admission to the Museum’s permanent exhibits!)

Disney’s A Christmas Carol captures the fantastical essence of this classic in a groundbreaking motion picture event. Ebenezer Scrooge, played by Jim Carrey, begins the Christmas holiday with his usual miserly contempt. But when the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come take him on an eye-opening journey, he must open his heart before it’s too late.

Click play to preview this immersive movie adventure, now showing in the Wortham IMAX Theatre!

Happy Holidays!

Need to catch up?
The First Day of HMNS – Explore: Snow Science
The Second Day of HMNS – Preview: The Chronicles of Narnia Exhibition

Get into the holiday spirit! Visit our 12 Days of HMNS web site to see the videos and get more information about each event, exhibit and film: 12days.hmns.org

Happy Holidays!