Museum curator thanks his inspiration: a sixth-grade history teacher

As a museum curator, I have the pleasure of working with lots of volunteers. Most of them are students who are interested in archaeology, anthropology and museum careers. This time of the year, as graduation nears, there is an uptick in requests to come visit with me and ask for information and advice. “How did you become a museum curator?” is a question I hear often. “How long do you need to study?” is another one. One of the first things I bring up is that finding employment in anthropology is not easy. However, it is possible. Moreover, I ask my visitors to suggest one field of study where one would be guaranteed a job upon graduation. I can think of only very few.

Van den Bossche, Gaston

Gaston Van den Bossche, a man who made a difference with his students.

The first question – How does one become a museum curator? – has many answers, I am sure. In my case, there was one elementary school teacher who made a difference, now 44 years ago, to be exact. The sixth and final year in elementary school, my class had a teacher who loved history. He loved the city we lived in too, and it just so happened that city had a very long history.

As the year went by, he organized us into groups and assigned various projects. One involved painting a bird’s eye view of what our hometown would have looked like in the Middle Ages. That required research. It also entailed getting covered in paint as we worked on that assignment. Eventually two different canvases were finished. Much to our delight, they were hung in the entrance to the library. In another assignment, we were divided into five or six groups, each named after a Medieval guild. Some of us were the “coopers” or barrel makers, others the “tanners,” “bakers,” etc.  We were given assignments. To get the answers, we had to visit museums and churches, observe and ask questions. It made us interact with the past, and made this past come alive. It became part of what I got interested in. All because of a teacher.

As time went by, that sixth grade class went on to graduate. I found myself continuing down this path of “studying old things.” This took me from a university in Belgium to a U.S. institution in New Orleans, always pursuing the study of these “old things.” Over the years, that meant studying Roman and Greek history, some Egyptian history, and ultimately the art, archaeology, and history of American cultures, especially the Maya.

Photo by Robin Merrit

Photo by Robin Merrit

I have been very blessed to find a job, and to find myself working at a museum, where I now teach visitors, young, old and anyone in between. Sharing what you have learned about a culture that happens to be the topic of an exhibit is a joy. It is very rewarding to see the light come on in a child, when they “get it.” I love hearing visitors say to each other “I did not know that…” as they walk out of an exhibit. I am indebted to my old teacher for this sense of awe. It never left him. I hope it will never leave me.

Sadly, I recently received news that the man who sent me on my quest, and created that spark in me, had passed. Reason for sadness? For sure. Another reason to keep guiding people as much as possible, and maybe, just maybe, make a difference with one or two people? Absolutely. Next time you see a teacher at a reunion, and you know they made a difference in your life, say so. Give them a hug. They deserve it.

HMNS hosts second annual Science Hack Day

  Saturday, April 18, the Houston Museum of Natural Science was the stage for Science Hack Day Houston! This is the second year in a row that we have been able to host this event presented by Brightwork CoResearch. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Science Hack Days, here’s a quick synopsis.

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  Science Hack Day Houston participants are people from all walks of life. They can be anything from programmers to researchers, experts to novices and everything in between. Each of these people attends the event because they want to create something new. Many of the attendees do not know each other beforehand. In the first few hours, they must find a team to work with, come up with a project idea, and start working on a prototype. They have 36 hours to create their project, so there’s not a lot of time to dilly-dally. The next day, the teams present their ideas and prototypes to the public. It’s amazing what they can create in such a short amount of time!

  This year, we saw some impressive creations that we’d like to share with you. Team Bat Cane came up with a sonar device that could be worn on the hands and feet. When the device was within three feet of an object, it would vibrate and flash lights to indicate that the person was about to hit something. One of the team members demonstrated the prototype by walking through a maze of people, and he didn’t hit a single one! You can see a picture of him demonstrating the prototype below!

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  Another team came up with a new way to interact with space. Using data from NASA, they developed a program that would let you view the stars in space as if you were the sun. They used an oculus rift so you could look at the stars in all directions. In addition, they created space music to listen to while you view the stars. This isn’t like the soundtrack to any space movie you have seen. They actually took the electromagnetic vibrations that occur naturally in space and formed them into a song. It sounds a little spooky, but it makes you feel like you are really immersed in space!

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  Science Hack Day Houston was the stage for a multitude of impressive projects. These talented people had 36 hours to meet new people, create a team, figure out a project, and create a prototype to present on Sunday afternoon. It was a science collaboration marathon. If you missed it this year, join HMNS to see the science extravaganza at Science Hack Day Houston 2016.

Girl Scouts earn badges for science at HMNS

by James Talmage, Scout Programs

After more than a year of hard work, Girl Scouts Heidi Tamm, Zoe Kass, Meredith Lytle and her sister Angela Lytle completed the entire Scouts@HMNS Careers in Science instructional series, earning each scout a total of seven badges.

Careers in Science is the Scouts@HMNS series of classes for Girl Scouts that aims to introduce girls to different scientific fields, lets them meet women working in those fields, and shows them what it’s like to work at the museum. There are seven different classes: Archeology, Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Fossil Dig, Geology, and Paleontology. As the Fossil Dig class finished up March 7, those four girls added their seventh and final Careers in Science patch to their vests.

Girl Scouts accept badges for completing the Careers in Science series of classes at HMNS. Pictured from left to right are Angela Lyle, Meredith Lyle, James Talmage, Heidi Tamm, and Zoe Kass.

Girl Scouts accept badges for completing the Careers in Science series of classes at HMNS. Pictured from left to right are Angela Lyle, Meredith Lyle, James Talmage, Heidi Tamm, and Zoe Kass.

Heidi Tamm and Zoe Kass have been taking the classes together since the summer of 2013.

“They were really into earning all the patches and completing the whole series of classes.” said Julia Tamm, Heidi’s mother.

Heidi, whose favorite class was Archeology, said, “I liked science before the classes, but now I understand about the careers and what people actually do.”

Zoe kept taking the classes because of the fun activities and being able to see the museum in more detail. Her favorite class was Paleontology, which focuses on the Museum’s Morian Hall of Paleontology. 

Meredith and Angela, Girl Scout Cadette and Senior, respectively, have also taken all the classes together. Angela explained that she learned “there are lots of careers in science available and there are lots of women that work in science, especially at the Museum.”

Meredith encouraged other girls to try out the classes, even if they aren’t interested in science.

“You may decide you like it, or you’ll just learn something new,” she said.

The sisters agree that the Girl Scouts organization is moving more toward STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers, and that it’s not a boy thing to go into science. Anyone can do it, especially Girl Scouts.

For more information on the Careers in Science series, visit http://www.hmns.org/girlscouts/ and start collecting your patches today!

12 Perks of Presenting HMNS Outreach

After bringing live animals, exotic insects, chemistry demos, and more to over 500 area schools and community organizations last year, the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Outreach Programs are ready to hit the road in 2015! It takes quite a village to bring science to almost 100,000 students in a year, and we are lucky to have an incredible, multi-talented group of presenters who work tirelessly to bring the wonders of HMNS to greater Houston and beyond.

While members of Team Outreach play a variety of roles all over the Museum, presenting Outreach Programs is one of the most exciting, fun, and rewarding jobs of all. Here are twelve of the best, most unique perks of being an Outreach presenter at the Houston Museum of Natural Science!

1. Getting to know all the neighborhoods and exploring the entire Houston area.

1. 2014 Map

Whether a school is 175 miles away in Temple, TX or down the street, HMNS Outreach Programs are committed to giving students a high-quality educational experience that they are sure to remember.

2. Hearing the “oohs” and “aahs” as Lycopodium ignites in front of a crowd.

2. Lycopodium

Lycopodium is a type of clubmoss, but its spores have a remarkable flammable quality often displayed in the opening act in the ConocoPhillips Science On Stage Cool Chemistry presentation!

3. Seeing the expression on a child’s face when you tell them they just touched fossilized poop.

3. Coprolite

Scientifically known as coprolite, fossilized poop is one of the highlights of the Chevron Earth Science On Wheels program!

4. Leading a group on a tour of the night’s sky.

4. Night Sky

The Discovery Dome brings the wonders of the Burke Baker Planetarium to you, including a live show detailing the celestial bodies visible in that very night’s sky!

5. Seeing that “a-ha!” moment when kids discover something new or solve a problem.

5. A-Ha!

All of our programs, such as Exploring Energy from the ConocoPhillips Science On Stage family pictured above, are interactive and hands-on to help promote learning and retention.

6. Seeing one child learning and then helping a friend understand the concept.

6. Butterfly

Each program, including the LyondellBasell Bugs On Wheels Monarchs program shown above, comes with free TEKS-aligned curriculum to extend learning beyond the presentation.

7. Rolling through a drive thru with one hand on the wheel and the other holding a ferret.

7. Ferret

Programs like TOTAL Wildlife On Wheels and LyondellBasell Bugs On Wheels travel with live animals, and on a hot Houston summer day, warm-blooded animals like Mina the ferret above need some air conditioning and refreshment, just like our presenters!

8. Returning to a school and getting recognized as “that science guy” or “the dinosaur lady.”

8. Dinosaur Lady

 It’s always great to see classes year-after-year at a school or at HMNS on a field trip, and being remembered lets us know they learned something during the previous visit!

9. Watching students touch specimens.

9. Dove

The hands-on nature of many of our presentations, as in TOTAL Wildlife On Wheels pictured above, makes for a memorable experience for all kids, allowing them to touch many things they have only ever seen in photos.

10. Watching kids encourage their friends to touch bugs because, “See? It’s not scary!” And seeing those apprehensive kids get just as excited by the end.

10. Tarantula

Our LyondellBasell Bugs On Wheels critters, like Rosie the tarantula above, are great ambassadors for arthropods everywhere!

11. Getting asked for an autograph or a photo with a class after a show.

11. Autograph

Getting mobbed by kids after a presentation makes us feel like rock stars and really shows us they paid attention and enjoyed the show!

12. Thank you cards from appreciative students and teachers.

12. Thank You

A thank you card with a hand-drawn picture can make a great day even better! We keep as many as we can as a priceless, one-of-a-kind reward for a job-well-done.

To make the day of one of our terrific presenters, book an Outreach Program by calling Greta Brannan at (713) 639-4758 or emailing outreach@hmns.org!