Stego says HMNS makes field trips easier on teachers

by Kaylee Gund

Hi all,

Stego the Stegosaurus here, putting my best plate forward for the beginning of the school year!

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Stego the Stegosaurus, team leader for the field trips department.

I was chatting with my Discovery Guide pals the other day and we’re all looking forward to the great school field trips we see every year. But surprisingly, a few local teachers they’ve spoken to are intimidated by the prospect of planning a field trip.

I have to admit, the idea of taking more than 500 students off campus and bringing them back in one piece does sound overwhelming, but here at HMNS, it’s our job to make field trips the best possible experience for everyone involved.

As the face of the Youth Education Sales team, I, Stego the Stegosaurus, feel duty-bound to dispel the myth that organizing a field trip is by nature stressful. In fact, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to two wonderful ladies who can give you all sorts of great tips and ideas for students to put a spike in their learning curve (pun intended).

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Karly Hunt, Marketing Coordinator (khunt@hmns.org).

The newest member of our team, Karly Hunt, is the Marketing Coordinator for all districts west of Houston. She comes to us from Liberty Hill ISD, where she taught high school science. Karly, by the way, appreciates a good chemistry joke, but unfortunately all the good ones Argon… Get it?

This is Karly’s first year at HMNS, but she is already hard at work sharing her love of all things scientific with Houston educators. Her favorite part of the museum is the Morian Hall of Paleontology.

“We have such an amazing collection that really puts prehistory in perspective,” Karly said.

Needless to say, being a dinosaur myself, I like her already!

When she’s not traveling to schools, you’ll find Karly spending time outside, enjoying music of all genres, and playing with her dogs.

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Cathy Walton, Lead Marketing Coordinator (cwalton@hmns.org).

Cathy Walton, our Lead Marketing Coordinator, is the museum representative for schools in Houston ISD, districts centrally located in the metroplex, and districts to the East. Having originally taught World Geography in Tennessee, she began her career at HMNS three years ago. Cathy is a wizard at finding field trip packages that fit an individual teacher’s needs, and she loves being able to work with amazing educators to help them inspire their students. She encourages teachers to “be as creative as you can to get students excited about learning!”

Cathy enjoys hiking, cooking, and entertaining (when she’s not hanging out with us dinos, of course). Fun fact: she grew up in Shelbyville, Tenn., better known as “Pencil City,” home of the No. 2 pencil!

If you have any questions or would like to know what exciting new exhibits your students can learn from next, feel free to contact one of these representatives. Check out our free curriculum and our field trip preparation guide for more info, too. And you can fill out a booking request form online if you already have an idea of what you’d like to do at the museum.

Have fun, keep learning, and we’ll see you soon!

Sincerely,

Stego

 

Editor’s Note: Kaylee Gund is in Youth Education Sales at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Go ahead. Take your toddler to the museum!

by Victoria Smith

When my children were younger, and I was hip to the toddler scene, I would schedule play dates at all the usual places: I’d push the stroller to the park, load up the red wagon for the zoo, and slip Cheerios to fussy babies during story time at the library. The Houston Museum of Natural Science was also on the top of my list, and I was surprised other moms thought their kids were too young to appreciate it.

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“Oh, no! He’s after us!”

The museum is fantastic for small kids! It’s got air conditioning, wide spaces to navigate, and if you have a two-year old who will only eat peanut butter sandwiches cut in squares, not triangles, you are welcome to bring your own food.

And of course, DINOSAURS! They’re huge, they’re exciting and they have pointy teeth (at least the carnivores do). Even if you don’t have a toddler who can identify every prehistoric creature and pronounce the names better than most college graduates, every kid loves dinosaurs. (Thank you, Dr. Scott the Paleontologist!) In the Morian Hall of Paleontology, the dinosaurs are mounted in active poses, bringing these ancient creatures to life for young visitors. The displays tell a story, and the murals illustrate it.

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It’s the Circle of Life, baby.

Speaking of stories, my youngest daughter’s favorite story is the lion chasing the zebra in the Hall of African Wildlife.  Even though she knows how it’s going to end for that poor zebra, every time she asks, “Mommy, tell me the story of the lion and the zebra.” It’s not only a great chance throw in a few Mufasa quotes, but it’s also great to discuss how nature doesn’t waste anything because after the predators come the scavengers. I usually manage to work in a moral lesson about the selfish leopard who won’t share, too. There are interdisciplinary opportunities at every turn!

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Let me know when the wonderment is over, so Momma can sit down!

The Cockrell Butterfly Center is one of our favorite spots to visit, and perhaps even my favorite place in the museum, period. Yes, the awe and delight in a young child’s face is a daily miracle, but they’ve got cushioned benches and free wi-fi! When you’re through with the center, there’s a beehive-themed play area with puzzles and blocks, and most importantly, it’s enclosed!

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My daughter at age four, as an assistant in a chemistry demonstration…

If you want your daughters (and sons, of course) to grow up to interested in science, it’s never too early to start. Let them know that science is fun and not scary. The museum has dedicated tour guides who specialize in making the exhibits come alive for young children, and docents who offer many hands-on experiences. Kids can touch real fossils, feel if minerals are rough or smooth, and guess if an animal was an herbivore or carnivore while holding an actual tooth! It’s all there, at their eye-level.  

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…and at age eight, taking on a brain dissection at Xplorations summer camp.

So now that the big kids are back in school, it’s a great time to plan a visit to the museum. If you’re lucky like me, you can convince their grandparents that even though your one-year-old can’t talk, he really wants a membership for his birthday, and not another toy to clutter the playroom.

Editor’s note: Victoria is the Executive Assistant to the President of the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Live from the Canadian Rockies, it’s Earth science in action!

The things they carry are large and small, and their actions are earth-shattering, to say the least. They are unstoppable forces of nature that move slower than a sloth. I don’t mean my family of 20 Indians, but rather the things that those 20 people traveled all the way to western Canada to go see: glaciers!

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Peyto Lake, famous for its milky blue-green color, sits in the middle of a huge glacier-carved valley. Geologists can tell what carved the valley based on its shape; note the U-shape of the mountainsides.

A glacier is a gigantic moving slab of ice, and it is responsible for that jaw-dropping scene above (#nofilter). Not exactly something you’d see in hot, humid, flat-as-a-flounder Houston, TX.

A little background: my family loves road trips. We’ve driven through 37 of the 50 states and visited countless national parks, monuments, preserves, historic sites, etc. Having enlisted the families of her sister and first cousin, my mom decided on our most ambitious voyage yet: the True North.

About 145 kilometers west of Calgary lies Banff National Park of Canada, as well as adjacent Jasper National Park, Kootenay National Park, and Yoho National Park. Known for their spectacular waterfalls, massive ice fields, and gorgeous lakes, these are the most visited national parks in Canada. They didn’t disappoint.

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Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park, where tourists can ride in buses with monster truck tires onto the actual glacier and walk around.

A glacier begins in an ice field, which is typically located in a place where snow and ice accumulate faster than they melt. A helpful tourist in Jasper explained ice fields and glaciers to our family in terms of lakes and rivers. Just like a river can branch off of a lake and continue flowing across the land, glaciers are pushed off from ice fields and move slowly but surely over time.

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The aptly-named Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park.

As the glaciers move across the mountains in the Canadian Rockies, they wear down the rocks and earth they pass over. The product of this erosion is an especially fine dirt called rock flour. The individual pieces that make up this rock flour can have a diameter as small as 2 microns! This silt is left behind as a remnant of the glacial motion and is often carried by the glacial meltwater into the many lakes that dot the Canadian quartet of national parks. It is this rock flour that gives these lakes their spectacular colors.

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Moraine Lake, the water of which will change colors depending on time of day, time of year, and weather.

The colors that we perceive with our eyes are a result of an object reflecting a particular wavelength of light, with all other wavelengths on the visible spectrum being absorbed. For example, behind my desk, I have an orange Whataburger number tag. This tag will absorb wavelengths that correspond with the colors red, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet, and it will reflect the wavelength for orange. When the reflected wavelength reaches our eyes, we perceive that color.

The rock flour disperses throughout the lake and is suspended in the water, most frequently near the lake’s surface. Water itself will absorb wavelengths for red, orange, and yellow, and the rock flour will absorb purple and some blue. What remain are green and blue light, which you see throughout the water in the mountains.

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The Bow River, just beyond Bow River Falls, with the characteristic blue-green color of water carrying rock flour.

One special feature of the lakes and rivers pictured is that the color of the water will change depending on the time of year. In the summer months when the weather is warmer and the glaciers will melt more quickly, you will see more rock flour in the water, producing a stronger green color than you would see in the winter months.

The glaciers’ movement over tens of thousands of years produced the “U-shaped” valleys prominent throughout the Rocky Mountains and pictured at the top of the post in the view of Peyto Lake. Looking beyond the lake itself into the valley, you can see the gradual, rounded rock face stretching for many miles into the distance.

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Lake Louise, the most popular tourist spot in the Canadian Rockies. Nicknamed the “Jewel of the Canadian Rockies,” this particular lake gained acclaim because of its accessibility, as many movie stars visited the Chateau on its banks in the 1900’s.

I’d highly recommend a summer trip to Banff and its adjacent national parks, if anything, for a break from Houston’s sweltering triple-digit heat index. It snowed in the mountains while we were there, but the temperature was more commonly in the 60’s and never exceeded 80 degrees! I’ve uploaded more photos from my trip to Flickr, and you can check out the waterfalls, wildflowers, and more here.

And if you’re curious to see some artifacts from this part of the world, come check out the Houston Museum of Natural Science! Several invertebrate fossil specimens from the world-famous Burgess Shale (in Yoho National Park, British Columbia) are on display in the Morian Hall of Paleontology at HMNS Hermann Park and in the Hall of Paleontology at HMNS Sugar Land. Or bring HMNS to you with Chevron Earth Science On Wheels! Old favorites like Know Your Rocks will cover erosion and the rock cycle, and new programs will be available beginning this fall.