Hands-on, brains on: Encourage and engage your students with HMNS Science Nights

We’ve heard the same story for years now: American students are falling behind in the sciences and becoming less competitive in the global workforce. But what can we do about it?

It seems that teachers and parents can agree that this is, in fact, happening — but where we struggle is finding ways to close the gap and really get kids to excel again. Nearly a quarter of American parents believe that their child’s school doesn’t place enough emphasis on science curricula. But is it really a lack of emphasis that’s occurring or a lack of resources? Or simply that a variety of approaches are called for in order to get kids to better engage with the subject matter?

Stage 2Ben Mardell, Ph.D. and researcher with Project Zero at Harvard University, believes that kids need to have better access to hands-on learning techniques. “Kids learn through all their senses, and they like to touch and manipulate things.” Research suggests that this method of learning helps kids not only to engage better with the subject matter, but to help them retain the information with better clarity and for a longer amount of time. For example, engaging in a simple, hands-on task, like doodling or cutting out shapes, prevents restlessness during a learning experience.

Wildlife 1Lynn D. Dierking, interim associate dean for research at Oregon State University’s College of Education, says, “Hands-on learning can be exceedingly powerful. What these opportunities do for children and adults is they help them understand at a deeper level some of the things that they have learned.”

Teachers on the ground agree. Paul Revere Elementary teacher Jessica Huang said in an interview with NPR, “When [my students] explore, they’re excited. They find things they are interested in.”

So if you want to get your students to engage with and retain material, the answer is simple – give them hands-on activities! We at HMNS want to help, which is why we have programs like Science Night where our outreach programs come to your school and help kids get excited about science!

Wildlife 2With Science Night we bring the museum to you with fun interactive activities:

You book at least one Outreach Program:
ConocoPhilips Science on Stage
Bugs on Wheels
Discovery Dome
TOTAL Wildlife on Wheels
Docents To Go
Chevron Earth Science on Wheels

And choose from the following activity stations:
Ink Chromatography
How Much Is A Million
Indicator Paper
Shrinking Plastic
Butterfly Life Cycle
Shaving Cream Marbling
Optical Illusions
Nautilus Stamping
Bird Beaks
Polymers
Shape Science
Venomous vs. Poisonous

To learn more, download our flyer here.

Click here to book Science Night today!

Stage 1

Discovery 2

Discovery 1

Bugs 1

 

 

Welcome to the HMNS Animal Alcove: Where the wild things are

You’ve seen the animals on display in our African and Texas wildlife exhibits. While realistic, none of these mounts actually slither, wiggle or do much of anything, really.

But HMNS has a live animal collection that much of the public never even sees. These animals are not on display, but used to educate at our outreach programs. Outreach programs like Wildlife on Wheels (WOW) give students a unique and hands-on opportunity to learn the basics of animal life.

I was fortunate enough to take a tour of the Animal Alcove that houses more than 40 of the animals used in the outreach programs. Right when you walk into the room, you feel like you have stepped into a completely different environment. In fact, this is exactly what the staff in charge of these animals is shooting for.

My first thought was, “Does the Museum have any snakes?” Absolutely we do! The Museum houses both venomous and nonvenomous snakes ranging from a rattlesnake to a bald python. One of the newest snake residents at the museum is a rainbow boa. This particular boa is a female, and she is known to the staff as being a bit of a diva — which is her right, considering how pretty she is.

The Museum also has an in-house baby American alligator. The alligators that come through the Museum do not stay here long. The Museum has a foster program through Brazos Bend State Park and houses these alligators until they begin to mature and then they send them back out into their natural habitats.

Even though the snakes and reptiles were the first animals I asked about, they were not the first animals that caught my eye: that would be two green-cheeked conures. These two little guys are very beautiful to look at and they are also very charismatic. But be careful! These little guys draw you in with their charm and pretty feathers and then reward you with a little bite on the finger. They are a good example of the look-but-don’t-touch rule.

However, they are not the only birds that call the museum home. There are also two ring-necked doves. These love to be petted and held and will even make little laughing sounds for visitors.

Moving away from scales and feathers, let’s talk about the furry friends here at the museum. There are several adorable mammals here that can make you smile. There is a short-tailed opossum, two ferrets, and two degus, in addition to a sweet black rabbit.

The degus were my personal favorites. Degus are rodents, but they are more closely related to chinchillas and guinea pigs than they are to rats and mice. These two will greet you at the door of their cage begging for treats and will even crawl out onto your hand for some petting and loving. Then when they have had enough attention, they are happy climbing onto their exercise wheel for a little cardio.

In contrast to that were the two ferrets on the other side of the room. Both of these laid-back fellows were fast asleep in either a hammock or the corner of their cage.

All of these animals were very interesting, but I am one who picks favorites. My favorite member of the live animal collection at the museum is the axolotl.

I know, you’re thinking, “What on earth is that?!”

An axolotl is a salamander that is closely related to the tiger salamander (which you can also find at the Museum). What is so interesting about the axolotl is that it resembles a tadpole more than it does a full grown salamander.

Even though you may not have heard of an axolotl, you might already have an idea of what it looks like. Toothless, the black dragon from the movie How to Train Your Dragon, was modeled after an axolotl! If you look below, you can see the striking resemblance:

Meet our Axolotl!

Tree frogs! Serpents! Monkey-eating birds! Peel back the layers of the rainforest with our new Wildlife on Wheels

Our latest wild and wonderful Wildlife on Wheels (WOW) program focuses on the animals of the rainforest — from tree frogs and slithering snakes to millipedes and rainbow boas.

photo 5WOW presenters break down the layers of the rainforest — the forest floor, understorey, canopy and emergent layers — and impart the important role rainforests play in contributing to our natural resources.

photo 1

For example: Did you know that more than half of the world’s plants, animals and insects reside in the rainforest? Its vitality is crucial to the world’s oxygen supply, and its rich plant life is the source of lots of modern medicines.

photo 6Using live animals and specimens, HMNS educators also teach students about the rainforest’s unique quirks. For example: Did you know that 50 percent of rainforest rainfall never even hits the ground?

photo 2

HMNS Wildlife on Wheels programs can be booked as supplements to a field trip or delivered straight to your school for an in-class presentation.

For more information on the Rainforest Wildlife on Wheels or other Outreach programs, click here!

 

Let it insta-snow: Make faux snow grow this holiday season!

In the age of Instagram, instant rice and instant gratification, it can’t come as much of a surprise that there also exists insta-snow.

How does it work? Carolyn Leap knows. Our youth educator facilitates an Outreach Program here at HMNS called Science on Stage, and my favorite topic has to be Cool Chemistry. I love watching her stick things in liquid nitrogen, set things on fire that never burn and make a cup of water disappear in an instant. Carolyn is magical.

Okay, she isn’t really magical. Everything she does is totally explainable with science, but seeing kids watch these demonstrations for the first time is super fun. They are totally amazed!

One of the topics she focuses on in a Cool Chemistry program is polymers. My favorite polymer demonstration has to be instant snow. If you’ve never seen it done, it is super fun! But what is it?  And more importantly, where can you get some? First things first, my friends…

Learn how instant snow works and get your own at the Museum Store!I asked Carolyn to explain exactly how instant snow works the other day, and here is what she had to say:

“Whether it’s called ‘Amazing Snow Powder®,’ ‘Insta-Snow®,’ ‘SnoWOW®,’ ‘Magic Snow®’ or anything else, any faux snow that grows when you add water works the same way. Instant snow powder is made of some very large molecules (polymers) composed of repeating units that are hydrophilic, or ‘water-loving.’ Most synthetic polymers are not hydrophilic; plastic soda bottles, PTFE (Teflon®) coatings, and PVC pipe, for example, are not.”

“As you add water, the powder acts like a bunch of very tiny but very good sponges. When you look at a regular kitchen sponge, you can see the pores that the water fills in; with instant snow powder, the places the water occupies are way too tiny to see, but they’re still there. Fake snow’s chemical name is ‘sodium polyacrylate,’ but the absorbent polymer in disposable diapers goes by the same name, because they have very similar chemical structure. Most people call instant snow by its simple name for clarity. Depending on who you ask, polymer ‘snow’ was first developed either as a blood absorber for hospitals or as a material to use in indoor snowboard parks in Japan. However it was invented, it’s awesome!”

Want some insta-snow of your own? Visit the HMNS Online Store and pick some up for yourself! These little jars make perfect stocking stuffers, particularly for kids from southern Texas who may have never seen snow before. Want to keep it after the holidays? You can dry it out and store it for the next year, but it takes weeks to months in the Texas humidity.  We tried it one year and finally gave up around spring break!