Kids Can Learn About Physics at This Block Party, Too!

by Kavita Self

The Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land’s summer special exhibit, Block Party, Too! opened Friday, June 3. At the End of School Festival the day before, patrons got an exclusive sneak peek at the summer fun, and it was a big hit!

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Similar to Block Party at HMNS, but with a Sugar Land twist, kids of all ages had a wonderful time exploring and building in the five Build Zones. Each zone highlights principles of science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) in a family-friendly, hands-on environment. With connecting building blocks, magnetic tiles, foam blocks, oversized bricks and more, we had creative inventions — a bridge, a chair, a life sized person — in every zone!

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The Game Zone, featuring classic games like Giant Tic-Tac-Toe, Giant Snakes and Ladders, Twister and more, saw kids (and adults) competing fiercely for the win! We hope to see these families return again and again as the popularity of our newest hands-on exhibit continues to grow. Take a look at the rest of these preview shots, then come on down and build using your own imagination!

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Editor’s Note: Kavita is the Director of Programming for HMNS – Sugar Land.

Dig in the Dirt and Back in Time with HMNS at the George Ranch!

by Sabrina Dahlgren

Everyone invariably reaches an age when an adult will admonish them to stop playing on the ground and getting their clothes dirty. Archaeologists are among those people who decide that playing in the dirt is too much fun to ever give up, and that they are going to make a living (though maybe not a very lucrative one) out of it.

Archaeology is a combination of curiosity, science, history, and humanities. Precise methods are utilized to uncover artifacts that provide information about past people, societies, or cultures. That information must then be analyzed and put into context to provide a picture of the past that can inform us about how we have changed over time as individuals and as groups.

The principles and methods of archaeology are simple enough to understand, though the work itself can be very physical and demanding. One opportunity to experience such work is to participate in a dig in your area. The Houston Museum of Natural Science is fortunate to have teamed up with the George Ranch Historical Park and the Fort Bend Archaeological Society to host supervised digs at the George Ranch.

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Our one-meter-square plot was carefully delineated and I and a few of the dads removed the upper layer of sod.

Join us at our next exciting dig Saturday, March 5! It’s easy to get signed up. Just register online! Registration is $45 and $30 for members. Children must be accompanied by an adult chaperone.

THE HISTORY

The George Ranch Historical Park showcases more than 190 years of modern Texas history spanning four generations.

Nancy and Henry Jones claimed their league of land (4,428 acres) in 1824 as part of Stephen F. Austin’s “Old Three Hundred” colonization of Mexican territory along the Brazos River. Mary Moore, known as “Polly”, third of the Jones’s 12 children, inherited most of the family’s assets and along with her husband, William M. Ryon, greatly expanded their holdings. By the 1880’s, the family’s combined holdings, including land owned (by Polly, her brother and her son-in-law) and land leased, was 67,668 acres (about 12 percent of the total area of Fort Bend County). Polly’s granddaughter Mary Elizabeth, “Mamie,” the wife of Alfred P. George, inherited the property when Polly died in 1896. The family’s monetary fortunes expanded further when oil was discovered in the 1920’s, though personal tragedy marked by the deaths of the Georges’ infant son and adult niece in the coming years meant no heir would inherit the family’s estate. In order to preserve their legacy, Mamie and Alfred established the George Foundation to benefit Fort Bend County’s people.

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The soil was passed through a rock sifting screen.

Why is all of this history important, you ask? Because the historical ranch site has been continually occupied by settlers and their descendants and trustees over nearly two centuries. More than 23,000 acres are still a working ranch, not to mention the native peoples and fauna that have ranged over the site for thousands of years.

And what does this mean? Stuff to find, if you dig deep enough and in the right spot! Keep on reading to learn what it’s like to go out on a dig.

DIG DAY: The Story of Our Last Adventure

It started overcast and early. The drive from Houston to the George Ranch on a Saturday morning is a relatively quick, low-traffic affair. You should know that I’ve lived in Texas for a few decades of my life, so my definition of a quick drive is anything under an hour. This drive clocked in at around 35 minutes.

The main entrance to the ranch led to a large parking lot stretching to the right, various structures seen dotting the surrounding space. Our interest lay in a small patch of soil in the northeast corner. My scouts and their parents met me there, where we were instructed by Robert Crosser and Dottie Allen of the Fort Bend Archaeological Society on where to dig. Our general location was part of the Jones’s original 1830s log cabin site, which encompasses part of the terrain of the 1850s prairie home that burned down in 1888, possibly housed a Civil War cavalry unit that camped in the area overnight, and held the 1930s bachelor cowboys houses. The potential for a big discovery was there, if we happened to be digging in the right spot.

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Real archaeology is nothing like Indiana Jones.

The Fort Bend Archaeological Society provided tools: shovels, trowels, buckets, and a box screen, as well as resealable plastic bags, permanent markers, record sheets and pencils. We brought other personal things like gloves, sunscreen, bug spray, wet wipes, water and snacks.

My most succinct and most repeated lesson to the scouts was that real archaeology is nothing like Indiana Jones. You don’t break through layers in search for specific shiny objects; you go through each layer meticulously and find everything you can. You don’t just grab that one thing that catches your eye; artifacts should be photographed as they appear, with a scale, and in their original positions before being removed. It should be noted that in our case we were searching by layer rather than by position, as the square meter in which we were digging was considered to be specific enough. You’re unlikely to be inundated with artifacts at all times; a lot (if not most) of archaeology is dirt. Get used to the idea that this in the material you will work will in the greatest abundance. Dirt is guaranteed, artifacts are not.

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In the third and final stratum, we hit the jackpot!

Our one-meter-square plot was carefully delineated and I and a few of the dads removed the upper layer of sod, setting it aside to cover the dig area once we had finished for the day. The clumps of sod actually yielded our first find: a rusted horseshoe tangled among the grass roots.

We dug down into four inches of strata using trowels, which means we processed to a six-inch depth across the entire plot before moving on to a lower level. Using line levels, plumb bobs and measuring tape, we assured that we dug evenly.

The reason for digging down by strata is that you can get a general idea of time. Objects found closer to the surface are generally newer than those located further down. The soil was passed through a rocking sifting screen. The buckets of soil removed from each stratum had to be emptied through the screen before digging on a new stratum could commence.

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Fragments of ceramic and broken glass.

The first (zero to four inches) and second (four to eight inches) strata yielded a horseshoe, a nail, a ceramic fragment, and a small, green, decorative plastic star.

In the third and final stratum (eight to 12 inches), we hit the jackpot! Barbed wire segments, pieces of metal mesh, nails, metal stakes, a metal file, unglazed pottery shards, fragments of ceramic, broken glass, wood fragments, small bones, bone fragments and animal teeth, oyster shell pieces, a plastic button, and a shell casing.

Everything was bagged according to which layer it came from and was taken by the Fort Bend Archaeological Society to be processed, identified and added to the data from the George Ranch. The scouts cleaned up the site, picked up any trash they might have brought with the, and washed up in the park’s facilities. Field work at times means that you’ll end your day with nothing but dirt-encrusted hands and the hope that tomorrow might reveal more. We were lucky that our final stratum of the day yielded so many interesting things, so I could send the Scouts off with a feeling of accomplishment.

Archaeology is fun! It forces you to go outside and encourages you to deliberately play in the dirt. It fosters patience and attention to detail. It encourages appreciation of small objects and moments and allows you to put together a picture of events that transpired in the past. It is science and humanities and storytelling all rolled into one. And playing (working) in the dirt at the George Ranch is a great way to spend a Saturday morning. Now this is my kind of science!

Editor’s Note: Sabrina Dahlgren is a Curatorial Assistant at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, providing help in tracking and maintaining existing and incoming collections to be installed as exhibits or stored for future exposition.

Light Up Your Holiday at Jingle Tree in Sugar Land!

Through the doors of the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land, you usually see the towering display of a Tyrannosaurus rex. But these past few weeks, that sight has been amplified in the twinkling light of custom-decorated holiday trees.

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When you walk through the front door of HMNS-SL, trees now surround the T. rex display.

The collection of trees are ready to go to the highest bidder through the museum’s Jingle Tree program, an annual online and live auction fundraiser that benefits the museum. From frilly to sparkly, these trees are a fascinating display of the creativity of the Fort Bend designers, volunteers and artistic visionaries who made them. Some even include wild themes that push the look of the traditional holiday tree to the limits. Check these out!

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Trees with a traditional look offer a lineup of the best in ribbons and ornaments. It’s like a fashion show for tannenbaums!

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Here’s a close-up of the white-and-silver accents on Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend!

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Santa’s mischievous helpers are playing at the top of Elves Made Me Do It.

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Wonderful hand-made paper roses and pinwheels in Flower Power!

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This tribute to the natural world called Enchanted Forest comes with wood accents and, yes, antlers!

Now get an eyeful of these non-traditional looks.

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Sleepy crescent moons make this tree, Love You to the Moon and Back a celestial beauty.

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This tree, named SEAson’s Greetings, looks like it went snorkeling and brought back some friends!

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Take a close look at this Star Wars tree. Yes, those are lightsabers, and yes, that’s Darth Vader at the top!

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This tree, named Noelle, is the belle of the ball, showing off its fashion sense.

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And finally, nothing says HMNS like dinosaurs! Plastic toys large and small cling to the branches in Dinotopia.

There’s many more where that came from, and you can see them all at the third and final tree-viewing event, the Jingle Tree Happy Hour. Come out Thursday, Nov. 19 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. to have some cocktails and bid on trees and other items in a live auction. Don’t miss the opportunity to take one of these gorgeous pre-decorated trees home for the holidays!

Editor’s Note: All photos by Kelly Russo.

 

For the biggest haunting yet, visit HMNS Sugar Land!

If you thought the Sugar Land museum was scary at night, just wait until Halloween! With Tricks, Treats and T. rex around the corner, a good fright is just in sight.

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Decorations are being prepared for Tricks, Treats and T. rex at HMNS-Sugar Land.

The two-day Halloween extravaganza for the whole family is coming to the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land, featuring a haunted house that will fill the entire museum for the first time ever! The chills start Friday night, Oct. 30 with spooky fun that will freak out both adults and kids! (Recommended for children ages 7 and up.)

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Volunteers help prepare some ghouls and decorations for the Museum of Unnatural Science haunted house, which will fill the entire museum this year!

In the Museum of Unnatural Science, follow the corridors of a haunted mine with glowing walls and surprises around the corner in A Trip to the Underworld. Sneak through the twisted Carnival of Evil with grim ghouls and freakshow characters. Meet visitors from outer space at Area 51, and test your nerves against roaring dinosaurs in Jurassic Terror. When (and if) you make it through, exit the house into the butterfly garden to explore an outdoor maze, where more fun is in store for the following morning.

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Nothing means murder and mayhem like blood spatter…

For a gentler Halloween experience, visit the Magical Maze from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 31. Designed with the younger kiddos in mind, the maze offers an outdoor adventure complete with crafts and activities, face painting, temporary tattoos, prizes and a costume parade. If you’re brave enough to eat insects and arachnids, come snack on some real bugs, too! (They’re tastier than you think…) Throughout the day, some of the characters from the haunted house will return for a less-intense BOO! And teams of therapy dogs from P.A.W.S. will offer warm hugs and yet another photo op!

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BOO! If nothing else scares you, this demon clown coming to life might…

Museum directors are excited to bring a new and improved Tricks, Treats and T. rex back this year. In the past, Halloween activities were limited to the conference room or the temporary exhibit hall. But with the help of volunteers creating, building, and staffing the event, this year will be the freakiest yet!

The best part of all this? You can bring the whole family out to Sugar Land and still have time for trick-or-treating, or for Spirits and Skeletons at HMNS Hermann Park Halloween night! There’s lots to do in Houston, but nothing quite as spook-tacular as Halloween with HMNS. 

#ChillsAtHMNS