Dead Man’s Party – Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos artwork by one of our hmns bloggers!

Halloween is this Saturday and everyone is scrambling to put together their costumes and figuring out what parties to go to Friday and Saturday. But what are your plans for Dia de los Muertos on November 2nd!?

The education department here at HMNS offered an encore event to last year’s very popular Dia de los Muertos Educator Overnight and teachers came from all over the greater Houston area to learn about this incredible holiday and how to do some activities with their own students so that they may learn more about the culture. If you want to learn how to make sugar skulls check out this guide online – it has some great tips on how to make some incredible shaped sugar treasures!

Above you’ll see an artwork that references La Calavera Catrina, an etching done by Mexican printmaker Jose Guadelupe Posada in 1913. La Catrina and some of Posada’s other artwork is reproduced and can be seen around town available on book bags, t-shirts and in jewelry – especially around Dia de los Muertos. This piece pictured here is composed completely out of dyed eggshells by one of our very own hmns bloggers!

Below are some of the fun hands on activities and projects the teachers did at the Overnight this year and don’t worry – we’re already thinking up some cool ideas for “Dia de los Muertos II – the Overnight Sequel for Educators” – next October! Drop me a line if you want to receive notice when we start accepting registrations for this Overnight in 2010 – overnights@hmns.org.

Decorating sugar skulls
Decorating sugar skulls
Calacas puppet in progress
Calacas puppet in progress
Cigar box altar
Cigar box altar
This tiny clay skull is perfect for a tiny cigar box altar table!
This tiny clay skull
is perfect for a tiny cigar box altar table!
Completed sugar skulls!
Completed sugar skulls!

Cigar boxes and sparkles are the way to a teachers heart!

Earlier this month we had our first Educator’s Overnight of the school year and the theme was Day of the Dead! This topic has been near and dear to the Education department and we always manage to have one or two activities for teachers or students surrounding the Dia de los Muertos celebration.

Teachers adding details to their cigar box altars!

Teachers adding details to their cigar box altars!

We had a great time getting everything ready for the activities. We had plenty of things planned so that the hours would be full of things to do. Our goal was to make activities that teachers could “try” and then take back with them to their classroom to use with their students – what we didn’t expect was that the teachers would have so much fun with the arts and crafts! Kathleen Havens, the assistant director of youth education here at the museum, put together an awesome curriculum and gave the teachers the jumping off points and examples for all of the hands on activities.  

These enthusiastic educators transformed their simple cigar boxes into detailed works of art!

These enthusiastic educators transformed their simple cigar boxes into detailed works of art!

The teachers decorated ‘calacas’,  went through the process of making sugar skullsand then decorated some pre-made sugar skulls with colorful royal icing, created mini-altars in cigar boxes and painted Catrina-shaped fridge magnets. If you’ve ever worked with a group of kids on a project and you hear groans when you say “ok everyone, 5 more minutes and then we’re going to move on” you would be completely familiar with the sounds we heard from this group of teachers!  They were so excited to continue working on their mini-altars, creating tiny bouquets of flowers out of modeling clay, cutting out tiny papel picado from construction paper, building stairways and platforms for their tiny clay loaves of bread to perch upon… these teachers were going to town! After the allotted time for hands-on activities had finished for the night David Temple took the group on a flashlight tour of the Hall of the Americas and the Paleontology Hall.  Then some teachers decided to call it a night, but others asked to be able to go back and work on their altars – how could we say no!?

By about 3 am, everyone had finally headed up to bed and then it seemed like only moments later I was waking everyone up for breakfast at 7 am! Just imagine, those teachers were up in time for school on Friday and still up at 3am on Saturday morning with plenty of energy – that’s absolutely incredible! I hope that they took their projects back to share with their students and spread the enthusiasm for Dia de los Muertos they shared with us at the Overnight!

Gel food coloring (found in the cake decorating section of cooking stores) is used to make the really vivid colors of royal icing!

Gel food coloring (found in the cake decorating section of any cooking store) is used to make the really vivid colors of royal icing!

This was the second Educator Overnight that we’ve had here at the HMNS, and I think we all agree that it was both a sucess and a lot of fun! We’ll be hosting our next Educator Overnight – Mummies, Tombs and Catacombs in April and registrations are already rolling in! If you’re not so excited to sleep in the Museum we also offer 3 hour ExxonMobil Teacher Tuesdays. The next one up is ‘Polymers!’ with Carolyn Leap which should be lots of fun too!
Want more info? The recipes we use to make sugar skulls and the icing to decorate them can be found online at Mexican Sugar Skull.com - they also have a lot of other cool Day of the Dead related items to check out.
I have included a few photos here and have posted more (with some closeups of finished sugar skull designs) on our HMNS Facebook page. If you want to become a fan of HMNS you can check them out!

Teachers Cutting Up in the Classroom?

Life is beginning to get “back to normal” in the basement of the Museum post-Ike.   I’ve missed listening to the constant hum of children in our hallways - it really seemed like a different place without them.  I’m enjoying listening to the school groups right now, buzzing outside my door as I peruse the great photographs we took at our Exxon Mobil Teacher Workshop last night and write my blog.

The teacher training we had last night was awesome!  We were lucky to have a super-fun group of teachers.  They discovered how dissection is not just for “big kids” anymore.  We had teachers that teach pre-k and teachers that teach high school, and everyone left with great hands-on experiences and ideas for their classrooms.

The fun began by learning the anatomical terms you need to know for dissection.  Check out how teachers learned these tiresome terms in an amazingly fun way!  What a better way to excite your students than letting them bring a stuffed animal from home to label with fancy science terms?  Do you know where your posterior is?  I’ll give you a hint, I bet your sitting on it right now!

Then came the pickles.  Say what?  Yes, pickles.  Teachers practiced using dissection tools such as scissors, scalpels, tweezers, and probes, as they dissected a jumbo pickle.  Look at what a rockin’ job this teacher is doing with this pickle.  Don’t laugh, I bet you can’t find the dorsal side of a pickle!   

Did you know you can dissect a flower?  All you need is a flower and your bare hands.  Check out the flower parts this teacher is finding.  Do you know a petal from a pistil? 

Then things really got juicy, no, really, they did.  Squids for everyone!  Teachers got their own squid to dissect as Nicole Temple (Director of Youth Education) dissected a larger fresh squid from the Asian Market.  The teachers in this picture look very engaged.  Hey, check out the size of the chromatophores on this squid!

The teachers finished up the night by quickly dissecting an egg.  These smart teachers now know their albumen from their chalazae.  Can you say the same for yourself?