by Matti Hammett
If you’ve ever visited HMNS with a school group or on your own, you may have found yourself in the depths of the museum beneath the Morian Hall of Paleontology and thought to yourself one of these three things:
- Am I allowed to be down here? (Yes, of course you are!)
- Is this the hospital wing of the museum? (Absolutely not, though we do have a lot of first aid supplies for summer camp!)
- Why does it smell like coffee? (My office mate and I may or may not be addicted to very strong coffee…)
I’ve overheard all of these questions and many more from my desk behind the glass window in the Lower Level Education Office. Contrary to the beliefs of many, the Lower Level isn’t a stark, desolate office area. It’s the Education Wing where we welcome visitors, offer Outreach presentations and Saturday Scout classes, conduct Xplorations Summer camps, and generally just have lots of fun learning! One of my favorite programs that we offer in the Lower Level classrooms is our Weekday Lab program. We have about 175 different hands-on Labs on Demand for school groups, home-school groups, and families.
If you spend enough time in the classroom area on the Lower Level, you may notice carts of eyeballs or polymers being rolled by, our animal alcove where you can see a live rattlesnake, or flecks of red liquid on the floor from one of our Blood Spatter labs. Some people might call these sights strange, but these things are just part of a normal day at the office to me! You may even get your hands on some of these items if you attend one of our lab programs… well, maybe not the rattlesnake.
Dissection labs (for 5th grade and up) are a favorite among our students and instructors.
Julia Russell said, “My favorite lab to teach is shark dissection. Most students think of sharks as mindless killing machines because that’s how they’re frequently portrayed in the media. I love getting the opportunity to dispel these myths by letting students see and study sharks up close.”
Not only do we offer shark dissections, but we have 13 other dissections to choose from!
Another popular choice are our Wildlife Labs, where our instructors bring out live animals and have students participate in activities to illustrate different animal adaptions, predator/prey relationships and varying habitats that animals live in depending on what lab you’re attending. Kids get the chance to interact with critters such as spiders, hermit crabs or even Madagascar hissing cockroaches. And get this – they LIKE it!
Our Wildlife instructor, Melissa Hudnall, explained that one of her most popular lab activities was in her “Amphibians” lab. She takes two sets of hard boiled eggs – half of them peeled, half of them unpeeled – and soaks them overnight in food coloring. When the eggs are cut open, the “reptile” egg (which still has its shell intact to mimic the protection provided from scales) has barely absorbed the “pollutants.”
When the “amphibian” egg (which had its shell removed) is cut open, it’s clear the “pollutants” were absorbed.
Melissa uses this activity to discuss why amphibians are environmental indicators, and as she punnily states, “The kids were surprisingly EGGcited” to be a part of this activity.
These snippets are just a taste of all the labs that we can offer. To break it down, we offer six different lab themes in 33 classrooms with 175 lab topics to choose from.
There are so many different hands-on programs offered here at the Houston Museum of Natural Science! Let us enhance your core curriculum, making your science and history lessons come alive in fun and unique labs that bring self-directed exploration to your students. We’d love to see you in a program soon!
Editor’s Note: Matti Hammett is the HMNS Youth Education Programs Registrar.