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Posts Tagged ‘Museums’

I can’t believe how remiss I’ve been in my journal!  Nothing much exciting was going on and then I was sick for a week and did nothing but lay on the couch (and go to work, so stupid).  But last week I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the “Science of Art” conference hosted by the National Museum of American History in D.C.  The museum paid for my first night and then after the conference was over Patrick and I made a little holiday of it and stayed an extra day and a half. 

Washington Monument and swirly cloud by Patrick

The conference was actually really interesting and I always enjoy meeting colleagues from other museums.  I liked brainstorming with the other attendees and thinking of ways we can better the leaders of tomorrow.  I was also able to incorporate the enthusiasm for arts-based teaching I gained into a family workshop today at work– very cool!  I did a reprise of my fresco painting class, condensed to 45 minutes.  Everyone had a blast 🙂

Anyway, back to D.C.  Pat wandered around on his lonesome while I soaked up all the art and science goodness.  He took some fabulous photos and is now the house expert at the “shutter priority” setting on our camera.  I was especially impressed with some of his museum shots.

Dancing with the planes @ Air and Space

 

Black and white composition

 

Air and Space

After the conference ended we did a TON of sight-seeing.  One of my co-workers used to live in D.C. so she had a ton of insider tips for us (like how to get the Zoo without walking up the huge hill from the Metro- yessss!).  It was so good to be out of  Philly for a few days, to explore a new city together and to just relax.  I am also very excited that we stayed exactly on our pre-planned budget.  My favorite splurge was definitely our yummy lunch at some Mexican place by the Zoo.  Nothing like a pitcher of sangria to put you in “vacation” mode!

Not as awesome when you're on the bus for 4 hours after...

D.C. is a really interesting town.  We were both surprised by the lack of tall buildings (is there some kind of building code?), but it certainly made it easier to orient yourself to the Capitol!  They seem to have a pretty extensive bicycle lane infrastructure– here’s an example of a “bike boulevard”, so classy.

Bike commuter paradise

There are also racks of bikes all over the city that you can rent by the hour and then return to any other rack station in the city.  Seems like a pretty nifty idea and a good way to encourage people to leave their cars in the suburbs.  We did notice a lot of pedestrians using the bike lanes as their own personal extension of the sidewalk though, so I guess this system is still getting some kinks worked out.

Tidal basin Cherry Trees

We spotted an alarming number of bow ties, many potential undercover agents and the usual kinda crazy/kinda funny bums.  It’s really true, no matter where you go… people are pretty much the same! 

Very wise!

On Friday we trekked to the National Cathedral.  Very beautiful art, amazing stained glass and just a wonderful feeling of immensity.  But beyond that we agreed that it didn’t really feel like a hallowed space.  I wonder if it was the hoards of tourists or the fact that this space really does serve a non-religious purpose at times?  I’m interested to see how this experience compares to centuries-old churches we’ll visit in Europe.

My photographic juxtaposition of church/state

My favorite sculpture

Central nave

We took over 800 pictures yowser!  I can’t post them all here so I put a bunch on my flickr site click here.  I’ll leave you with a few of my favorites:

Panda butt

By Patrick

Botanic Garden

1600 Pennsylvania Ave

Fun trip!

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Games=Learning?

Yesterday the vice president of our education/exhibits shared some statistics with us:

The 2010 PSSA (state proficiency exam) shows that only 16.3 percent of 11th graders scored a “proficient” in science testing.  That means 83.7 percent of these students are NOT reaching the “proficient” standard.  83.7!  Looking at younger grades, 8th grade students scored a 25.9 percent proficiency and 4th graders pulled a 53.3 percent proficiency.  A quick google search of “PSSA scores, news” reveals a few databases and some success stories of schools who pulled their numbers up.  The District touts improvements in math and reading (as they should) but is completely mum on the science scores.  There are few (if any) articles that admonish the fact that 83.7 percent of this city’s young adults are scientifically illiterate.  Hmm.

These statistics lead to a discussion of our role as informal educators in a science museum.  Our mission, to inspire a passion for science and technology learning, is supported by our programming efforts.  Our VP explained that the mission is our “what” and programming is our “how” but what we’re missing is the “why”.  Why do we, the museum and educators, provide programming? 

Revealing the "fingerprint" of a star

We all mostly agreed that the museum is an alternative to formal education, to news outlets and the internet.  It’s a place where people can supplement their knowledge, test ideas and experience science phenomena first-hand.  We provide programming because being scientifically literate is essential.  Science helps explain the world around us.  It makes us think and question.

Biology- it's the science of us

One of the group members said something that really stuck with me– that most informal educators are in museums because they feel there is something wrong with the formal education system and they can’t reconcile that with their desire to teach.  For me this is not the case.  I work in a museum because I love museums.  But I love school, too!  As I learn more about formal education in our country I find myself becoming more and more interested in becoming part of the “cure.”  Sure, I love creating fun programs, interacting with guests of all ages and teaching others how to teach.  But what if my talents are better suited to the “front lines” of education?  It’s something to think about.

Dance, molecules, dance!

In the meantime I know my team and I can continue to try our best to get visitors excited about not just science but learning in general.  Afterall, if people aren’t excited to learn and to develop their mind why should they care about the subject– science, math, social studies, etc.  For me the “why” is because we need a society of enthusiastic learners who delight in critical thinking.  Brains on, everyone!

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Uhhhgh I do not like the sound of this forecast: 100% chance of heavy rain/freezing rain during tomorrow’s a.m. commute.  Looks like I may be joining the rest of West Philly on the trolley. 

Snow, beautiful snow! Blah.

I know it’s only January but I’m ready for spring!!  I miss riding out into the “country” with Pat on the weekends.  Spending time exploring Fairmount Park and the Schuylkill drive… hurry up, spring!  I can’t wait to get back into biking shape soon.  But not in a wintry mix, no thanks.

Penn Museum windows

My parents gave us a telephoto lens for Christmas!  I took it on a visit to the Penn Museum which was fun but probably a bit overkill.  Next weekend Pat and I may take a city ride to get some more practice with it.

Chinese crystal ball

Sneaky out-the-window photo

I think reading about Tara and Tyler from “Going Slowly” is giving me spring fever, too.  Laying on a Cambodian beach all day, sipping coconut shakes and eating mango is right up my alley.  Last night I had a dream that we decided to spend extra time cycling Spain on our trip.  My dream-world Spain was warm, spicy and really, really sunny.  Who knows where our pedals will take us!

Hopefully there's no snow...

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Last week I went to a work conference in St. Paul hosted by the wonderful Science Museum of Minnesota.  Their museum is huge and much different from the one where I work.  Well, mainly just the layout.  Like us, they also want to get people excited about science. 

SMM main entrance. It's actually 6 storeys!Science!

 

Science!

Check out this nifty guy!  We love electricity.  

They had a great exhibit on the Mississippi river, which is within spitting distance of the museum (don’t worry, I didn’t actually try it…)  They had a cool stream table that showed how different river features form, like ox-bow lakes.  

 My favorite exhibit, however, is really fascinating.  In their “Big Backyard” the museum has created a gigantic camera obscura

See the hut on the right? Camera Obscura!

 

A camera obscura is just a big box with a tiny hole in one side where light shines in.  A lens is fit into the hole to help focus the light.  This projects an image on the opposite wall of the box (upside down, because of the lens).  Then you can do things like trace the image you see, modify it slightly to become an early camera or just stare at the beautiful scene it creates: 

Image inside the camera obscura

The picture is neat but the most captivating part was watching cars move, grass sway in the breeze and clouds pass upside down across the wall.  I really felt like I was a teeny little bug inside someone’s camera!

 
So I have to say my introduction to Minnesota was very nice– hospitable, clean and full of beautiful parks.  They seem to be pretty bike-friendly, too.  Surprising for a city that has 7.5 months of winter (burn! don’t worry, I’m from the midwest, too).  Check out these weather-proof bike lockers on the street:

I'd be scared of getting locked in there

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As I mentioned a few posts ago, my museum is putting the finishing touches on the world premiere of “Cleopatra…” scheduled to open this Saturday.  I spent the past few days putting together and testing out a prototype for an educational program I’ll be running during the exhibit.

The idea is for visitors to get a better idea of what archaeologists do and how they work on an excavation.  All of the artifacts in the exhibit were excavated either from the desert or the harbor at Alexandria.  I also wanted to show how an archaeologist differs from a treasure hunter (careful, methodical excavation with the intention of recording all findings, etc) so a big part of the prototype is finding the right “digging medium”.  Too soft and they’ll sift right through, too hard and they’ll never find anything

Waiting for some visitors

So after much thought and research I settled on a mixture of sand and melted wax.  When the wax hardens the sand is suspended in it, created a nice firm medium to scrape/brush at.  *If you’re trying this at home, be prepared to say goodbye to one of your saucepans… I plan on getting these nifty crock pot liners to throw in our beat up crock pot at work*

I made “stone” walls from modeling clay and arranged/hot-glued them in a shadow box frame to represent the foundations of an ancient Roman dwelling.  Then I poured the sand-wax on top and let it dry over night.

Ancient Roman walls

I tested it on our visitors this weekend and received almost 100% positive results.  There are a few kinks to be worked out but nothing a little bit of tweaking won’t solve.  I definitely want to make sure more of the “walls” are visible above the sand-wax, makes it much easier to start somewhere.  I also want to make flipbooks showing real archaeological dig sites– a lot of kids have a hard time figuring out what we’re looking at (“these are weird dinosaur bones…”)

Progress after 1.5 hours of testing

This is definitely a “family” activity so I think it will only come out on the weekends, rather than our crazy busy weekdays.  I really like that visitors stay for a decent amount of time; it gives me a chance to find out what they know and to guide our conversations along those lines.  You would be amazed at how much kids already know about archaeology and how interested they are in digging around!  I had a really interesting conversation with a young visitor (~8 years old) and her dad today about archaeology in Philadelphia– a few years ago the city dug up the foundation of George Washington’s house before a parking garage was put in.  They were both excited to learn that archaeologists don’t have to work in the desert, sometimes they start in their own backyard!

Covered with dig medium and the floor plan

Final product should be out on the museum Floor in 2-3 weeks, I’m excited!

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One of the (many) reasons why I love museums is that their exhibits frequently let you travel the globe without leaving the gallery.  Archaeology museums are one of my favorites because of this.  I remember visiting the Field Museum in Chicago as a child and being sucked into the story of life in South Africa—the colorful buses, exotic foods, people in different clothing and, of course, tales of struggle I didn’t really understand at the time.  That experience, along with countless others (my sister still bemoans the fact that the majority of our vacations were spent at educational venues…), helped fuel my interest in world cultures.  For me, a well organized exhibit can turn the tools, trinkets and images of a culture into an imaginary field trip to that corner of the world.

Situating the 3-ton statue

That’s why I am really excited about the upcoming Cleopatra: The Last Queen of Egypt exhibit at my work.  We are the first venue for the new exhibit so I really don’t know a lot about it.  We did see a little sneak preview at a staff meeting; it sounds like there will be a lot of things like coins, pottery and even a few scrolls.  But the “centerpiece” of the exhibit will likely be the two, three-ton marble statues brought from the bottom of the Mediterranean at Alexandria.

Yesterday I had a great birds-eye view of the statues being moved into the building.  Since they are so heavy and tall they couldn’t be brought in on our freight elevator.  Instead a HUGE crane lifted them in through the window of the travelling exhibit space.

First they loaded the box containing the statue onto this platform.  They uncrated it and then wrapped it up in what looked like 100 boxes of Saran wrap.  Once secured, the crane lifted the platform up to the window.  The crew slid it into the building on rails with the help of some fancy lifts/jacks.
The exhibit is really tightly guarded (understandably so, with the priceless Egyptian artifacts carefully excavated and conserved lying around…) so I didn’t get to see them winch the statues upright.  I do know they had to reinforce the floor under them, I’m still a little nervous to go in the gallery below!

Heading for the window

It kind of looked like this guy was pushing it in single-handed

I hope Cleopatra helps me travel back in time to the sands of the Saharan desert and the banks of the Nile where this mysterious woman ruled.  Stay tuned!

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