Hidden Object Highlight

Hannah Barber is the Elvira Growdon Intern for Collections and Archives Management for summer 2018. Hannah is a current student at Syracuse University’s School of Visual and Performing Arts pursuing her Masters in Museum Studies. Hannah’s passion for museums and collections stem from her belief that museums can provide education that is inclusive and accessible for everyone and that collections are educational resources available to all.

You may take a look at this peculiar specimen and wonder when, where, and why was it made and how is it used? This mysterious mask resides in the Mexican Cultural Collection at Boston Children’s Museum (BCM). This “tiger” mask most likely represents a jaguar or ocelot, since tigers are not native to Mexico. The tiger mask is used in the Tiger Dance, a traditional dance originating from ancient Mexico. The story originates from the Oaxaca/Guerrero area of Mexico and this particular mask dates back to the first half of the 20th century.

The dance is based on the story of Don Manuel Peña and Don José Cortés, two of the region’s richest cattle ranchers. Their livestock was being stolen by a magic tiger, so Don Manuel hires a couple and their dog to hunt the tiger. They look for the tiger until the dog finally tracks it down and the hunt begins. Doña Catalina, the woman who was hired, shows José Ovejon, her husband, where the tiger is hiding. José Ovejon shoots at the tiger as the dog barks at it from the bottom of the tree. Twelve dancers accompany the hunters and dance around the tiger’s hiding place. Since the tiger is magical, the bullets that José fires can’t harm it. Doña Catalina gives her husband some garlic to break the spell that his gun is under. The spell is broken and in the end, the hunt is successful and the tiger is killed.

The Tiger Dance is performed by 14 people who dance in two rows, the tiger, and the dog. The 12 dancing men wear white cotton trousers under brightly colored knickerbockers decorated with lace from the waist to the knee, hunters’ shirts, and two cotton squares, one sits on their head and the other is held in their hand. They also wear caps decorated with sequins. Doña Catalina wears a skirt with lace edging, an embroidered blouse with tassels around her shoulders and waist, a shawl, and a hat. The tiger wears a yellow suit with brown spots and a wooden tiger mask with mirror eyes. The hunter wears leather pants, a suede waistcoat, and hat. Throughout the theatrical performance, the dancers who play the tiger and the dog do some incredible moves verging on acrobatic. To see a unique version of this dance performed locally in Mexico, check out this video!

There are a few different versions of this dance originating from different groups within Mexico but most are performed for El Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, Mexico’s largest festival that occurs at the end of October and into November every year. The tiger mask is usually made of carved wood, hair, whiskers, and yes, real animal teeth for the mouth. Modern masks are not always made out of the same material but often look as wild and ferocious as this one. This is just one example of El Día de los Muertos masks that the museum takes care of. I’m still looking to see what else I can uncover while going through the collection and hope to find some more objects related to the Tiger Dance. Come explore what else BCM has in its collection too!

 

References:

“Dances from the Oaxacan Coast.” OaxacaNews. https://www.tomzap.com/dance.html.

Lewis, Elizabeth. “Mexican Art & Culture.” Capstone Classroom. (2005). https://books.google.com/books?id=2F4WpTXN5msC.

Tiger Dance/Danza del Tigre. 2016, Shalom Producciones. Video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrQfcQ3LxjU

Meet the STEAM team

On October 6th & 7th 2018, Boston Children’s Museum will be hosting the Boston Mini Maker Faire for the third consecutive year. But did you know that the museum has been providing hands-on learning experiences for children for over a century? Today, Boston Children’s Museum has an exciting team of exhibit and program developers that all work towards providing robust experiences in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (S.T.E.A.M)! In anticipation of one of the team’s favorite projects, the Boston Mini Maker Faire in October 2018, every member of the STEAM Team was asked the following question: What do you make, and why?

Melissa Higgins: Senior Director, STEAM


I wish I could differentiate myself from the HGTV-watching, Pinterest-inspired masses, but, I make DIY house projects! Trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve taken five trips to the hardware store in one weekend. This is how we learn. I think pretty much anyone who lives in Boston will agree with me when I say that the general lack of storage in our city dwellings forces a lot of DIY creativity. There’s something really satisfying about imagining a project, figuring out how to bring it to life, and actually using it every day in your home. Plus, it’s a great test of the long-term stability of your marriage.

Alissa Daniels: Educator – Science Program Manager


I make earrings and other stuff from recycled plastic. “Homemade Shrinky Dinks” was one of my regular Kitchen Science projects here at BCM, and I would tell kids “If you punch holes in it, you can make earrings or key chains or other stuff.” And then one day I thought “Well…I can do that too.” It was amusing and fun, but then I discovered other people liked my things enough to pay for them. So now I do it for amusement, fun and a tiny tiny bit of profit.

Cora Carey: STEAM & Maker Program Manager


I make everything from spinnakers to recycled wool hats to bikes that make bubbles – sometimes out of necessity, sometimes as a creative outlet, but always because it’s fun and challenging to make stuff. I make things for my kids, my house, my neighborhood, my job, and occasionally on commission.

Ivy Bardaglio: STEAM & Maker Coordinator

I like to make a mess. I love working on big, in-your-face projects– like a human-powered stamp roller! I also make small everyday things, from tie dye to candles to calligraphy. I enjoy the independence and self-reliance that making gives me.

Faith Johnson: Educator – Art Program Manager

r
Both as a practicing artist and educator, I find joy in facilitating and creating experiences that spark imagination, curiosity, exploration, collaboration, connection, reflection, creative voice, and transformation. I love to feel empowered and in turn, empower people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to imagine, activate, and participate thoughtfully in the creativity of the world inside and around us.

Rosa Frank: STEAM Specialist

At Boston Children’s Museum, I make the same things our visitors make: paper bridges, coffee-filter snowflakes, zoetropes, leaf rubbings, scribble bots, paintings, drawings, sculptures and more. I make these things to learn about what works and what doesn’t. I explore the potential of the materials, and I find ways to help kids work through the challenges. At home, I make greeting cards, found poetry, and gift-wrap from recycled materials. These are things to give away, to show appreciation and gratitude for the people in my life.

Neil Tembulkar: Maker Faire Project Manager

What do I make? I make my life more difficult. Why? I try and make/do/fix/create everything with a misguided overconfidence. At times I am successful. Other times I turn to online tutorials and success is a coin flip. Often times I fail. No matter what the task is, the attempt is the rush, and the result is a lesson. When I’m not engaged in such Maker-hubris, I like to write, play percussion instruments, and most of all: make people laugh!

Teacher Appreciation Week – Who Inspired Us to Make?

originally posted on Boston Mini Maker Faire, May 8, 2018

While we all know teachers deserve year-round appreciation, this week is Teacher Appreciation Week and our team took the opportunity to think about our educators, and which of them inspired us to Make:

“…The teacher who introduced me to Making also happens to have been my grandmother! Gram was a nursery school teacher and reading specialist focused on dyslexia. She was also a knitter and a painter. Thanks to her natural inclination for teaching, both inside and outside the classroom, I learned how to knit and paint, too. My early experiences Making turned into a full-blown love for all kinds of art, and projects of almost any type. Everything from making wreaths out of shells to building a shelving unit is fair game. I still knit today and think of Gram whenever I finish a project…”

“…John Farias was my Biology teacher in 9th grade, and then my Vertebrate Zoology (elective) teacher my senior year.  I loved Mr Farias.  He was so excited about Biology, from the way cells work to larger structures.  I remember once during the zoology class, we were dissecting something pretty big, and I found something in the brain I couldn’t identify.  I brought it to Mr Farias and he was fascinated.  “I don’t know what that is!!!  We’ll have to find out.”  This was well before the days of the Internet and instant gratification; Mr Farias’s enthusiasm for not knowing something and seeing it as an opportunity to learn something new really stuck with me.  I went on to major in zoology, and later became an informal science educator…”

“…In college, I took a class called “Psychology of Sustainability”. My teacher challenged the class to go 10 days without producing any waste. During that time period, I really had to get creative with reusing, recycling, and creating novel solutions to my needs. That experiment caused me to find new ways to make things with my hands and my brain. When I joined the Boston Mini Maker Faire team, I stumbled across this quote that really captured my experience in that class: “[The Maker Movement] has the potential to turn more and more people into makers instead of just consumers, and I know from history that when you give makers the right tools and inspiration, they have the potential to change the world.” (Time Magazine)…”

“…The most rewarding class I had in high school was Humanities: the intersection of art, music, and English literature. For the class’s year-long culminating project, my friends and I were at a loss for what to do: we considered ourselves left-brained non creatives. Daniel Niven, an engaging and relate-able educator, then sat with us for hours of brainstorming to help us realize that we could make music that has intriguing mathematical themes and components. Not only did he inspire us to compose a nine-minute live-performed song about mathematical properties (‘Definition 23’ by Euclidean Dramamine), but he spent meaningful time helping us gain creative confidence and an appreciation of our “right-brain” potential. This was a crucial first step to then pursuing many Maker projects that followed in high school and college…”

“…I’ve been lucky to have numerous great teachers who encouraged Making. It’s hard to choose one or two to mention, but this week, I’m thinking of a couple of my sixth-grade teachers from Mount Nittany Middle School. My math teacher, Nate Cattell, had us design and build a bookcase, a toy box and a house out of cut and folded oak tag paper. The designs had to meet precise specifications, and the paper had to be all one piece. Boy, were those projects challenging (but they were rewarding, too). My art teacher, Julia Nelson, got me past an artist’s block by suggesting I turn my Junk Project – a sculpture made from recycled materials – into an installation, using the space on one of her shelves. A huge thank you to Mr. Cattell, Mrs. Nelson, and all my teachers!…”

Who inspired you to Make?

Vacation Exploration: Star Projectors

shining-stars-kidAh, winter. It’s cold and dark out, yes. But one of the best parts of winter is the star gazing. The stars come out early enough for even your youngest children to observe…just make sure you bundle up when you go out to see them!

After you’ve stargazed a few times, and picked out a few constellations with your kids, you can bring the learning inside by creating your own constellation projectors. This activity is based on “Shining Stars” from Boston Children’s Museum’s Beyond the Chalkboard curriculum. Click here for those more detailed instructions. Constellations are pictures that people have imagined in the patterns of the stars, and they are familiar in some form or another to most children. Creating homemade projections of these constellations is a fun way to connect to astronomy at home. This activity is a good follow-up to Constellation Creation, posted on this blog earlier this week, and also from Beyond the Chalkboard.

Materials

  • Flashlights (see Preparation below for notes on these)
  • Paper cups (a few per child) (see Preparation)
  • A thumb tack, paper clip, sharp pencil, or wood skewer
  • Pen or thin marker

Preparation

Flashlights – The kind of flashlight you use for this activity is important. LED flashlights are preferred, but whatever kind you use, it is best if you can remove the reflector from the head of the flashlight. The reflector is the shiny, silver cone that lies just inside the lens, and the bulb of the flashlight typically shines inside it. Here’s what it looks like:

flashlight-reflector

Some LED flashlights make it impossible for you to remove the reflector, so check your flashlight before you start. Old school flashlights with removable bulbs almost always work, and are less expensive than LED lights, but are not as bright as LEDs.

Cups – the paper cups should fit over the lit end of your flashlight, and the flashlight should fit at least part of the way into the cup. It might be a good idea to have a few different sizes of cup available for testing.

Remove the reflectors from your flashlights, and make sure all of the flashlights are working.

Instructions

  1. Talk about constellations you know, or look some up online, or in a book. You could also try the Constellation Creation activity, posted earlier this week, before you make your fancy projectors.
  2. Look at the constellations you found, and choose one you like.
  3. Notice how a cup will fit over the flashlight, and turn the flashlight on with a cup on it. What do you notice? You should see the cup is all lit up. Poke a few holes in the bottom of a cup, then slide it on the lit-up end of the flashlight again. Turn off the lights, and point the flashlight (with the cup on it) at a wall. What do you notice? You should see a projection of the holes you made as points of light on the wall. If the holes look fuzzy, you may not have taken the reflector out (see above).
  4. Make some new cups with holes representing stars in a constellation.

You may notice that if you poked the holes going in from the bottom of the cups, so that the constellations look correct on the bottom of the cup, then they will look backwards when projected. Try either poking the holes in the correct configuration from inside the cup, or draw the constellation dots with a heavy, dark marker (like a Sharpie) on a piece of paper, flip the paper over, hold that paper over the bottom of the cup, and poke the holes of this backwards constellation through the cup. Your constellations should now project correctly.

Some children who have made these projectors have used black construction paper circles on the bottoms of the cups, before poking the holes. Some kids have trimmed long cups so that they were shorter and easier to handle. Some children have even decorated the outsides of their cups with themes that match their chosen constellations. What could you do?

Notes

  • Mag Lites are the best flashlights for this activity, as they are LED, bright, and have removable reflectors. The Mag Lite Mini LED 2-Cell AAA Flashlight is around $15, and the AA model is around $20. You can find Mag Lites at Amazon (click here for an example), Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc. You can try this activity with less expensive, incandescent bulb flashlights – just be certain the reflector is removable, and that your room is nice and dark to accommodate the dimmer lights.
  • Doing a simple image search for familiar constellations like Orion, Cassiopeia, Ursa Major, and others will yield many results.

Continue reading

Vacation Exploration: Constellation Creation

constellation-creationConstellations are pictures that people have imagined in the patterns of the stars. They are now accepted scientific ways of organizing the night sky. This idea that a scientific model could begin with imagination might seem surprising, but should it be? Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” He was pretty smart. This activity, based on “Constellation Creation” from Boston Children’s Museum’s Beyond the Chalkboard curriculum, invites you and your children to look at star patterns and imagine your own new constellations, while practicing STEM skills like observing, recognizing patterns and thinking creatively. This kind of creative activity encourages children to make personal connections to objects in the sky, and to seek out their new constellation when you look up together at the sky at night. Continue reading

Vacation Exploration: The Science of Luminaria

light-celebrations-luminariaLuminaria are a beautiful addition to these longer winter nights, and you may especially encounter these glowing paper lanterns along driveways, sidewalks, or even on houses on Christmas and New Years Eve. While they are traditionally made using paper bags with small candles inside, why not turn luminaria into a science activity? Because, you know, science. Below is a description for how you can investigate basic circuitry with your children, and create something beautiful as a result. And it’s a way for you to find utility in all of those no-longer-working holiday lights that you just can’t bring yourself to throw away. Life is good.

 

Suggested Materials

  • D or C-cell batteries (2 per luminaria)
  • 1 string of holiday lights (even one that is not working any more). From this string of lights, you will prepare:
    • Stripped individual light bulbs (see instructions below)
    • Stripped wire pieces, 6 inches long (see below)
  • Scissors and wire strippers (optional)
  • Masking tape or electrician’s tape
  • Small paper lunch bags (white or brown)

Preparation

If this is your first time playing with batteries and bulbs, you can try the “Lighting a Light Bulb” activity from Boston Children’s Museum’s “Beyond the Chalkboard” afterschool curriculum. It serves as a good foundation for this activity. Just replace the word “students” with “kids” in the instructions. Or with the word “me”, if you’re awesome enough to be playing around too.

There is some preparation for this activity, but you and your kids can do it together. It looks like a lot, but it is quite simple – the instructions below are just very detailed. And once you have it done, you’ll have bulbs and wire to use for years to come! Continue reading

Vacation Exploration: Grocery Store Gifts

grocery-store-gifts“I just want something interesting and educational….not just another piece of plastic.  You know?”

“I know they like to do art and science stuff…but the kits are expensive.”

“Help!  I need a present for my 4-year-old niece and I don’t have time to shop.”

These are all things I’ve heard lately as a parent and museum educator as we count down to the winter holidays. All of us have the best of intentions as gift-givers, but not necessarily the budget, time, or inspiration to back it up. The unlikely solution?  Your neighborhood grocery store.

As I strolled down the aisles of our local supermarket recently, I made up a game for myself:  how many cool art or science “preschool activity kits” could I put together using only items available at a typical grocery store?  I was thrilled to concoct several such kits in my head that I knew would thrill my own kids if they found them under the Christmas tree. Below are some of the winners. Notice my recurring suggestion of including a plastic tablecloth with each kit – it’s a lot easier to find time and space to do these activities in a busy household if you know that your table is protected and you can throw the whole work surface in the trash afterwards! Continue reading

Challenges with Cultural Exhibits: Native Voices

nickThe following post is by our Native Voices Exhibit Mentor, Nickolas Nelson:

My name is Nickolas Nelson and I am an Exhibit Mentor for the Native Voices exhibit. My time as a mentor allows the opportunity for me to witness first-hand the fun and exciting adventures that Native Voices has to offer. However, working with such an exhibit does have its challenges.

In Native Voices, we want to give families insight into how a group of people previously lived, but to also provide information as to their contemporary lifestyles, belief systems, customs, and ideals. This is challenging because a majority of information about indigenous cultures is based on stereotypes and misinformation. For example, many books and other publications continue to place indigenous people in the past leading audiences to disconnect indigenous peoples from contemporary culture. The goal of Native Voices is to dispel this misinformation. Once the stigma and stereotypes have been explained away, true growth and knowledge can ensue. Continue reading

Seeing Stars on the Waterfront

pop-scope-1

“Wow, what a beautiful view!”

That’s often what visitors say when they first come (and then come back) to Boston Children’s Museum. Our location along Fort Point Channel is truly a spectacular sight that greets visitors throughout the day.

But did you also know that the view is just as stunning at night?

As the STEM Specialist, the key part of my job is to develop science, technology, engineering, and math activities for children of all ages (and their grown-ups!) using the materials and exhibits the Museum already has to offer. As an educator and a learner I also enjoy collaboration and bringing people from different communities together. In my work, I constantly strive to unite these two interests. When I learned about #popscope, the stars really aligned. Continue reading

Put Your Listening Ears On!

canon-1-aug-83When my older son was four, he begged for Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site at bedtime.

When he was five, it was Magic Treehouse.

But now that he’s six and just started first grade, he can read to himself, and there is a new treat he begs for…a science podcast for kids.  Yes, BEGS!  To the point that we have had to negotiate an allowance of two podcasts per week so that we’re still reading most nights.

A little background: I grew up on a farm in the landlocked Midwest and had vivid dreams of marine biology and ocean exploration.  I devoured all books on the subject that I could get my hands on (that list was short).  Now I’m raising kids in a world where we can watch (and have watched!) a documentary about giant squid tracking anytime we want.  A YouTube video of open heart surgery.  An app about human anatomy, or insect identification.  A live cam on the otters at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  An animation of primate evolution or chemical bonding.  Suffice to say this would’ve blown my 6-year-old mind.  The access to science and all its wonders is…limitless. Continue reading