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

Sharing and Caring: Ramadan Themes in Action

Ramadan 2016 1Can you go without food or water from dawn to sunset? This is exactly what many Muslim adults do during Ramadan. More importantly, Muslims try to experience what the less fortunate go through every day and practice good habits and deeds, such as giving more to charity and practicing self-control. Fasting is usually broken with water, dates or milk before the start of the evening meal, called iftar.

Ramadan began on Sunday, June 5th and came to an end on Tuesday, July 5th, 2016. The next day, on Wednesday, July 6th many children and families woke up to Eid Al Fitr (feast of breaking the fast) to put on their finest clothes and many girls around the world washed their hands to reveal the beautiful design dyed with henna. On the morning of Eid, many people go to the mosque for prayer, as well as visiting friends and families. Continue reading

More Than a Mess

IMG_1645“We have fabric, hula hoops, flagging tape, little drink umbrellas, string, some scissors, chalk, and cardboard tubes. What else do we need? What’s missing?”

“There are more cardboard tubes upstairs. Let’s bring out some duct tape. I think we might need more fabric…Oh this material has a cool texture! And look at these mirrors!”

This is a typical conversation I have every Monday morning here at Boston Children’s Museum. My Mondays are dedicated to making a mess. Each Messy Monday a team of Museum staff from the Art Studio and the Messy Sensory area in Playspace team up to support hands-on activities for children and adults of all ages. This could mean anything from painting with spaghetti to mixing shaving cream and sand to create moldable dough. This past Monday our invitation to our visitors was, “Come in and do whatever you want with the materials we have here.” It is increasingly rare for children today to be given this kind of open invitation and it is always interesting to see what happens next. Continue reading