This Week’s Reads: Communicating about Science

Happy Holidays, all! I apologize for my few months of silence, and my excuses include learning a new role at the New England Museum Association, where I am the new Director of Engagement, running an annual conference, and being out of the country on my honeymoon (reflections on traveling in Japan and lessons I gained there for American museums to come!).

Museum Reads header image

However, I’m back with a set of interesting reads regarding how better to communicate about science topics with self-identified “non-scientists.”  The Discovery Museums in Acton, which was one of the places that gave me my start in the museum field, has a fabulous fellowship program for scientists and engineers, so when I see examples of great science communication I get warm fuzzy feelings all over.

Here are some cool reads about communication, science, and scientists speaking up:

“Talking Evolution: The challenge of influenza” – What does “flu season” mean to you? How much do you know about why you’re supposed to get a new flu shot every winter, and why does it sometimes seem not to work? This is the first post of two talking about the flu, how and why we get sick, the historical context of the 1918 flu epidemic, and how viruses mutate, from the always awesome National Geographic Education blog.

“A massive global study finds girls are comprehensively better than boys at solving problems together” – A fascinating summary of a test that looks at lots and lots of factors to student success and skill building, and which shows the importance of social skills (communication!) in effective problem solving (a key part of science & engineering).

“Helping students communicate science beyond the classroom “- Sounds like an awesome class that other colleges should be using as a model.  And then collaborating with their local museums to provide their students with public speaking experience!

“Why are paleontologists suing the Trump administration?” – Politics + dinosaurs (and a bunch of other really interesting info on national monuments!).  Also an amazing breakdown from the folks at National Geographic Education.

“The Illustrated History of How Sugar Conquered the World” – History and science and social history and medicine and world domination and I’m baking Christmas cookies this weekend anyway.

Trees in the News

Allison Elizabeth Taylor's marquetry piece, Brooklyn Navy Yard, currently on view at the Peabody Essex Museum

Allison Elizabeth Taylor’s marquetry piece, Brooklyn Navy Yard, currently on view at the Peabody Essex Museum

I spend a lot of time noticing trees these days.  It’s not just that we’re having a beautiful foliage season, or that I’ve been looking forward to Branching Out for over a year–suddenly it seems that there are stories about trees all over the airwaves, be it TV, radio, or wi-fi.  Here are a few of the arboreal articles that caught my eye in the last week or two:

Norway pays Liberia to halt deforestation – apparently there’s a link between deforestation and the current ebola outbreak, in addition to all the other nastiness that comes from clearcutting.  Kind of makes you love Norway, though, doesn’t it?

Trees and climate change – It turns out that trees are as individual as people when it comes to tolerance for heat, drought, and other forms of extreme weather.

NPR celebrates fall colors (still time to submit your photos!)

And one tangentially related, though not limited to trees:

 If We Cared about the Environment like We Care about Football – An incident or two of bad language, but still funny in that sort of painful way.

Do you have any cool news stories (or opinion videos) about trees?  Share them in the comments below!

A Smattering of Science Poetry

Collage by Serena Epstein, click for source

“Prufrock” Collage by Serena Epstein, click for source

In high school I had a chemistry teacher who had once taught literature, and he had a tendency to quote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” at inexplicable times (usually when despairing over the state of our latest test grades).  I still hear “I grow old, I grow old,  I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled and walk along the beach” in his voice, in fact, and while I learned to love poetry long before sophomore chemistry, I think he’d be pleased that science and poetry have such an unbreakable covalent bond in my brain.

If you have a hankering for the poetry of the universe, the folks over at Brain Pickings have a great assortment for you, including the first poem to be published in a scientific journal, 30 Days of Quantum Poetry, Diane Ackerman’s poems of the planets, and more.

From Quantum Poetry by Joanna Tilsley

From Quantum Poetry by Joanna Tilsley

And if you’re looking for science poetry that works in a classroom, I highly recommend the humorous stylings of Doug Florian, the thoughtful works of Joyce Sidman (who has some great teacher resources on her author page!), and the beautiful compilation The Tree That Time Built, with works from a wide variety of poets on an assortment of natural themes and CD included so you can appreciate the poems read aloud.

Do you have a favorite science poet?

From Red Sings from Treetops by Joyce Sidman

From Red Sings from Treetops by Joyce Sidman, an exploration of the colors of seasons

Nature in the Neighborhood

It’s still a little cold to get super excited about a long ramble in the woods, but I like to think ahead, and the teachers from the Salem State Pre-K program and I had a great time a few weeks ago looking at ways to incorporate art and nature study into their year long theme studying neighborhoods.

As a librarian’s daughter and former English teacher, I believe strongly in centering lessons around stories.  Great stories make great hooks to engage learners of all ages!

Fiction and nonfiction related to local MA history and natural history

Fiction and nonfiction related to local MA history and natural history

So we started the day with a read aloud of MT Anderson’s The Serpent Came to Gloucester, which I love, not only because it’s based on actual history, but because the illustrations and sea-chantey-esque text are captivating.  We then made sand paintings, with glue, sand, sea shells and sea glass (some courtesy of the local beaches, some thanks to Christmas Tree Shop).  People made some beautiful designs!  I only wish I had thought to have related music playing in the background while we worked.

Inspired by the Delft tile-styled end papers in The Serpent Came to Gloucester

Inspired by the Delft tile-styled end papers in The Serpent Came to Gloucester

Mixed media sea serpent!

Mixed media sea serpent!

Sand Castle inspired by The Serpent Came to Gloucester

Sand Castle inspired by The Serpent Came to Gloucester

Next we moved on to oral history techniques that are useful with pre-k and other young students.  Download the discussion notes here: Oral History Projects with Pre-K  As part of this activity, we also worked with Twisteez wire to make a representation of our favorite toy from childhood, and talked about 2D and 3D ways of working art into story telling and personal history.

Recreating a childhood memory in wire.

Recreating a childhood memory in wire.

Art & Nature Center director Janey Winchell made a guest appearance to talk about great ways to get young kids involved in and actively observing on a nature walk, complete with a suggested Nature Walk scavenger hunt.

School Programs manager Emily Scheinberg also led teachers on an investigation of Salem  history in PEM’s collections.

What clues to Salem's past does a fire bucket hold?

What clues to Salem’s past does a fire bucket hold?

Finally, we wrapped up the day with a pair of observation activities: examining and understanding beach erosion via milk and cookies, and creating ‘viewing frames’ to take on a walk through the neighborhood to encourage close looking, thinking about perspective, and even the basics of composition.  These two activities were inspired by Corinne Demas’ The Disappearing Island and Dr. Seuss’ To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street.

Download activity directions erosion and frames

What do you see on the street?  In the sky?  On the buildings as you pass by?

What do you see on the street? In the sky? On the buildings as you pass by?

Decorating frames with a few of our favorite things.

Decorating frames with a few of our favorite things.

Sandstone and conglomerate...aka ginger cookies and chocolate chip.  Which will stand up to milk's erosive force?

Sandstone and conglomerate…aka ginger cookies and chocolate chip. Which will stand up to milk’s erosive force?

The beach before the milky waves, representing several kinds of rock!

The beach before the milky waves, representing several kinds of rock!

Want more?  Other classroom activities, read alouds, resources etc available for download here: handouts 2014

Paws Up for a Good Book!

"It's Common Knowledge" by Rune Guneriussen, 2009

“It’s Common Knowledge” by Rune Guneriussen, 2009

One of the perks of my job is that each new exhibition that comes through the museum gives me an excuse to read and/or research something new.  I’ve come across a number of fascinating and occasionally hilarious books during the planning of Beyond Human (opening in October), and I’ve blogged about some of my favorites over on PEM’s Connected. Find reviews of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction for kids and adults, from haiku cats to people who fly with whooping cranes.

Check it out and let me know if you have any suggestions for other artist/animal-related good reads!

Ideabox: Cardboard Best Friends

ideabox big boxes

There are some great stories out there about the power of imagination.  As a kid, I was particularly fond of stories like Bridge to Terabithia, and The Phantom Tollbooth, and The Neverending Story.  However, it’s a wide and wildly varying genre, so today I’m focusing on stories (and activities) to do with cardboard boxes.

crispinCrispin The Pig Who Had it All is officially a Christmas story wherein an overindulged pig is given an empty box for Christmas by Santa, but is a great story and amusingly illustrated for younger readers.

not-a-box-2-1-1000x1025

Not a Box is a in a much simpler style, with a much more indignant rabbit informing the off-page (and regrettably literal-minded likely-adult) that his/her apparent box is, in fact, not a box, but a…(you get the idea)
Not a Box printables for teachers at TeacherVision

Similarly, I ran across this beautiful video The Adventures of a Cardboard Box over on Vimeo:

And, of course, some people take their cardboard box visions to the extreme (and extremely cool):

Created by Christine at Pure Joy Events.  Click for link to source

Created by Christine at Pure Joy Events. Click for link to source

But for the rest of us looking for a little inspiration, here is ikatbag’s Guide to Working with Cardboard and 40 Cool Cardboard Projects, which is an excellent starting place for the corrugated-minded.

So tunnel in to a good idea (and then share it with me)!

So tunnel in to a good idea (and then share it with me)!

Happy Trails: A Year of Stories and Art

Once a month, I lead Story Trails, a program for families on Sunday afternoons that’s targeted for kids ages 5-8 with their accompanying adults.  We look closely at an artwork in one of the exhibits, read an associated story, and then head for a studio space (or other safe art-making zone) and create something inspired by the artwork, the story’s theme, the illustration style, or the associated science/history/literature component.  (Remember how my middle name is ‘interdisciplinary?’) Along with whatever their creation is, participants (including adults, because grown ups get to play too) take home a set of other recommended books, interesting web links, and an activity to try at home.  Sometimes we also have special guest speakers, generally local authors and illustrators, with the occasional bee-keeper or lobster fisherman.

It’s a lot of fun, it’s a lot of work, and it’s one of my favorite programs, so I thought I would share the books and art activities that I loved most from this year.

January: The Spiral Connection
Book: Blockhead, the Life of Fibonacci by Joseph D’Agnese
Exhibition Connection: Ripple Effect, the Art of H2O
Art Making: Wall hangings with Fibonacci prints – we used flowers (both silk and cut flowers will do, flatter ones like sunflowers and daisies are better), pinecones, and seashells with fabric paint on plain white bandanas (available at most craft stores), to make printed patterns that feature examples of the Fibonacci sequence in nature, and then added extra decorations with fabric markers, and hung the bandanas on dowels to create easy-to-hang fabric art for your wall.
January Story Trails handout-small

I love the 'turning page' look that our creative services team designed to differentiate Story Trails programming from other museum events.

I love the ‘turning page’ look that our creative services team designed to differentiate Story Trails programming from other museum events.

February: Read the Stars
Book: How the Stars Fell into the Sky by Jerrie Oughton (retelling of a Navajo Coyote story, which is traditionally only told in the winter months)
Exhibition Connection: Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art
Art Making: Constellation Light Boxes – We talked about creation stories and specifically constellation stories, and then used awls and sharpened dowels to punch holes in shoe boxes to create our own (or recreate known) constellation patterns.  We then added a hole in whatever side of the box was opposite the constellation pattern to either a) hold up to our eye and then up to the light to see the stars ‘shine’ or b) put a bright flashlight into and project the star pattern into a darkened room.
February Story Trails handout

March: Cloud Factory and Guest Appearance by Illustrator Katy Bratun
BookSector 7 by David Weisner
Exhibition Connection: the concept of storyboarding in art, as exemplified by a series of paintings of a battle in the Maritime Art collection
Art Making: Katy Bratun led a story-boarding workshop in which kids drew a series of 4-8 panels of a story on the theme of taking a journey, and bound them into a simple book using card stock and yarn.  This was a great literacy-skills support program and kids were very, very excited to share their stories with a real author/illustrator.
March Story Trails handout

April: Weslandia
Book: Weslandia by Paul Fleischman
Exhibition Connection: Earth Day, and an incredibly cool bit of textile art on view in Perfect Imbalance: Exploring Chinese Aesthetics that featured pumpkins, ears of corn, and tomatoes as exotic fruits
Art Making: Butterfly Seed Mats — We used burlap, white glue, and butterfly seed mix to create biodegradable bits of art that you could plant in a corner of your garden and grow wildflowers to attract butterflies.  Simple but incredibly effective.  This book happened to be requested in the previous year’s visitor survey, and happily was already on my list for potential programming.
April Story Trails handout copy

May: Sing a Song for Mothers and Family!
Book: Anna Hibiscus’ Song by Atinuke
Exhibition Connection: Mother’s Day, and inspired by both the African Art collection and PEM’s ceramics collection
Art Making: Good Cheer Jars – We mod-podged tissue paper and other bits of recycled paper onto glass jars to create good cheer jars.  A good cheer jar can work any of several ways: a) a semi-voluntary fine paid when one is in a bad mood, the proceeds from which are then used to do something cheery for the family like a trip out for ice cream, b) a collection of slips of paper on which you write things that make you happy and pull one out to read when you need cheering up, c) a mandatory fine for using the household’s forbidden words like ‘I’m bored.’
May Story Trails handout copy

sand serpent

My Sea-Monster sand painting, which is still on display over my desk.

June: Beneath the Deep Blue Sea
Book: The Serpent Came to Gloucester by M.T. Anderson
Exhibition Connection: Local history and the Maritime Art collection
Art Making: Sea-Monster Sand Paintings — Using pre-cut mattes, construction paper, white liquid glue, sand, pebbles, and small sea shells and bits of sea glass, we created maritime-inspired natural collages.  Some of them got very, very intricate, particularly those who decided to make mosaics of sea glass.  This was one of my personal favorite art activities, and many of the adults who were at the program participated with gusto.
June Story Trails handout

Illustration from The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

Illustration from The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

July: What a Bright Idea!
Book: The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton
Exhibition Connection: Contemporary art in the Japanese Art collection
Art Making: Day-Glo (and Glow-in-the-Dark) Paintings — Using black construction paper, day-glo poster paint, and some very cool glow-in-the-dark paint, we created scenes that looked awesome in general and even better under the light of our interactive black light box.  We also had samples of varying materials that kids could test to see whether or not they would react with the black light and start to glow, including beads, assorted fabrics, gelatinous substances (in safe containers), and assorted paper products.  This was one of the year’s most popular programs.
July Story Trails handout copy

August: What Does the Clay Say?
Book: Dave the Potter, Artist, Poet, Slave by Bryan Collier and Laban Carrick Hill
Exhibition Connection: Ceramics in the American Art collection
Art Making: Experimenting with Clay – Though the idea was to start with pinch pots and some coil-building, clay programs always take on a life of their own.  Some people made pots, others branched out into sculpture and beyond.  Everyone had a fabulous time, including some adults who had missed the story and had no kids, but wanted to come work with clay anyway.
August Story Trails handout copy

September: Hats Off To You!
Book: Miss Hunnicutt’s Hat by Jeff Brumbeau
Exhibition Connection: Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones
Art Making: Decorate a hatbox – We used 12″ cake boxes from ULine, which fold into very decent sized hatboxes and are easy to decorate with colored pencil, stickers, collaged recycled material, and crayon.
Sept Story Trails handout copy

October: Canine Crusader
Book: Dex – The Heart of a Hero by Caralyn Buehner (alternate title Superdog)
Exhibition Connection: Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones and the Caps, Capes, and Characters weekend festival (organized by me)
Art Making: Superhero capes with interchangeable emblems – We used SmartFab and craft foam with adhesive velcro dots to create capes (I cut each cape to length to suit children individually), and discussed designing emblems that suited their personalities for their superhero alter egos.  The velcro made it possible to rearrange or replace emblems later.
Oct Story Trails handout copy

Detail from the Pastrana tapestries

Detail from the Pastrana tapestries

November: Oh What a Knight!
Book: The Knight and the Dragon by Tomie dePaola and The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke
Exhibition Connection: The Invention of Glory: Alfonso V and the Pastrana Tapestries and the Weaving Tales of Glory weekend festival (also organized by me)
Art Making: Tournament pennants — More SmartFab and back to fabric paint — we created jousting pennants inspired by the fabulous examples in the Pastrana Tapestries and the illustrations in both books.
Nov Story Trails handout copy

December: A Patient Brush
Book: Twenty Heartbeats by Dennis Haseley
Exhibition Connection: Perfect Imbalance: Exploring Chinese Aesthetics
Art Making: Chinese brush painting – We used rice paper (available at ACMoore or less expensively from Dick Blick), Chinese calligraphy brushes, and red and black watercolor paint, with examples from ‘how to’ books on traditional brush painting style.
Dec Story Trails handout copy