Imagining Museum Education in 2040

A few months ago, the Center for the Future of Museums posted a challenge: what might preK-12 education look like in 2040 if museums got involved in new and more thorough ways than we do now? Instead of asking for statements or essays, they wanted stories: imagine the future, and tell us a good yarn.

So seventy-eight of us did. The winners’ stories are all fascinating, and I recommend you have a look here. I’m also pleased to be able to say that my entry won an honorable mention, and is posted on the “Vibrant Learning” microsite here. The lovely folks at CFM have granted me permission to post my story in its entirety here as well.

I picked the Harvard Museum of Natural History as my ‘future-awesome’ location because it was a place I spent a fair amount of time as an undergrad, but I’ve never worked there, so it’s a good balance of familiar but not overly so. (Plus they’ve done some really neat events encouraging artists and students to ‘hack the museum’ by creating interesting overlays, installations, and interventions, so I figured they’d be game.)


Heterodontosaurus, photo from the Harvard Museum of Natural History, Romer Hall

It Was Supposed to Be Dinosaurs
by Meg Winikates


Senator Ariel Kwan
1705 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC
February 15, 2040

Dear Senator Kwan,

As your constituent, I write today to urge you to vote for the reauthorization and increased funding for the Family Learning Leave Act. I also thank you for your continued support of the Institute of Museums and Library Services, especially as it was museums and libraries who spearheaded the initial passage of the Act.

I hope that based on your previous record, you already intend to vote in favor, but I would like to share the lasting impact this bill has had on my family and so many families like mine. Enclosed you will find a selection from the learner’s self-assessment report I wrote during my daughter’s Kindergarten Collaborative three years ago, and an interview from my subsequent Artist’s Spotlight this past autumn. Were it not for Learning Leave, I would never have been able to take the time away from my retail job to support my daughter’s education. Having the opportunity to connect, to explore, and to create together has given me a better understanding of how she learns and what her options for the future are. Thanks to our museum experiences, my daughter is now in an accelerated Creative Science program, and I gained inspiration and contacts which have allowed me to grow my own independent business.

Thank you for your attention and support for this vital program.

Hannah Lopez
Parent, Artist, Businesswoman, Museum Supporter

= = = = = = =

Harvard Museums of Science and Culture: Kindergarten Collaborative
Adult Learner’s Self-Assessment Journal, Day 3

Today was the best day yet of my ‘grown-ups go to school’ adventure. Lucy has, of course, spent the last two days beyond excited. She has been absolutely bubbling to show me all the places in the museums that she loves, and it’s been amazing to see how seriously she takes her job as a ‘guide’ for me, the museum newcomer.  Today I really got to appreciate the way my shy baby has learned to work with the other children, and how responsive the education team is to their curiosity and enthusiasm. It’s clear they have some specific educational goals in mind, so it’s not the free-for-all that it would be if I tried to run a class of five- and six- year-olds, but with one adult for every four or five kids, the educators really do know how to listen and guide the conversation without cutting off or shutting down the little ones.

Today, for instance, was the start of ‘dinosaur days.’ I guess they’d spent some time in the dinosaur galleries before now, but mostly were exploring other things; rocks, I think, and teeth? Lucy will surely tell me in great detail if I ask. But today was dinosaurs, and the kids split themselves up into small groups, gravitating to a fossil, cast, sculpture, or diorama, already used to peppering the educator stationed nearby with questions, almost before the kids stopped moving.

Then the educators pulled out this spray-on-glove stuff, apparently the same kind that their conservators use in the lab, and spritzed all our hands and let us touch the fossils. The stuff’s so thin, you could feel every bump and grain, like the gloves weren’t there at all, but apparently it keeps all the sweat and oils from your hands off the delicate bits. Crazy, but just so cool. (I actually got up the guts to ask one of the educators later where the glove-spray came from, and she looked really proud of me. I guess they are serious about the grown-ups being there to learn too. Turns out it was first developed for medical work, which makes sense.)

So there we were, touching the fossils, and one of the kids in Lucy’s group asked how they found the fossils, which meant we all got to troop outside to the lawn to try out the ground penetrating radar machine. With five year olds. Looking for the ‘modern fossils’ in plaster that the museum had buried in the front lawn. Once we got *very* dirty uncovering them with shovels and trowels and measuring tapes, we then went at the plaster with real chisels, hammers, and brushes. I don’t know what that educator would have done if the kid hadn’t asked that question, but I hope she would have managed to get us out there eventually somehow, or some poor college student would’ve spent a whole afternoon of their work-study burying fake fossils for nothing. And all of that was before lunch time. I know some of the kids in Lucy’s group; they’re a hyper, easily distracted bunch of kids most of the time (especially right before lunch). But they were really engaged, and I admit as a mom it was awesome to see my normally quiet little girl take charge of an excavation. “No, Momma, you have to make a drawing before you pull it out of the ground!” and, “No, my momma should do the drawing because she’s an artist!”

Sweet, given that my drawing abilities are limited to making costume patterns, but it’s always nice to feel like you’re your kid’s hero.

After lunch it was back to the original room, this time to look at the Pteranodon. It’s hard to believe something encased in rock could ever fly, which I totally get, so Lucy and her buddies were understandably skeptical. Only Lucy and her pal Karen were completely unconvinced by the video of the scientists’ animated model, though, which means they were the ones that split off from the group to go into the PhysLab (“FizzFizzFizz, like ideas in your head, Momma, that’s why it’s called that!”) to test out wing designs.

We made wings of paper, string, and straws, and tested them in the wind tunnel. We each picked our favorite, put it in the scanner, and got to add the finished computer model to a digital animal body to animate and watch it ‘fly.’ Lucy was very serious about hers; she actually wanted to recreate the scientists’ Pteranodon for herself, but I admit I got a little silly with mine, and made a dragon.

I never was the science one in the family, after all.

I half-expected to get in trouble for not taking the ‘assignment’ seriously, but instead, it was like I’d made the PhysLab overseer’s day. She handed me an exhibit brochure for a fantastical creatures show at one of the other university museums, and when I told her that my side gig was fantasy costuming, I ended up with info on 3D printing wearables, a costume design exhibit announcement for a museum across town, and a shiny new Searcher ID card.

I’d heard there was some kind of library-card-for-museums thing, but between work and family and all, not the sort of thing I’ve had time to go looking for on my own. It’s fancier than the library card I had as a kid; you add some personal details to your profile, interests and stuff, and it gives you suggestions on where to go and who to talk to for answers. Plus it gets you in free if you’re working on a research project. So I could go see that costume design exhibit on research for my own designs, and talk to a curator or a designer, and borrow study materials, all on the strength of this card that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been messing around with dragon designs on the computer at the museum to make my daughter laugh.

So yeah, definitely the best day of my learning leave yet. I think I’m as excited as Lucy to go back to “school” tomorrow.

= = = = = = =

“Wings, Webs, and Wishes: An interview with Hannah Lopez” by Ginny Evans
Harvard Museums of Science and Culture newsletter

This month’s Artist Spotlight is costumer Hannah Lopez, who has been the brains and hands behind this spring’s highly anticipated Paleontology Parade performances. Lopez’s temporary home is HMSC’s PhysLab, where she was finishing printing the latest dinosaur-skull headpiece for enthusiastic decoration by her ‘apprentice’ — daughter Lucy, age 8.

When asked why she wanted to meet in the PhysLab, Lopez laughs.

“Because it pretty much started here, with designing dragon wings.” Behind her, Lucy scoffs into her glitter paint; it’s clear she’s been part of telling this story enough to say,

“Dinosaurs, mom, it was supposed to be dinosaurs.”

“Yes it was, but mine were dragons, and it was a good thing they were, too.” Lopez’s eyes light up as she talks about the chance encounter with fellow fantasy-fan and HMSC staff, Maya McCormack.

“She wouldn’t let me leave the lab until I’d finished my Searcher profile.  Those first couple of resources she pointed me to, they were great for bringing my inspiration back. It’s so easy to get lost in the day to day details. But somewhere in there, in watching Lucy fall in love with science here at the museum, and in taking the time to follow up on the connections Maya made, getting close to those fabrics in the teaching collection, it made me want to do something big. Bigger than the kids’ Halloween costumes and Renaissance Faire garb I’d been doing in little bits. And once I had the bug, I just didn’t stop.  If that Searcher card had been a credit card, I’d have reached my limit ages ago.”  Lopez laughs.

“Lucky for me it doesn’t work that way. It’s like getting lost on the internet, but better, because it’s this whole web of people and things and ideas that you can reach in person, and some of the time it turns out they’re looking for you, too.”

The discussion turns to the binder of costume designs in front of us and the nearly-finished pieces on her worktable nearby, since it seems dinosaurs have won the day, at least this time.

“Getting the artist residency here, it felt like the right thing to do,” Lopez agrees. “I wanted to do something collaborative, something that showed what Lucy and I both learned when we were first here, and to keep that excitement going.  So we’ve been having troops of kids of all ages in here to help with personalizing their costumes, and making comments on the designs for the professional actors.  I think the final effect will be just on the right side of hilarious and brilliant.”

Opening next week, Paleontology Parades will be a series of theatrical skits that bring various stories in the museum to life, incorporating both professional actors and the schoolchildren they’ve been working with, including Lucy and her classmates in the Creative Science program. The acting troupe, the Wishing Wells, are another contact Lopez made through the Searcher program, when it recently expanded to include performing arts organizations.

“Working with Jason and the team from Wishing Wells has been a lot of fun. I can’t wait to put the last scales and feathers in place and watch it all light up.”

And what’s next for Lopez (and her apprentice)? They give identical grins.

“Well, to celebrate, we thought we’d go find a new museum to explore.”

Meet me on the Holodeck

Because when you're an interplanetary starship captain, all you really want is to be a city-streets private eye.

Because when you’re an interplanetary starship captain, all you really want is to be a city-streets private eye.

I often say I grew up in museums, which is true.  I also grew up on Star Trek and PBS.  This means I have a lot of awe for sci-fi technology and a burning desire to know if we can get there, and if so, how it all works. I’ve accepted that beaming to a ship in orbit’s not going to happen in my lifetime, but every once in a while I hear about something cool that makes it feel like we’re one step closer to the United Federation of Planets. 3D printing food, for instance, is not yet quite so cool as a replicator, unless everything from the replicator tastes like mashed potatoes. (I think there was an episode where that happened, actually…)

Free air sensations can be delivered to a user that map to a wide range of textures. Here a user can control a virtual character moving over textures such as water and grass. (Photo and caption credit Disney Research, see link above)

Free air sensations can be delivered to a user that map to a wide range of textures. Here a user can control a virtual character moving over textures such as water and grass. (Photo and caption credit Disney Research, see link above)

This week, however, it was the announcement that Disney Research was unveiling Aireal, which they describe as “Interactive tactile experiences in free air.” Lest that sound like a Cirque du Soleil experience, what it boils down to is that it can make you feel the impact of a virtual butterfly or a soccer ball or a hand, without needing to wear any kind of virtual reality suit. Pair it with good hologram technology like is already in use in places like The Forbidden Journey at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, with the interactivity of digital puppets like Turtle Talk with Crush, or with other 4-D movie experiences like It’s Tough to be a Bug, and you’re 2/3 of the way to a holodeck already.It works with directional nozzles that create targeted vortexes of air (watch the video, it’s really cool), and can be paired with sensors that allow the nozzles to track the movement of a virtual object–or the user him or herself.

When my favorite anonymous source shared this with me, the first thing we said was “Wow!” and the second was “how could museums use this?”

Looking at the image above, it’s clear that providing tactile experiences of objects too fragile to touch or too expensive to recreate is one option: possibly the same scanning processes that can be used to create 3D image files for printing could be used for haptic feedback as well.  This would be fantastic for accessibility, as well as general visitor engagement. Or imagine a historic setting brought to life with projected details, like the butterfly in the video–a Jurassic era bug, for instance, or a flight simulator in the cockpit of a historic plane. Pair it with a wall of sound and get the sensation of conducting a symphony orchestra. Play a game of Mayan basketball (without the beheading). Get rained on without getting soaked. [The options for a haunted-house experience are also numerous!]

The challenge remains in deciding when and where tech is the better option, compared to a living history re-enactor or a replica or a low-tech texture panel. It seems to me that it’s the imaginative quality that is most likely to be the deciding factor (bringing to life beings that no longer exist or haven’t existed yet, creating an immersive art experience) and the conservation possibilities as a secondary factor (allowing the sensation of touch where things are too delicate for direct interaction).

How would you use a technology like this in your museum? Share your best holodeck fancy in the comments below.

For further exploration on the topic:

Poetry Constructions

Poetry works its way into many of my postsNational Poetry Month is one of my favorite times of year, and every year I find something new to get excited about.

This year it’s building blocks and poetry.  Not in the form of stanzas, rhyme schemes or metaphors, but creative ways to inspire, actual physical ways to randomize words, create sequences of ideas, and give poetry a visual heft that matches its presumptive mental and emotional ones.

Shape poems

ee cummings 'i carry your heart' as laid out in Festisite

ee cummings ‘i carry your heart’ as laid out in Festisite

I’m not a huge fan of concrete poetry in general, because I’m not always convinced by the whole form/function connection when it comes to text.  However, if you’re looking for a new way to *present* a poem and hand written calligraphy is not your top choice, you might want to try Festisite, which has a handful of pre-selected forms you can use to plunk any text into for a graphic twist, as I did with ee cummings’ ‘i carry your heart’ above.

Poetry pebbles 

Poetry Pebbles from Kitchen Counter Chronicles

Poetry Pebbles from Kitchen Counter Chronicles

Story stones of all sorts are fun, assembling petroglyph-like images and then inventing the connections between each concrete object depicted.  Over at Kitchen Counter Chronicles one family used pre-created stones as poetry starters while outside on a nature walk: I think with older kids it could be as much or more fun to collect stones and decorate them along the way, to help spur further writing once back indoors.

Book spine poetry

The Convivial Museum: Art is Every Day, Shapes & Sizes & more Surprises, The Intelligent Eye Made to Play!

A museum book spine poem, by me and my bookshelves

I love Nina Katchadourian’s Sorted Books Project, and so do the folks at the Association for Library Service to Children, who recommend this as a great way to get kids to explore a library during National Poetry Month.  Sign me up!

Haiku calculator

Haiku calculator by Eugene Parnell, sample text by me.

Haiku calculator by Eugene Parnell, sample text by me.

Eugene Parnell describes his “Wheel O Matic Haiku Calculator” as ‘pure cogs-n-wheels fun, a machine-age Nirvana of Modernist production-line assembly techniques applied to to the emerging meta-industry of cultural production.’  That’s a little wordy, but it is, in fact, a fun spin-the-wheel-get-a-random-poem-bit, and could be easily recreated in an analog version.  The digital version was a little buggy when I tried it–precreated wheels of poetry options didn’t seem to be loading, but you could create your own easily enough.

Word wheel templates here and here for kick-starting an analog version.

Assorted other National Poetry Month resources:
Lesson plans for K-12 on ReadWriteThink
Lesson plans, videos, and printables on Scholastic
NaPoWriMo (write a poem a day challenge)
Interdisciplinary resources for teachers and parents on Reading Rockets

Past National Poetry Month posts on Brain Popcorn:
2010: Popping with Poetry
2011: Poetry and Puddles
2012: It’s the Most Wordiful Time of the Year

Check back in a week or two for a sneak preview of May MA Poetry Fest activities at PEM, as well!

“Museums are like food-are they part of your diet?” AAM day 3

Another brain-stretching, idea-popping day, with a lot of really packed conference rooms!  I managed to pick several extremely popular sessions today, and fortunately was not one of the folks sitting on the floor.  Nice to see so much determined interest in topics ranging from multi user multimedia interactives to experimental educational programming! Like yesterday, I’m picking my top 3-5 thoughts from each session, but definitely expect to see more from me on some of these topics soon:

Session 1: Learning Together: Developing Multi User Interactives

  • Multi user interactives are more than scaled-up single user kiosks: looking at other kinds of interactives like low-tech tabletops and games can be more useful for developing a digital multi user experience
  • Evaluation from the Field Museum suggests people who work together on an interactive smile 50% of the time, and visitors on their own smile only 10% of the time.
  • Next step in multi-user interactives probably includes motion sensing using elements like the Kinect, which might also help solve design problems like orienting text.

Session 2: Significant Objects

  • Writers recruited to write fiction about yardsale finds, which were then sold on ebay and had a 2700% increase in financial value – what kinds of lessons about storytelling and the perceived value of objects does this hold for museums?  How can we create different entry points for people who might be craving the kinds of stories museums could tell but aren’t telling, or aren’t telling effectively?
  •  Participatory design vs. design for participation — how do you balance it so that content creators enjoy the process and it’s open to a wide range of people, but still end up with a final product that has an appeal to people who weren’t part of its creation?
  • how much can museums play with the truth?  How does this tie in with the conversation from earlier in the conference about real, fake, reproductions, and replicas?

Session 3: Magnificent Masters of Museum Mysteries, Narrative Games in Museum Contexts

  • This panel was full of people I’d really like to spend more time talking to–sadly I had a conflict and couldn’t attend their continued discussion in the hotel bar afterwards, but I’ll be watching their next projects with interest.
  • I’d heard about the Ghosts of a Chance game at the Smithsonian before, but it’s a pretty intimidating example, so hearing about their second attempt that didn’t go so well and their plans for a third was heartening, as was pairing this extreme example with two simpler examples from the Getty and the Cleveland Museum of Art.
  • Getting to play a game during a session on games was a nice touch.


Session 4: Continuing the Conversation, Experimental Projects in Museums

  • Lots of interesting projects going on with inviting community members, particularly creative professionals, into the museum to offer their own spin on programming.  Requires clear guidelines from the museum and a flexible hands-off policy to allow for individuality and fresh ideas.
  • Interesting initiative from Living Arts Center in Mobile where they run a two month intro or ‘pulse’ mini-exhibit to collect community thoughts on the topics of the upcoming featured exhibit- a glorified (and formalized) type of prototyping mixed with marketing that’s really curious.
  • Community involvement in exhibition planning seems to mean much shorter time spans than when working solely with museum professionals–is that an audience based constraint (short attention spans) or a museum one (resource and space commitments)?

Session 5: “Your Brain on Art” sponsored by Reach Advisors

  • There was a fancier more academic title, but the scientists from Johns Hopkins suggested this title instead and it fit well.  It was a great conversation where each side wanted to find out more about what the others were doing–could have easily run for another hour!
  • Fun to hear people outside the field debating the things that museum pros care so much about: is it all about education?  what do museums have that is  unique to that kind of experience?  what about reflection?  is wonder a jolt of quick there-and-gone energy to the brain, or an opportunity for a deeper connection?  what makes for a useful measurement of success at reaching your audience?
  • Is it possible for parents who love museums to pass that love on to their children?  Some studies suggest that culture changes too fast and peers have too much influence, but yet parental modelling is still one of the best ways to convey values to children.  Museums are like food–if you go to museums the way you have family dinner around the kitchen table, make it a regular part of life, have conversations about it, share thoughts and favorites and encourage your kids to do the same, then  yes,  parents can definitely pass the culture of  museum love along.

IMG_20130521_163255.441   Evening enjoyment: The Owl Bar

  • Incredibly cool and beautiful old bar from the days of Prohibition, with fun stories regarding the blinking owl signal lights over the bar (blinking means the cops aren’t around and it’s safe to order from the speak easy!) and quite tasty food.
  • Worth the 2 mile trek up from the convention center and a fun adventure to a different section of the city.  The worst part about a really interesting conference is that there’s too little time for sightseeing.

Surfing, Tumbling, and Pinning

I run across a lot of fun stuff surfing the wilds of the internet, much of which I stash away to share with you here in an eventual Brain Popcorn post.  Sometimes it’s from an article on my reader (and blessings on the day I decided to invest in upkeeping my RSS feeds, or I’d miss so much cool and wacky content!), and sometimes it’s a neat link on Twitter, but recently there’s been a fair amount of it on tumblr and Pinterest.  I initially resisted both sites because I need more ways to fritter away time on the internet like I need a ten-ton elephant standing on my head, but between a few influential articles and blog posts from people I admire, not to mention a few sessions at the recent National Art Educators Association conference in NYC, I decided to jump straight in.

art & nature center pinboard

Museums on Pinterest

If you search Pinterest users for ‘museum’ you get a fairly large number of results, which I initially found surprising, especially the heavy concentration of children’s museums, though in a lot of ways the art museums are a perfect fit.  I haven’t looked at all their boards, but here are a few folks doing interesting things on Pinterest:

SFMOMA – Thematic collections of elements of their collection, and one cool and self-referential board that highlights where they turn up in the press.

Metropolitan Museum of Art – More thematic collections, and I’m particularly fond of the way they used a quote in the description section of their ‘cat’ board.  (also a great resource to get to other cool museum boards: check out the list of who the Met’s following! I’m particularly keen to see what ends up on the crowdsourced Future of Museums board.)

Met Teens – The museum’s teen advisory group runs this set of boards, which they use to highlight student work (both written and visual) especially in response to museum collections, draw correlations between historical fashions and modern, and advertise upcoming teen-focused events at the museum.  Very cool!

Not convinced?  Right before I was putting this post out into the world, fellow museum enthusiast Colleen Dilenschneider over on Know Your Own Bone wrote a fantastically well-researched set of arguments about why Pinterest is a useful investment for the extended museum community: 5 Reasons for Museums to get on Pinterest right now.

Museums on Tumblr

This is a bit more of a stretch: I don’t actually find Tumblr to be as easy a site to navigate or search.  Simply tracking the ‘museum’ tag gets you interesting photos from people’s vacations, but locating specific museum projects on Tumblr is harder.

Eye Spy: Fake or Real? – This was actually the project that introduced me to Tumblr, which was a game we designed to go with our “Playing with Perception” show at PEM last year.  I really liked the format that our team put together, and I haven’t seen any similar game-style Tumblr projects out there.  (But I’d love to, so if you know of any, do tell!)

SFMOMA (again) – Their general feed is interesting, but I particularly like their ArtGameLab tag, where they share visitor photos etc. from their visitor-designed game projects accessible online and in the galleries.

Have you run across any cool organizational projects on Tumblr or Pinterest?  Share them here! 

Or, of course, you could just come find me there! (fair warning, what you see there is often what happens in my brain before it makes it into a coherent Popcorn post)

Brain Popcorn on Tumblr
Brain Popcorn on Pinterest

Twelve Days of Popcorn (Day 3): Trains

We set up the HO trains under the family Christmas tree this weekend, which is always fun and knocks about twenty years off my apparent age.   It’s amazing how enduring a fascination trains can hold, whether they’re models or massive machines, still or belching smoke and whistling like a time machine.  Trains even make good bait for getting a small child through an art museum (those luminists and Hudson River types often had creeping inroads of steam power in their paintings, after all, and you can enjoy the brushwork and color while the kiddo bounces around looking for train tunnels).

George Inness’ Lackawana Valley

So it was with great delight that I discovered OurStory, a website hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.  The site is a family- and teacher- friendly resource for approaching history from the ‘story’ angle.  There is a searchable booklist, a great thematic list of activities to do at school or home, and one of their current features on the homepage is a downloadable packet of ideas and activities to explore the world of trains in your own backyard, from the local train station to the nearest rail museum.  (And even more book suggestions and activities on the thematic ‘trains’ page.)

One of NMAH's recommended reads

The NMAH has, of course, an impressive transportation collection of its own, but I love the fact that they’ve created resources which reflect the geographically wide-spread nature of visitors to a website.  “Can’t get to the NMAH?  Here’s how to find cool similar stuff near you.”  Fabulous.  Site specific materials can be fantastic, but accessibility is key.

Asher Durand, Progress (The Advance of Civilization), 1853

Music, Accidentally On Purpose

*waves* Hello All!  I have returned from my trip to Italy and essentially recovered from the Italian cold I brought back with me, and I’m back on track to keep bringing you fresh Brain Popcorn.  Today’s post celebrates unusual music.

ASIMO conducts the Detroit Symphony. Click for story.

Music is a great interdisciplinary doorway.  Though I ran as far as possible from the calculations necessary for the ‘physics of music’ class they offered in undergrad, the fact remains that music and physics *are* closely linked, and so are music and art, music and history, music and literature, music and myth, music and….you get the refrain.  Today we’re going to focus on a few science connections.

Gravity Makes Music!

Gravité from Renaud Hallée: check out some very cleverly edited percussion work with falling tennis balls, forks and knives, televisions, basketballs, and light sticks.  It reminds me a lot of the number “Trashing the Camp” by Phil Collins, from Disney’s Tarzan.  (Thanks to Rob over on Politics et Alia Sensae for the heads up!)

For a slightly more complicated set of interactions (with some entertaining moments and some real physics –there’s a Newton’s Cradle in there!) check out the Rube-Goldberg-inspired “This Too Shall Pass” by OK Go.  Once you’ve watched it once and have stopped laughing, go again and keep your eyes out for levers, weights and counterweights, wedges, and a number of other simple machines.

Vegetables as instruments?

Well, it beats eating them… If you missed my earlier link to the ViennaVegetable Orchestra, here it is.  This is a great way to talk about materials engineering (what qualities are they looking for when they pick their vegetables?  How do they change those materials to get the sound they want?), and also just to discuss the ways people make noise (beating, blowing through a tube or over a tube, plucking, shaking…how do these veggie instruments resemble or differ from what a regular orchestra/band/jam session uses?).

Did you know? The palm cockatoo is known to beat hollow logs with sticks to make loud drumming sounds. ~courtesy of @AMNH, the American Museum of Natural History’s Twitter feed

Animal Music–apparently not confined to cetaceans and songbirds!  (Does anybody else have the lines from Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb running through their heads yet?  “Many more monkeys drumming on drums! Dum ditty dum ditty dum dum dum!”)

Earth Music

Luray Caverns Stalacpipe

The Stalacpipe Organ at Luray Caverns, photo from their website

Three years/2500 attempts = 37 formations/5 octaves = The Stalacpipe Organ.  There are so many cool paths you can take from here, looking at caves and earth science, spelunking, Virginia history, invention of musical instruments, more math and physics of sound, inspiration for creating your own tube-length-instruments.  Or just check out the site for Luray Caverns and play the audio clip.

And finally, for sheer amusement value, “Flight of the Bumblebee” played on an iPad.  Is this cheating?   Having played this piece on the flute, I’m going to say yes.  If you’re not out of breath by the end, it doesn’t count.  🙂