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Meet the Gorgosaur

Gorgosaurus at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

You’ve seen the dinos in Dinosphere—but have you ever taken the time to really get to know them? Well now’s your chance! In the Meet the Dinos blog series, learn the story behind all of your favorite dinosaurs, from their lives in the Cretaceous period to their discoveries!

One Interesting Gorgosaur
 
We can tell by the injuries found on The Children's Museum's Gorgosaur that she lived a very rough life. Her injuries included broken bones, bad teeth, and a brain tumor! The Gorgosaur's brain tumor may be the first one ever discovered in a dinosaur. It may have contributed to the Gorgosaur's other injuries, and may even have caused her death. Almost all the fossilized teeth of the Gorgosaur are intact and attached to her jaw, but she had a bad infection in her mouth that caused her to lose some teeth. Because of all her injuries, scientists believe this Gorgosaur walked with pain and most likely had help from others in her pack to survive.
 
The Gorgosaur's injured bones include:

  • A broken fibula. Instead of being strong and straight, this twisted and bumpy lower leg bone healed poorly.
  • Crushed caudal vertebrae. These tail bones began to grow together as they were healing.
  • A broken femur. This leg bone was so badly injured that a section of the bone tore away from the rest.
  • Broken gastralia. These belly ribs helped protect the gorgosaur's vital organs. Some of the ribs healed.
  • Broken scapula. This gorgosaur had a shattered scapula, or shoulder blade. A huge growth formed around the bone to stabilize it as it healed.
There are several things about this Gorgosaur which make scientists think this may be a new species of dinosaur previously unknown to science. These include a manus claw, a sharp, curved claw similar to that of a T. rex; a furcula which leads some scientists to suggest that dinosaurs may be related to birds; and a rugose (bumpy) lacrimal. Preparators working on the Gorgosaur skull also found delicate structures in her nose. These structures, which are unusually well preserved, are called vestibular bulae. They may help scientists learn more about the anatomy of dinosaurs.

Gorgosaurs vs. Tyrannosaurus

Gorgosaurus means "fearsome lizard." Gorgosaurus lived in the Late Cretaceous Period, about 70 to 80 million years ago in the western United States. Gorgosaurus looks like its cousin T. rex. The two have a lot in common. Both were fierce carnivores, which means they ate meat instead of plants, with dozens of sharp teeth designed for biting and swallowing prey. Both were bipeds, which means they walked on two legs, and had small, muscular arms and long tails that they used to balance themselves. They both had eyes on the front of their heads which helped them look in the distance for prey, and they had a strong sense of smell, which also helped them find prey.
 
Gorgosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex weren't exactly alike, however. Gorgosaurus lived several million years before T. rex, had a bony plate over its eyes and was slightly smaller than T. rex. An adult Gorgosaur was approximately 25 feet long and 10 feet tall at the hip. Gorgosaurs had strong, powerful legs, which helped them to run more than 20 miles per hour when they were chasing prey. They had three-toed feet with sharp claws. A Gorgosaur had a strong, muscular neck to support its huge head and jaws. It had more than 60 teeth 4 to 5 inches long. The teeth were serrated, which means they had notched edges like a steak knife. The teeth were not well suited for chewing, so the Gorgosaur may have swallowed large chunks of flesh whole.
 
The Gorgosaur's Discovery
 
What do you do on your summer vacation? The Linsters—Cliff, Sandy, and their seven children—are a family of amateur paleontologists who hunted dinosaurs on their summer vacations. They found the Gorgosaur in 1997 in Teton County, Montana. Finding a Gorgosaur is more rare than finding a T. rex. There have been only 20 Gorgosaurs ever found and this one is the most complete.
 
The body of this Gorgosaur is about 75 percent complete and her skull is about 90 percent complete. No dinosaur is discovered 100 percent complete. Due to erosion and other factors, some fossilized bones are always missing. The people who prepare the dinosaurs for exhibits create casts of the missing bones, usually from other dinosaurs that have been discovered, to fill in the missing pieces. A Maiasaura and a Bambiraptor were found with the Gorgosaur.

Want to learn more? Be sure to meet all of the dinos in Dinosphere!

Saturday Science: Air Rockets

Saturday Science: Air RocketsWhen we think of rockets we often tend to think of giant metal rockets, blasting up into space on a column of jet fuel. A rocket doesn’t need to shoot fire to get going. Isaac Newton’s laws of motion let us use lots of things as rocket fuel, even air!

Materials:

For your rocket launcher you will need:

  • One 10-foot PVC pipe, 1/2-inch in diameter
  • One 1/2-inch 90-degree PVC elbow
  • Saw or PVC cutter
  • Lots of 2-liter bottles
  • Duct tape
  • Twine

To build your rockets you will need:

  • Scotch tape
  • Old magazines (the kind with a staple in a center crease)
  • Cereal boxes
  • Scissors

Process:

  1. Using your saw or PVC cutter, have an adult cut your 10 foot PVC pipe into the following lengths:
    1. One 5-foot piece
    2. One 2-foot piece
    3. One 1-foot piece
    4. Two six-inch pieces
  2. Use the 90-degree elbow to connect the 5-foot piece and the 2-foot piece forming an L-shape. Stick ‘em in there tightly. You can glue them together if you want but sometimes the launcher is easier to transport if you can take it apart.
  3. Using your twine, tie the two 6-inch pieces across the 5-foot piece. They should be perpendicular to the 5-foot piece and about 3 feet apart from each other to act as stabilizers. The 2-foot piece should be facing skywards. Tie the twine tightly and secure it in place with some duct tape.
  4. Your launcher is almost done! Stick the open end of the 5-foot piece into a 2-liter bottle. Push it about an inch or so into the opening in the bottle. It will fit snugly but secure it with some duct tape just in case.
  5.  Now it’s time to make a rocket! Open your old magazine to the very middle and have an adult remove the staples for you. Pull out a sheet or two of paper.
  6. Using your last piece of pipe, the 1-foot piece, roll the pages around the pipe. You can go long-ways or short-ways, whichever you like. Once the paper is rolled all the way up around the pipe use the scotch tape to tape it lengthwise, creating a paper cylinder. Don’t make it too tight on the pipe or it won’t fit onto the launcher!
  7. Take your rocket body off the pipe. Using your scissors, make four 1/2-inch cuts in one of the open ends in an X-shaped pattern. Fold the four flaps down on top of each other and tape them shut until the top of your rocket is airtight.
  8. Cut some fins, whatever shape you like, out of the cereal box and tape them to the bottom of your rocket. Remember: fins are important for a rocket to fly straight but too many fins will weigh it down and make it fly a shorter distance.
  9. Slide your rocket onto the end of the 2-foot piece. You’re ready to launch! Give a countdown and then stomp as hard as you can on the 2-liter bottle.

Summary:

How far did your rocket go? A well-built rocket with a really good stomp can fly close to 200 feet in the air!

Big space rockets use Newton’s third law of motion to get moving: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The rocket fuel pushes down (action), and the rocket gets pushed up (reaction). Your rocket is a bit different. Newton’s first law provides the mechanism to get it moving: an object at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. The air in the 2-liter is at rest until you, the outside force, stomp on the bottle and get it moving. The rocket is at rest until the air hits it, putting it into motion, and then it shoots up into the sky!

You can get 20-30 good stomps out of one 2-liter bottle by blowing into the launcher and puffing it back up with air over and over. Make sure you put your hand around the launcher so your lips don’t touch the pipe, though! When your bottle is about finished, just take it off and pop a new one on. Experiment with different sizes and shapes of rockets to see what flies the best!

Want more Saturday Science? See all of our at-home activities on the blog or on Pinterest.

How Fireworks Work

Fireworks are more than just a loud bang and beautiful colors showering the night's sky—they're chemistry in ACTION! This Fourth of July, learn and teach your kids how fireworks work.

Remember—safety first! It's always best to see the pros launch fireworks. If you're at home, use fireworks and sparklers under adult supervision and be aware of your local burn laws.

How Fireworks Work

The museum is open 10 a.m.–5 p.m.. Plan your visit and buy tickets at childrensmuseum.org

Family Health Tip: Firework Safety

Family Health TipThis blog post first appeared on Kids HealthLine, courtesy of Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St. Vincent.

The celebration of July 4th brings to mind warm weather, cookouts and, for many, fireworks. Taking in a fireworks show can be a fun time for your family on a summer night, but don’t forget the dangers of these explosives. This quiz assesses your firework safety knowledge and helps you make sure your child has a happy Independence Day.

1. Elementary school-aged children should be permitted to play with fireworks __________.

a) Under adult supervision
b) Never
c) Classified as “sparklers”
d) After a discussion about firework rules

2. Fireworks should be stored __________.

a) In a cool, dry place
b) Per package instructions
c) Far from lighting areas
d) All of the above

3. When lighting fireworks, basic precautions include having _________ on hand.

a) A first aid kit and a bucket of water
b) A firefighter or pyrotechnics professional
c) Safety goggles
d) Directions to the nearest emergency room

4. A sparkler burns at close to _________ degrees Fahrenheit.

a) 500
b) 1,000
c) 1,500
d) 2,000

5. The safest way to enjoy fireworks is to _________.

a) Light them in an area with a radius of 15 feet closed off to children.
b) Join the community fun at a public display.
c) Attend a fireworks safety course beforehand.
d) Admit this is a trick question; there is no “safest” way!

Answers: 1. b; 2. d; 3. a; 4. d; 5. b

Firework First Aid

Despite the best preparation, burns from fireworks can occur, so learn to properly care for them. First, deposit the firework that caused the injury in a bucket of water. If any clothing smolders, take it off. Major burns require specialized care, so examine the burn before continuing.

If the burn seems limited to the upper layer of skin, run cold water over it for about five minutes. Apply a generous amount of antibiotic ointment and then cover the burn with non-stick gauze. Keep the burned area elevated. Order your free first aid kit at kidshealthline.com/firstaidkit.

This article was reviewed by Mercy Hylton, MD, emergency medicine, Hilbert Pediatric Emergency Department, Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St.Vincent.

Get Ready to Try It Out!

Try It OutClaire Thoma is the museum’s Evaluation and Research Coordinator—a job only a data nerd could love!

We’ve got questions; you’ve got answers! 

You probably assume that you’ll be the one doing all the learning when you visit The Children’s Museum (and we hope you do learn cool new things every time you visit), but in my job, I am constantly trying to learn from you! Those of us who work in the Evaluation and Research department collect information from visitors to learn about the effectiveness of our exhibits and programs. We are continually trying to find out how we can make these experiences even better. This is where you come in!  

Starting June 23rd and through all of July, a small section of a Level 2 gallery will become the Try It Out! space. Staff members from a bunch of departments will be in the space to talk to you about questions they need your help to answer. Where exhibits are concerned, some of the questions are, “What types of exhibits would you be interested in visiting in the future?” and “What do you know or wonder about Transformers?” Marketing staff want to find out about your favorite parts of our holiday exhibit, Jolly Days. The curators who take care of the museum’s collection want to show you some real objects from the collection and find out which ones you think are interesting. And those are only a few of the burning questions our staff members want to know!

So if you’re visiting the museum this July, drop by the Try It Out! space on Level 2 by the slide line, and check out what’s going on. (Dates and times may vary based on the activity.) You might get to try a new exhibit element, play a game we’re testing, or vote for the next show in the Lilly Theater. We can’t wait to hear what you think after you Try It Out! 

 

Why Do Old Books Smell Old?

Never Stop Asking Why: Why do old books smell old?When you crack open the spine of a new or old book, do you bring the pages close to your face and take a whiff? If so, you’re guilty of being a book sniffer. You’re also not alone in this strange but common habit. There’s something about the “new-book smell” that excites any age of reader, while the “old book smell” is a nostalgic reminder that you are about to embark on a story cherished by many readers before you. But why do books smell? We discuss this scent with help from Compound Interest.    

 

Both new and old books have an aroma because of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) they emit. The difference, however, in their odors is caused by the difference in the compounds they contain.

 

Three things contribute to that crisp “new book smell” – paper, ink and book-binding adhesives. The chemicals used in manufacturing paper, such as sodium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide, as well as ink and adhesives, cause reactions that release VOCs into the air. As the VOCs approach our nose, we are able to smell their aroma. While VOCs are always emitted, the same chemicals are not always used when manufacturing books and therefore cause new books to smell completely different despite all having that “new-book smell.”

 

So what makes the fresh-off-shelf “new-book smell” change to the second-hand bookstore “old-book smell’? Over time, the cellulose and lignin contained in the book’s paper begin to break down. This chemical degradation, generally called “acid hydrolysis” because of the cellulose’s reaction with surrounding acids, produces large numbers of VOCs. These new compounds are to thank for the “old-book smell.”  

 

When it comes to these VOCs from old books, scientists have been able to pinpoint some of the scents. According to Compound Interest, “benzaldehyde adds an almond-like scent; vanillin adds a vanilla-like scent; ethyl benzene and toluene impart sweet odours; and 2-ethyl hexanol has a ‘slightly floral’ contribution. Other aldehydes and alcohols produced by these reactions have low odour thresholds.”

 

So as a book sniffer, whether you prefer the scent or a new or an old book, each time you get a whiff of the book you are about to read, you’ll know – that smell you smell is thanks to a multitude of volatile organic compounds.

 

Looking for more Never Stop Asking "Why?" questions? Catch up on all of the past "Whys" on Pinterest or on the blog!

 

Saturday Science: Sugary Snot

Saturday Science: Sugary SnotIt’s a little gross, but it’s a lot of fun! In this Saturday Science, courtesy of Science Kids, you'll learn about the important role mucus plays in our body—by playing with fake snot!

 

Materials:

  • Boiling water (Have a parent help you with this.)

  • A cup (Choose a cup that can withstand boiling water.)

  • Gelatin

  • Corn syrup

  • A teaspoon

  • A fork

 

Process:    

  1. Fill half of your cup with boiling water.

  2. Add three teaspoons of gelatin to the boiling water.

  3. Let it soften and then stir with a fork.

  4. Add ¼ cup of corn syrup to your mixture.

  5. Stir again with your fork.

  6. Look at the long strands of gunk that are forming.

  7. As the mixture cools, slowly add small amounts of water.

        

Summary:

Does your sugary snot look … snotty? Yuck!

 

What makes your mixture look so gross is the combination of sugar and protein. Like real mucus, when you combined a sugar (corn syrup) and a protein (gelatin), you produced long, fine strings of goop. These strings are sticky, stretchy protein strands. Mucus uses these strands to  protect your body from contaminants (like dust or bacteria) by trapping the particles and carrying them out of the body and into your tissue.  

 

Want more Saturday Science? See all of our at-home activities on the blog or on Pinterest.

 

How Trees Grow (and Glow) in Lilly Theater's MULAN Jr.

Abigail Copeland is the Scenic Designer and Artist in the Lilly Theater. She's also the Stage Manager—the person who helps keep the actors and director organized. She loves being able to create a new world in the theater every few months for visitors to experience.

When you think of ancient China, what do you see? Towering mountains, flowering gardens, sacred temples? The story of one girl’s journey from villager to hero is set among these elements. In our latest production, Disney's MULAN Jr., Mulan travels from her home town to a military camp, then through the passes of gigantic mountains and finally to the Imperial Palace. How could you possibly fit all of these locations onto one stage?

The answer is what scenic designers call a “unit set.” This is a set that never changes but serves as a neutral background for all the action of the play. For Mulan Jr., the unit set has focal points that can represent many places. These include a temple arch, rocky ground, and a cherry tree with an ornamental pond. You might recognize the tree and pond as a setting from the Disney movie. 

Since you can’t get a cherry tree to grow inside of a theater, we had to create one from scratch. This involved a multi-step process beginning with a wooden frame. On top of this we added Styrofoam which was then carved into the shape of a tree. Since Styrofoam is not a sturdy material, we coated it with a roofing compound. This allows the actors to climb on the tree without damaging it and gave it the texture of tree bark. After this it was painted and the cherry blossoms were attached. The "glow" that you see is actually just the regular theater light projected on the tree. The production will have other objects that light up…but those are a surprise!

Every set for the Lilly Theater takes about one month to design, one to two months to plan for budget and materials, and six to eight weeks to build and paint. There are three full scale productions during the year which run for six weeks. Each of these productions has original sets, costumes, and lighting. But so far, Mulan, Jr. is the most technically advanced show the Lilly Theater has done. We hope you'll enjoy the show!

See Disney's MULAN Jr. in Lilly Theater, Tuesdays through Sundays, June 24–August 3!

 

China’s Terra Cotta Warriors—Don’t Let The Kids Have All the Fun!

TCW costumesBy Erika Evans, Marketing Projects Manager

A major perk of working at The Children’s Museum is that I get to learn a lot about the content of each exhibit before it opens—often from the perspective of children, students, and their families—which is not my own demographic as a twenty-something. But as I’ve learned more and more about China’s Terra Cotta Warriors, I’ve realized this exhibit is NOT just for the kids.

If you have the privilege of being one of my friends, I’ve probably gone off on at least one tangent about what I’ve learned about the most significant archaeological find of modern time—why these warriors are so cool, and why these exhibits are awesome… for the grown-ups, too!

If you haven’t gotten the chance to hear me rave about this cool archaeological find, check out this quick video and these 10 fun facts about the Terra Cotta Warriors. (These tid bits will have you amazing your own friends before you know it!)

These fun facts aside, the first response I hear from my friends is…”But wait…is it weird to go to the museum if you don’t have kids to take with you?” Answer? It’s definitely NOT weird. Come with or without kids whenever you’d like. We like to say that The Children’s Museum is for kids at heart, too!

But if you would rather avoid kids altogether, you do have an opportunity to see the Terra Cotta Warriors when they won’t be around. (Shocking! I know!)  The museum is hosting a new event series this summer—called Terra Cotta Warriors After Dark. Once the museum closes for visitors, adults 21 and older can mingle and enjoy our new, one-of-a-kind exhibits…without the kids!  You’ll also have the chance to explore Take Me There:® China and Dinosphere® featuring Leonardo: The Mummified Dinosaur. Take Me There: China is our brand new exhibit that brings contemporary China to Indianapolis families. So at Terra Cotta Warriors After Dark, you can explore ancient China AND modern–PLUS dinosaurs. Can’t beat that!

And bonus—there will be food and beverages from P.F. Chang’s and Sun King Brewing! And MOST importantly, all proceeds support the museum’s future exhibits and programs (Sounds like a win-win to me!)

So, now that you know all of the important stuff, surely you’re intrigued enough to check out the exhibits and join us for one of the three Terra Cotta Warriors After Dark event dates. Whether you’re like me and didn’t know a lot about this stuff before (for the record, my friends didn’t either!), or want to learn more…it’s for “grown-ups” too!

Buy your tickets now for the June 27, July 18, or August 22 event dates.

Why Does Air Smell Different After a Storm?

Never Stop Asking Why: Why does air smell different after a storm?When you live in the Midwest, you know there is nothing quite like a hard rain or a thunderstorm in the summer. Raindrops pitter patter on rooftops. Thunder booms. Lightning strikes. Your family stays close together. And when the final drops of rain fall and the sun begins to break through the rainclouds, the outdoors feel refreshed with cooler air and a crisp scent. Do you know why the air smells different after these storms? We answer this question with help from It’s Okay to be Smart.

 

When you step outside after a rainstorm, you are smelling a number of things, which include compounds from bacteria, oil secreted by plants and ozone.

 

Actinomycetes, a bacteria found in soil, secrete the compound geosmin. When this compound produces spores, it has what It’s Okay to be Smart calls “an earthy aroma.” When raindrops come in contact with the soil, geosmin is disturbed, and the aroma of its spores is lifted into the air for human noses to sense.

 

Another scent filling the air after a rainstorm is plant oils. During dry periods, plants secrete oils to keep them from overgrowing and needing more water. As these oils are released, they accumulate in rocks and soil. Like the geosmin, when raindrops come into contact with the soil, the oils release smaller, volatile compounds, giving off a distinct smell called “petrichor.”

 

While the aroma of geosmin and plant oils come up from the ground, there is another scent that comes down from the sky. When it storms, an electrical charge produces nitrogen and oxygen atoms in the atmosphere. When these atoms are combined, they form nitric oxide, which will then react with the other chemicals in the atmosphere. These reactions often create ozone, which is pushed down toward the ground as thunderstorms brew up high. As the smell of ozone creeps closer to human noses, we are able to get whiffs of yet another smell.

 

So that scent you smell when it rains is not just one scent. It is a number of compounds that are combined to give off a refreshed, it-just-rained aroma ... the aroma we all know so well.

 

Looking for more Never Stop Asking "Why?" questions? Catch up on all of the past "Whys" on Pinterest or on the blog!

 

Saturday Science: Playful Polymers

Saturday Science: Playful PolymersBOING! BOING! BOING! Get bouncing with your very own handmade bouncy balls! In this week’s Saturday Science experiment, courtesy of Home Science Tools, discover how playful polymers help make bouncy balls bounce … bounce … bounce!

 

Materials:

  • 1 tablespoon white glue

  • 1/2 teaspoon borax

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

  • 2 tablespoons warm water

  • 2 plastic cups

  • 2 wooden craft sticks

  • Food coloring

 

Process:    

  1. Pour the glue into one of the plastic cups.

  2. Add a few drops of food coloring to the glue and mix with a craft stick until you like the color you see.

  3. Pour the warm water into the other plastic cup.

  4. Add the borax to the warm water. Use another craft stick to stir until dissolved.  

  5. Add the cornstarch and 1/2 teaspoon of the borax solution to your colorful glue.

  6. Let stand for 15 seconds.

  7. Stir with a craft stick until the mixture becomes very difficult to stir.

  8. Mold the ball in your hands. It will be sticky at first but will become more solid as you roll it in your hands.

  9. You now have a bouncy ball!

  10. Store your ball in an airtight container or Ziploc bag so it doesn't dry out and crumble.

        

Summary:

Thanks to polymers, you just made your own bouncy ball. Give it a try! How high does your bouncy ball bounce?  

 

There are two polymers working together to make your bouncy ball bounce that high. Polyvinyl acetate, a strong and flexible polymer, is found in glue. Amylopectin,  a “branched” polymer, is found in cornstarch. The polyvinyl acetate gives your ball strength while amylopectin gives your ball elasticity. When borax is combined with the glue and cornstarch, the two polymers are connected and become a material that holds its form but also has enough give to compress and then bounce back to you when tossed against the floor. When molded into a ball, this material becomes a bouncy ball.

 

Happy bouncing!

 

Want more Saturday Science? See all of our at-home activities on the blog or on Pinterest.

 

The SciencePort Scoop: School Is Out, but Science Is In!

SciencePort fossilsHeather Gromley is The Children's Museum's MuseumPort Coordinator. Heather is finishing her master’s degree in Museum Studies from The Johns Hopkins University. She enjoys planetarium shows, facilitating science programs, and sitting sidesaddle on giraffes on the carousel. 

The staff of SciencePort invites you to visit our space to put your science skills to work and investigate some pretty cool topics. SciencePort® is a great place for the whole family to dive and explore through hands-on activities and technology stations. We have everything from a microscope station, to nifty science apps and in-depth investigations. Each week, we feature a different topic, related to an exhibit in the museum. We feature activities on flight, plants, and health, just to name a few.

This summer we've launched investigation stations about China to support our extraordinary new exhibits Take Me There:® China and Terra Cotta Warriors: The Emperor’s Painted Army. Come explore tangram dissection puzzles, how to use an abacus, watch a live panda on the Panda Cam, create a Terra Cotta Warrior bookmark, and observe what tea leaves looks like under the microscope. 

SciencePort Dinos

One of our most popular programs is our Dinosaurs and Fossils theme. Together we'll decide what adaptations your dinosaur will need to survive in a setting you create. Will your winged T. rex survive in the ocean? Fossils are all around us, even in Indianapolis. Use the microscope or a magnifying glass to identify Indiana microfossils. Also, you can create a fossil imprint to take home with you! 

A cool feature of SciencePort is our animation station that allows you to make movie magic through stop motion animation. We also have touch screen computers and iPads to help you explore our topics.

Our super science staff is constantly researching new ideas for technology and investigations, so make sure you stop by each time you visit. We're located in ScienceWorks on Level 4. Look for signs around the red staircase in the construction zone area. SciencePort is open daily, from 11 a.m.–1 p.m. and 2 p.m.–4 p.m. Programming times may vary, so be sure to check gallery signs for more information about times or investigation topics. See you soon!

Why Do I Have Summer Break?

Never Stop Asking Why: Why do I have summer break?For the majority of students, it’s one of the most exciting times of the year – school is out! Textbooks have been returned. Outdoor pools are filled and open. Torn and tattered notebooks have been tossed into the trash. Summer camps are beginning roll call. Backpacks have found a new home in the backs of closets. Summer break has begun. But why? We answer this question with help from Mental Floss.

 

Believe it or not, there was a time when kids did not get summers off. According to Mental Floss, in 1842, Detroit’s academic year lasted 260 days. This was common for the time, where children of city dwellers in major American cities found themselves in a classroom all year long. Before the Civil War, farmers’ kids also did not get a summer break, but rather, spring and fall breaks. Because their farming parents needed help planting and harvesting crops, these children went to school during summer and winter but stayed home during the spring and fall.

 

This changed as cities got denser and hotter. Without the modern convenience of air conditioning, city schools and businesses were miserable during the dog days of summer. To escape the heat, middle- and upper-class families started traveling to cooler countrysides, leaving school attendance numbers dwindling.

 

In an effort to mandate this loss in attendance, urban districts cut about 60 days from the school year during the hottest months. Soon, rural districts adopted the same school calendar so that they would not fall behind.

 

During the transition to giving students a summer break, many advocates for vacation time argued that the brain was a muscle and needed time to rest in order to prevent injuries. Today, we know this is not true.  

 

“Summer is a time for children to step away from schoolwork, but numerous studies demonstrate that students often lose important academic skills when they don't engage in educational activities during the summer break,” said Cathy Southerland, The Children's Museum's director of early childhood education. “Teachers then may have to spend up to a month re-teaching material that students have forgotten over the summer.”

 

Southerland suggests using technology as a tool to keep a child motivated to do school work over the summer. If the work includes a hands-on component, such as performing science experiments, children will have fun while sharpening their science skills at the same time.

 

Looking for more Never Stop Asking "Why?" questions? Catch up on all of the past "Whys" on Pinterest or on the blog!

 

Robots + Nano + Astronauts = One Extraordinary STEM Camp

This post is brought to you by Don Riefler, The Children’s Museum’s Science Programs Coordinator. Don is highly trained in building, exploring, and (safely) destroying things with science. He also has the coolest safety goggles money can buy.

Okay, folks, I have to admit it: I’m really excited for The Children’s Museum’s Curious Scientific Investigators STEM Camp coming up in a few weeks. Granted, I am biased because I’m the one that’ll be leading the campers through all sorts of awesome experiments and activities (and some of them are some of my favorites). But seriously, it’s going to be all kinds of fun.

Let’s back up a bit, though, just in case some of you out there aren’t familiar with STEM. STEM is simply an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Like the science of chemical reactions. Or nanotechnology. Or engineering your very own robots and learning to program their brains. And to those of you who say math is boring, I say “Pshaw.” Math is awesome. Especially when it’s ancient Chinese math. That you unearthed during an archaeological dig.

Yes, we’ll be doing all of those things and more during this year’s STEM Camp. And unlike pretty much every other summer camp in town (okay, definitely every other summer camp in town), this one happens at the biggest and best children’s museum in the world. What does that mean for our campers? Well, not only will you get to participate in all sorts of great science activities, but you’ll get to explore our extraordinary exhibits—and maybe even go behind the scenes! I’ve already scheduled special visits and programs for the campers, including a custom Planetarium show. You (yes you, the campers) will get to direct the show and I will merely be your puppet as you tell me where in the universe to fly to next. 

Other stuff you’ll be doing:
•    Meeting and working with Dr. David Wolf, former astronaut and The Children’s Museum’s Extraordinary-Scientist-in-Residence
•    Exploring items from the museum’s huge collection
•    Engineering new chemical compounds
•    Making a mock digestive tract to explore just how poop is made
•    Hanging out with probably the coolest guy in Indianapolis (that would be me)

So if you don’t sign up you’ll be missing some unbelievably great stuff. I’m personally assuring that STEM camp will be as fun as possible, because I love science and I want you to love science as much as I do. Sometimes folks think science is boring. Perish the thought! Science can be more fun than just about anything else out there, and it’s such a wonderful, useful, powerful way to look at and think about the world. It gives us insight into the entire universe, from the very tiny to the unbelievably huge, and we’ll be looking at those and everything in between for a whole week.

Just sign up for STEM Camp 2014, from June 23rd to June 27th, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Saturday Science: Eggshell Sidewalk Chalk

Saturday Science Eggshell Sidewalk Chalk

Did you make omelettes, scrambled eggs or maybe a frittata for your family’s Saturday morning breakfast? Don’t throw away those eggshells! Use them for this week’s Saturday Science experiment, courtesy of Almost Unschoolers

Materials

  • Eggshells
  • A clean rock 
  • Hot water 
  • Flour 
  • Food coloring 
  • Mixing bowl 
  • Mixing spoon
  • Paper towels (or paper napkins) 

        
Process

  1. Wash out the eggshells and allow them to dry completely. 
  2. Use a clean rock (or mortar and pestle) to smash the eggshells into a fine powder.
  3. For each piece of chalk, add one spoonful of eggshell powder, one teaspoon hot water, one teaspoon flour and a few drops of food coloring to your mixing bowl and mix ingredients together. 
  4. Pour chalk paste onto a paper towel and roll it so that it is the shape of a long piece of chalk. 
  5. Let dry for at least three days. 
  6. Peel the napkin or paper towel off of your chalk. 
  7. Take your chalk outside and start drawing! (Note: To prevent scratches, do not use this chalk on a chalkboard.) 

Results
Did your eggshell sidewalk chalk allow you to draw beautiful sidewalk pictures just like the chalk that can be bought in a store? 

Store-bought sidewalk chalk is made from a combination of calcium carbonate, gypsum, silica, phosphorus, iron, alumina, phosphorus, sulfur, manganese, copper, titanium, sodium oxide, fluorine, strontium and arsenic. Its main ingredient, however, is calcium carbonate – a form of limestone. Calcium carbonate (CaCO3) is the chemical that lets us draw on the sidewalk with a piece of chalk.

Do you know what else contains calcium carbonate? Eggshells! This makes them a great alternative to store-bought chalk. 

 

Want more Saturday Science? See all of our at-home activities on the blog or on Pinterest.

 

Meet Our Artist in Residence—Linda S. Cannon

Sumi painting

Linda S. Cannon is The Children’s Museum Playscape artist-in-residence. She is a professional artist who creates work in pencil, pen and ink, watercolor, and oil. Linda visits The Children’s Museum twice a month to share her artwork and lead fun art projects for children ages 0-5 and their families. 


Artists are dreamers. They are imaginative. Ideas come for paintings, writings, art activities at the most unexpected times. So as they come, I write them down. Every month this includes a new Arttails. ArtTails tell the ongoing stories of art puppet, Monet Mouse, and includes art activities and an art recipe; an artventure to try.

Artists are observers. They notice things. Perhaps the curve of a cat’s outline as it basks in a sunny window. The shape, texture, light, color and movement as maple leaves dance about in the wind. Look closely. What do you see? 

Artists are story tellers. They communicate with you through their art. It could be the mystery in the shadows at night or the freshness and invitation found in a new day. Expressive . . .still . . . art awakens an emotion in you. What does it mean?  How do you feel?  

Linda CannonUsually I am drawing and painting in my studio, but every month—the third Thursday and fourth Saturday—I also visit the Children’s Museum Playscape Art Studio to share artventures with the children and families in that studio. I bring one of my works of art and Monet Mouse. Occasionally a puppet friend of his accompanies us. Monet Mouse and I demonstrate, welcome, and interact with those that visit.

With the Playscape team, we explore something new from the world of visual art. So far this year we are discovering art and nature. Every artist has his or her own special way of creating art, so individual works are created to take home and a community piece is enjoyed cooperatively—all with artist, Mrs. Linda, and art mouse. An ArtTails to reinforce the experience goes home with each family. What a treat, at Playscape we cook up some art in the most fun, imaginative and memorable ways. Join us and come back again and again!

You can download your own ArtTails newsletter on Linda's website

Take Me There: China Top 10—Music and Arts

Years of research, including many staff trips, went into making the Take Me There:® China exhibit. In this blog series, you'll see how we were inspired by the people, places, and traditions of modern China as we recreated these top ten exhibit highlights. You'll also get a snapshot of what your family will experience in these extraordinary spaces—brought to you straight from our exhibit developers!

Throughout Take Me There: China your family will find opportunities to experience Chinese art and music as you participate in performances, discover authentic art and music, and learn about the history and tradition of the Chinese arts. Many of the art and music-related experiences can be found in and around the Tea House, with other activities—including the seasonal shadow puppet cultural immersion program— taking place in People's Park.

Jenny Guhzeng

Music in Take Me There: China

Try your hand at playing traditional authentic Chinese instruments like drums and bells, or strum a guzhong or a pipa. Traditional Chinese musical instruments are highly valued, collected, and played, even today. On an iPad, your family can watch and listen to clips of traditional music played on the pipa, compared to an American stringed instrument, the banjo. Our teacher-in-residence will also perform on traditional instruments and share about Chinese music with your family. 

Discover Chinese arts such as silk embroidery, painting, shadow puppets, jade carving, and fine porcelain. Just outside the Tea House, look for cases with fine examples of traditional and contemporary Chinese jade and ceramic art objects. In China, jade (“yu”) has long been prized for its color, transparency, and texture. Jade carving and the crafting of fine porcelain are both art forms that are still widely practiced today.

Other things to see and do:

  • Watch a video showing the art of Chinese shadow puppetry, as well as a segment of the story of Monkey King and the Jade Emperor. Look for the beautiful shadow puppets from our permanent collection on either side of the screen.
  • Practice Chinese painting, using similar tools as you take inspiration from an original, 19th century hand scroll featuring 100 children. Learn about Chinese art from the past and present through a display of traditional and modern scroll paintings. 
  • See examples of dragon robes embroidered with traditional symbols paired with contemporary silk dresses, blouses, and children’s clothing that incorporate similar motifs and colors. Touch a panel of real silk to feel the texture of the fabric.
     

Catch up on all of the Take Me There: China Top 10, or read up on staff adventures in China in our Creative Director's blog series: "Ned's Excellent China Adventure," Part 1 and Part 2.

Take Me There: China Top 10—Family Homes

Years of research, including many staff trips, went into making the Take Me There:® China exhibit. In this blog series, you'll see how we were inspired by the people, places, and traditions of modern China as we recreated these top ten exhibit highlights. You'll also get a snapshot of what your family will experience in these extraordinary spaces—brought to you straight from our exhibit developers!

Meet four generations of the Wangs, a typical Chinese family from Fujian Province in China. Your family will see this area through the eyes of eleven-year-old Wang Yijie  (Jackie) as you explore his parents', grandparents’, and great-grandmother’s homes. Some of Jackie's family moved to larger cities for jobs, while others preferred to stay in the rural, seaside town where they grew up.

Like people around the world, the Wang parents and grandparents cherish their children and grandchildren. They also have high expectations for their children to work hard, be generous, and get an education to succeed.

Wang family couch

Couch Wang Family


Discover similarities between the lifestyles of Chinese children—like Jackie Wang—and western children. Jackie's father, Feng Wang, and his family have recently moved into a brand-new, multi-story apartment building. Take a seat in the living room and look through the family's scrapbooks, which include photos of daily life in Quanzhou. Watch the family's TV for a segment on kung fu and clips from the Wangs’ favorite TV shows. Peek into the family’s lucky fish tank to see Jackie’s “pet” fish and crab.

Practice your chopsticks skills in the Quanzhou home of Jackie's grandparents. Role play cooking fish, vegetables, and the soup noodles that Mrs.Wang is known for. Then serve the "food" at the dining room table and see how quickly you can pick up noodles or dumplings with chopsticks. In the living room, explore the tradition of the zodiac—Shengxiao—as you lift the flaps under bronze animal sculptures to find which animal represents your own birth year.

See the Ancestors’ Shrine in Jackie's great-grandmother's house and learn how the family traces their heritage over 100 generations. Respect for ancestors is a key cultural value exemplified by the shrine. Near the shrine, choose a Chinese given name for yourself from a list of common boys’ or girls’ names, then stamp the characters on a bookmark to take home. Many Chinese families have a tradition for conferring given names that might seem different than western traditions. 

Other things to see and do:

  • Sit down on Jackie's bed to hear Jackie talk about favorite things in his room. Bookshelves at the end of his bed hold family photos, books, and his stamp collections.
  • Scroll through an iPad on Jackie's bedroom desk that showcases a day in Jackie's life, including photo albums and short video clips.
  • Learn about Grandfather Wang’s hobby, penjing—the art of growing and training miniature trees and plants—and see faux trees and plants similar to Mr. Wang’s creations. 
  • Sit on the bed in Jackie's grandmother's house to hear Jackie tell a story about his great-grandmother’s life—a tale of hard work, perseverance, and devotion to family.
  • See pieces from the Museum’s collection of infant hats, bibs, and shoes—just the kind of clothing that parents and grandparents like to save as mementos. The clothing includes examples of common Chinese themes and symbols, such as dragons, bats, fish, or tigers.

 

Catch up on all of the Take Me There: China Top 10, or read up on staff adventures in China in our Creative Director's blog series: "Ned's Excellent China Adventure," Part 1 and Part 2.

 

Shrine

Take Me There: China Top 10—People's Park

Years of research, including many staff trips, went into making the Take Me There:® China exhibit. In this blog series, you'll see how we were inspired by the people, places, and traditions of modern China as we recreated these top ten exhibit highlights. You'll also get a snapshot of what your family will experience in these extraordinary spaces—brought to you straight from our exhibit developers!

In People's Park, your family can experience how Chinese people and communities come together in public parks to socialize, play games, practice Tai’ Chi, or listen to music. With the Shaolin Temple as your backdrop and the leafy branches of the People's Park tree overhead, your family can gather in this central space within Take Me There: China for immersive experiences as well as casual activities like Chinese games!

People's Park
People's Park in Beijing, China.

People's Park
People's Park in Take Me There: China.

Try your hand at playing a traditional Chinese instrument. Explore the difference between traditional Chinese and Western music by playing an authentic traditional Chinese stringed instrument, such as a guzheng (a 21-stringed mandolin) or a pipa (a four-stringed Chinese lute). Hear staff demonstrate Chinese (pentatonic) and Western (heptatonic) scales as they remove notes from a glockenspiel. Understanding traditional Chinese music and its use of the pentatonic scale show the importance placed upon harmony in Chinese society.

Play Chinese games in the park. While in People's Park, your family will see and play authentic Chinese games, while also hearing stories about how different generations use public parks in China. Games include Chinese checkers, Mah Jong, Tai-chi ball, sun dia (Chinese yo-yo), and Jian-zi (feathered hacky sack).

Immerse yourself in People's Park. Through a series of Cultural Immersion Programs, your family will be introduced to Chinese culture while learning about the similarities and differences in how people live. These immersive programs rotate throughout the year to provide new experiences depending on the season. 

  • Shaolin Kung fu (May–Aug.): In the Shaolin Temple your family will be introduced to the meanings and movements of Shaolin Kung fu martial arts. Practice the fundamental movements of Shaolin Kung-fu and learn basic Kung fu excercises that you can then show off with music outside the Temple.
  • Chinese Shadow Puppets (Sept.–Dec.): Explore how Chinese shadow puppets operate and receive a behind the scenes look at some of the puppeteer’s illusions. Then, with lights dimmed, perform in People's Park for the whole gallery to see and enjoy!
  • Chinese New Year (Jan.–Apr.):Count down from ten as theChinese New Year Gala plays on televisions in the family homes. Then celebrate the Chinese New Year with a traditional dragon dance as everyone participates by parading with the dragon through People's Park. 
     

Catch up on all of the Take Me There: China Top 10, or read up on staff adventures in China in our Creative Director's blog series: "Ned's Excellent China Adventure," Part 1 and Part 2.

Kung fu

Why Do Indy 500 Winners Drink Milk?

Never Stop Asking Why Indy 500 Imagine! You are a renowned Indy Car driver, and it’s Memorial Day weekend. You’ve driven 199 laps around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval. You’re on lap 200. More than 250,000 race fans are hootin’ and hollerin’ as you speed past them. Thirty-two cars are behind you. The pagoda is in sight. You see the black and white checkered flags waving through the hot, sticky air. You cross the Yard of Bricks. You’ve won! You’ve won the greatest spectacle in racing! You’ve won Indianapolis 500! Here comes the milk …

 

The milk? We answer the question “Why do Indy 500 winners drink milk?” with help from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

 

The beginning of this tradition dates back to the 1933 winner of the Indianapolis 500, Louis Meyer. Just like you or I might drink a glass of cold water, Gatorade or lemonade on a hot day, Meyer regularly drank buttermilk to refresh himself. When the three-time champion won his first race in 1933, he drank a glass of buttermilk out of habit.

 

When Meyer won his second race in 1936, he asked for a glass of milk again, but instead was handed a bottle. The next morning, an executive at the former Milk Foundation saw a photo of Meyer and his bottle of milk in the sports section of the newspaper. He decided to make sure the moment happened again upon the completion of future races.   

 

This tradition continued for 10 years until 1947, when milk was no longer offered, but the practice was revived in 1956 and has been a tradition ever since.

 

Looking for more Never Stop Asking "Why?" questions? Catch up on all of the past "Whys" on Pinterest or on the blog!