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October 6, 2014

let’s think like inventors

Smithsonian Affiliations would like to thank Kate Preissler, Digital Media Marketing Manager at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, for this guest post.

On October 11, the Berkshire Museum will become the fourth museum in the nation to host Spark!Lab, an exhibition developed at the Smithsonian Institution by the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History (NMAH). By opening Spark!Lab we are joining with the Smithsonian in a nation-wide initiative to engage young people in acts of invention.

Staff at the Berkshire Museum get a chance to test out the Spark!Lab activities during a special training with Lemelson Center colleagues.

Staff at the Berkshire Museum get a chance to test out the Spark!Lab activities during a special training with Lemelson Center colleagues.

To prepare, colleagues from the Lemelson Center in Washington D.C. joined the Berkshire Museum staff for several days of training. A significant portion of the training had our staff trying out the activities that will be available in Spark!Lab. These activities, primarily engineering and design challenges, pose problems from the real world for visitors to solve. There are no right or wrong answers to Spark!Lab’s challenges; you may invent a solution that is completely different from my solution, yet we have both succeeded by solving the problem. These activities show young people that every brain is capable of creating something totally new and that by coming up with new ideas, we can make the world a better place for ourselves and each other.

As we tried out wind tunnels and tipping tables, it occurred to me that everyone, not just young people, probably craves opportunities to be inventive all the time. Individuals from all departments– marketing, security, visitor’s services, education – became deeply absorbed in the challenges presented. The mood in the room ran the gamut from laughter during experimentation to intense concentration on final designs, and many people had to be torn from the stations when it was time to move on. When we tested the activities with kids, the results were the same – no one wanted to leave!

The author can't look at her desk anymore without seeing all of the inventions that people devised to make life easier.

The author can’t look at her desk anymore without seeing all of the inventions that people devised to make life easier.

Until I encountered Spark!Lab and the Lemelson Center, ‘inventive creativity,’ especially as a skill set that could be learned, practiced, and honed, was not an idea to which I had given a lot of thought. So although learning about the activities and understanding what will be physically happening in our new space was valuable, it was the other aspects of our training that helped me to really understand the potential that Spark!Lab holds for altering perceptions and empowering the young people who visit the Museum.

During training we learned about many different inventors; inventions which have changed the course of history; and inventions which have made our lives a little easier in subtle ways. I spent the next few weeks seeing inventions everywhere. For instance, I sat at my desk and couldn’t help but notice that each of the items in front of me represented an idea from an actual person who saw a problem in need of a solution. And I don’t think I was the only one. My colleague Lesley Ann Beck came back to the second half of the training with a story about opening a pizza box and realizing that someone, somewhere, had gotten so frustrated with squished pizza and cheese stuck to lids, that they invented a small, round piece of plastic to keep the box lid from denting in, saving the pizza from damage. Once we started thinking about inventions, we couldn’t stop.

Spark!Lab under construction at the Berkshire Museum - a space which took inventive thinking to develop.

Spark!Lab under construction at the Berkshire Museum – a space which took inventive thinking to develop.

As construction of our Spark!Lab space in the Museum takes shape, this new lens has allowed me to see how our architects and staff have used inventive thinking to create a space that has to adapt to different needs, different audiences, and changing activities. It’s exciting to have a space for Spark!Lab that is the result of the creative inventiveness we’re trying to instill there.

We also had a discussion about ways to reinforce inventive thinking in kids, which gave me the chance to think back to my childhood and especially to my father, who built my sisters and me a workbench and encouraged us to create using wood scraps from his own projects. For years I used a Walkman held together by a wood nail because he loved to fix things instead of throwing them out. I thought about the pulley system he had rigged for our birdfeeder, which made it easy to fill but hard for squirrels to get to. I realized that my dad is one of those people who travels through the world with the eyes of an inventor. I also realized that not everyone has a person in his or her life to model and encourage these traits – but that by opening this space and staffing it with trained facilitators, our Museum could play that role for many.

You might now be asking, what do you mean when you say “the eyes of an inventor”? In the training, I wondered that too, and for me the best answer came from one of our facilitators, Michelle DelCarlo, Spark!Lab National Network Manager. She described inventors as people who encounter a problem and react by thinking “I can make this better.” With the mindset of an empowered inventor, problems become sources of motivation, not roadblocks or excuses to give up. So with that thought, I can’t wait to be a part of Spark!Lab because, really, what a wonderful world we could live in if each of us approached our days with inventors’ brains – not just seeing the problems, but feeling confident in our ability to solve them.

Spark!Lab will provide a space for young people in the Museum's community to think like inventors.

Spark!Lab will provide a space for young people in the Museum’s community to think like inventors.

 

 

October 2, 2014

The car of tomorrow… today (at an Affiliate in Pennsylvania)

Smithsonian Affiliations would like to thank Nancy Gates, Director of Marketing & Publicity at the Antique Automobile Museum of America Museum in Hershey, PA for this guest post.

Photo courtesy of the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum

Image courtesy of the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum

The enthusiasm and creativity that propelled Preston Tucker and his vision for the Tucker automobile is something that has captured many hearts.   Now, an extensivethe world’s largest- collection of 3 Tucker vehicles and other Tucker automobilia have found their new home at the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum [AACAM] in Hershey, Pennsylvania from the David Cammack Collection.

Mr. Cammack, an avid Tucker collector, passed away in 2013 and provided his extensive Tucker Collection to the AACA Museum.  His desire was to have this collection open to the public, and the AACA Museum is honored to be the caretakers of this collection.

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A close-up look inside a Tucker automobile. Photo courtesy of the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum.

The Cammack collection includes three 1948 Tucker vehicles, the factory Tucker test chassis, thousands of engineering drawings and blueprints, original Tucker parts, several engines as well as other artifacts and displays.   The vehicles include Tucker #1001 – the first ‘production’ prototype; Tucker #1022; and Tucker #1026 – the only existing Tucker built with an automatic transmission.

A total of 51 Tuckers were built by hand in Chicago, of which 47 are known to still exist.  (Even the Smithsonian has one.) Preston Tucker and his story were detailed in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1988 film, Tucker: The Man and His Dream which certainly helped bolster the public’s intense fascination with the “Car of Tomorrow.”

The Tucker collection is being housed permanently in a dedicated 5,200 sq. ft. gallery that showcases the cars and chronicles Preston Tucker’s life and history.   AACAM will host a Grand Opening on October 8th to debut Phase 1 of the exhibit, and will continue to provide additional interactive elements to enhance the exhibit over time.

“The AACA Museum intends to educate our guests about Tucker’s process and determination to create something special,” stated Mark Lizewskie, Executive Director.   “We listened carefully to input from Mr. Cammack and his family, and we were quite pleased to learn that it mirrored our vision.  The end result needed to be something that would complement the stunning displays that are already on view throughout the Museum.  Being a permanent display, we knew the Cammack Tucker Gallery had to be fantastic right from the start.”

Preston Tucker’s family, including grandson John Jr. and great-grandsons Mike and Sean Tucker, has also endorsed the project, expressing their willingness to act as historical advisors.  Sean Tucker was elated to be a crucial part of the exhibit.  “The effort being put forth by the AACA Museum team in the presentation of the Cammack Tucker collection is not only an honor to the Tucker family but also to the man who had an amazing passion to preserve the history of the Tucker story,” exclaimed Sean Tucker.  “As a member of the Tucker family it is truly a privilege to serve as a historical advisor to this exciting endeavor.”

Take a drive through history!  Tickets for the grand opening are available by calling 717-566-7100 ext. 100 or online at http://www.aacamuseum.org/events/night-at-the-museum/.

Preston Tucker's business card.  Photo courtesy of the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum.

Preston Tucker’s business card. Photo courtesy of the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum.

 

Click here to read more about the Tucker in Smithsonian Magazine and to see a video with collector David Cammack.

August 29, 2014

where the buffalo roam

On Saturday, August 30, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo will bring back the American bison in a new exhibit and habitat.  Zora and Wilma are not only beautiful animals, but they also serve as an important reminder about conservation and the Zoo’s inception. In 1887, American bison wandered the National Mall, helping to bring awareness to the endangerment of the species. Two years later, Congress passed legislation to found the National Zoo, celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.

Bison roam around the Smithsonian Castle

Bison roam around the Smithsonian Castle, 1887-89

At Affiliations, we are wallowing in the excitement of welcoming these magnificent animals to Washington. So we decided to scan our herd of partners, to see where else the mighty American bison are roaming among Affiliate plains. We found a virtual stampede of bison content in Affiliateland!

– It seems appropriate to start in Wyoming, at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. After all, it was “Buffalo Bill” Cody who offered the Smithsonian a herd of 18 bison in 1888. Painfully, the gift had to be refused for lack of space on the National Mall.  But today, you can find plenty of bison material at the Buffalo Bill Center in Cody. The Center’s museums house an impressive collection of art depicting “Nature’s Cattle,” including beautiful Audubon prints as well as Native artifacts made from the bison, and natural history specimens.

"Scout" at the Durham Museum in Omaha.

“Scout” at the Durham Museum in Omaha

– It was a Nebraska rancher who donated the very first bison to the Smithsonian’s collection, so it seems natural to travel on to Omaha to visit “Scout,” the beloved bison on view at the Durham Museum. At 7 ½’ high and 10’ long, this magnificent specimen helps to tell the important story of the Midwest’s history with the bison. As part of their bison interpretation, the Durham Museum uses the online resource Tracking the Buffalo from the National Museum of American History. Go ahead – take the site’s interactive test to guess what you could make from all the parts of the animal.

–  Some bison though, were revered beyond all that they could provide for Native people. A white bison is extremely rare, appearing once in approximately five million births. For this reason, these animals are considered sacred and possess great spiritual power to Native and non-Native people alike. Given this extreme rarity, where could you ever see one now?! The Montana Historical Society in Helena displays “Big Medicine,” a white buffalo who died in 1959. With blue eyes, tan hooves, and a brown topknot, there’s still plenty of reasons to revere the beauty of this extraordinary specimen today.

"White Medicine" on view at the Montana Historical Society

“Big Medicine” on view at the Montana Historical Society

– As rare as Big Medicine is, perhaps no bison has the hometown spirit of “On the Wind,” the massive bronze bison who greets visitors to the History Colorado Center in Denver. He’s been seen wearing bandannas when the stock show comes to town, a Broncos jersey during football season, and even a bike helmet during the recent Pro Challenge cycling race through the state. He’s also an important reminder of the stories told inside the Center about the historic relationship between bison and the peoples of the West.

– To travel even further back in time, check out the archeological remains of a gigantic Ice Age bison at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Excavated from the Colorado Rockies, this iconic specimen and its neighbors represent one of the most significant fossil discoveries ever made in Colorado.  How gigantic was it?  Twice the size of a modern bison!  How do we know?  It had a horn spread more than 7’ wide (compared with the 2 ½’ spread of the modern buffalo).

HistoryCObison

“On the Wind” in Denver reflects the community

– If you’re finding it hard to imagine the size of a modern bison without actually seeing one, the South Dakota State Historical Society can help you out.  They’ve devised a fun 30-page coloring sheet called How Big is a Buffalo. Bison make quite an appearance in the Society’s education kits, which include objects, lesson plans, worksheets and ideas for additional activities. The Buffalo and Plains Indians, Lewis and Clark, and Archeology kits are just a few that explore all facets of this great American species.

– Lest you think the Affiliate bison only roam west of the Mississippi, think again.  The Mashantucket Pequot Museum in Connecticut is currently displaying The Bison: American Icon exhibition, which explores “the dramatic changes that occurred to the bison and its habitat, and to the people who depended on it for their daily existence.” At the end of September, the Museum invites visitors to take the Bison Challenge – an outdoor activity that will test your speed, strength, and senses against the performance of a bison.  Good luck!

Bison: American Icon exhibit on view at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum

The Bison: American Icon exhibit on view at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum

As the song goes, “oh give me a home… “  It’s gratifying to see how many Affiliate “homes” across America celebrate the iconic bison, and that the Smithsonian will soon provide two of them a home in the nation’s capital.

How does your museum interpret the mighty bison? (We’re looking at you Idaho and Oklahoma)  Tell us your stories!

 

(Footnote:  “bison” and “buffalo” are often used interchangeably.  Culturally this is correct; scientifically it is not.  Technically, bison and buffalo are not the same animal. Click here to compare their differences.)

 

buffalomeThe author is a National Outreach Manager in Smithsonian Affiliations, and a long-time buffalophile.

 

August 26, 2014

Smithsonian Science How Online Resources

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Smithsonian physical anthropologist Dr. Briana Pobiner with the skull of a sabertooth during a Smithsonian Science How webcast. Live webcasts are offered every month during the school year on Thursdays at 11 and 2 PM eastern time. Smithsonian photo by Wei Qian.

Smithsonian Science How is back!  Following a successful partnership with six Smithsonian Affiliates earlier this year, the popular webcast has returned with new dates and new topics.  These free, interactive, TV-style webcast programs will introduce middle school students to core science concepts through the lens of Smithsonian research and experts, providing students with positive STEM role models and a connection to science in their lives.  Explore the topics in the schedule by presenting a webcast at your location, using the classroom activities, and connecting the discussion to your own collections.

A schedule of the programs and list of the topics that will be presented is available here.

If you are a staff member at a Smithsonian Affiliate who would like to offer the program, please email us at affiliations@si.edu to sign up and receive resources, including strategies to share this program on social media.  Affiliate partners will be asked for information about their audiences, numbers of attendees and which webcasts will be offered.

July 29, 2014

Need an Exhibition Now?

Filed under: Behind the Scenes,Exhibitions,General,Resources,You Heard It Here First — Laura Hansen @ 12:18 pm

Sometimes the best laid plans change. If you need to connect with new audiences, bring back regular visitors, or generate press coverage, the following traveling exhibitions, all with complete promotional , registrarial, and educational support, are available soon:

 X-ray Vision: Fish Inside Out

August 30 – November 23, 2014

wideamericanearth

 

I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story

September 20 – November 30, 2014 and

December 20, 2014 – March 1, 2015

 

Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America

December 13, 2014 – February 8, 2015 and

February 28 – April 26, 2015

 

blackWings2

Black Wings: American Dreams of Flight     3/28/15 to 6/21/15

 

The Evolving Universe      4/25/15 to 7/5/15

 

Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964      6/6/15 to 8/16/15

If you are interested in booking or getting more information on any of these exhibitions, please consult SITES website at sites.si.edu or call 202.633.3140 or email sites_schedule@si.edu

May 28, 2014

The Evolution of a Dino Hall

Photo courtesy Donald E. Hurlbert / Smithsonian Institution.

Photo courtesy Donald E. Hurlbert / Smithsonian Institution.

On April 28, 2014, the National Museum of Natural History’s Fossil Hall closed to the public to begin a 5-year renovation. The Hall will undergo the largest and most complex renovation in the Museum’s history. The new exhibition will showcase the Museum’s unrivaled fossil collection and present the most current scientific research.

New fossil displays and scientific stories, informed by the most current research, will give fresh meaning to ancient life. And new techniques for fossil display and collections management enable researchers to tell new stories with historic specimens. Visitors to the new hall will explore how life, environments, and ecosystems have interacted to form and change our planet over billions of years.

Many museums are in similar situations when determining how to upgrade a popular exhibition space. Meeting 21st-century technology demands, presenting the most current scientific research as well as incorporate the latest educational programs in an inviting and accessible way are all things to consider when reinvigorating an exhibition space.

At the 2014 Smithsonian Affiliations National Conference, Affiliate attendees will have the opportunity to learn from the NMNH staff organizing and executing the Fossil Hall renovation. Those in attendance will share their own experiences and take away ideas for reshaping a new story in old exhibits.

The session, The Evolution of a Fossil Hall: Bringing a Modern Lens to an Ancient Story, takes place at the National Museum of Natural History on Wednesday, June 25. All registered Affiliate attendees are welcome to join.

The panel consists of:
Kara Blond, Director of Exhibitions, National Museum of Natural History
Kathy Hollis, Paleobiology Collections Manager, National Museum of Natural History
Steve Jabo, Fossil Preparator, National Museum of Natural History

There’s still time to register to attend the Affiliations National Conference and discover something new!

The Smithsonian Affiliations National Conference is for current Affiliates only. If you are interested in becoming an Affiliate, or have an application in progress and would like to attend the Conference, please contact Elizabeth Bugbee for more information.

This exhibit sketch featuring a Triceratops and soaring pterosaur brings the world in which the T. rex lived to life, and is just one possibility of what visitors could see after the museum’s largest, most extensive exhibition renovation is complete. The Nation’s T. rex arrived at the National Museum of Natural History on April 15, and will be the centerpiece of the museum’s new 31,000-square-foot dinosaur and fossil hall, which is slated to open in 2019. (Courtesy Smithsonian Institution)

This exhibit sketch featuring a Triceratops and soaring pterosaur brings the world in which the T. rex lived to life, and is just one possibility of what visitors could see after the museum’s largest, most extensive exhibition renovation is complete. (Courtesy Smithsonian Institution)

February 25, 2014

Take Off with Shuttle Programs

The era of the space shuttle may have drawn to a close, but shuttles are finding new life in education at museums across the country. The retirement of the shuttle fleet presents unique educational and collaborative opportunities for a greater community of organizations to explore space history through STEM programs.

The Smithsonian and Smithsonian Affiliations community represent, in collections and educational programs, the entirety of the U.S. Space Shuttle Program, from its inception, through the history of its flights, to the commemoration of its triumphs and tragedies.  The National Air and Space Museum is home to Discovery, Smithsonian Affiliates California Science Center hosts Endeavour, and The Museum of Flight displays a full scale test shuttle to its visitors.  Several more Affiliates have significant collections related to the shuttle program; five are home to Challenger Learning Centers.

As so many Affiliates are working to interpret space history and the shuttle program, we’re facilitating projects to bring this group together to encourage sharing information and materials. To begin, we’re hosting a session at the Mutual Concerns of Air and Space Museums conference, April 11-14, 2014. In this session, three museums will present case studies demonstrating unique exhibition and educational plans for the retired space shuttle fleet with the goal of sharing experiences and resources that would benefit other museums interested in using the space shuttle program in their educational offerings.

California Science Center will discuss plans for the new facility that will house Endeavour and the immersive experiences intended to encourage creativity and innovation. The Museum of Flight will share the hands-on experience (not possible with decommissioned orbiters) that visitors have when they climb into the three-story full-body trainer at the museum. The National Air and Space Museum will talk about the installation and exhibition of Discovery at the Udvar-Hazy Center. We hope a lively discussion at Mutual Concerns will lead us to future collaborations. We’d like to hear our Affiliates ideas on how to connect: should we support a trip to Washington or connect digitally? Is this a topic that would resonate with museum visitors or spark imaginative school programming? Please contact us to take part, or join us June 23-25, 2014 at the Smithsonian Affiliations conference to continue the discussion.

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