Tag Archives: careers

Hill Country Science Mill

Across from the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in Johnson City, Texas, a mill that was built in 1880 closed its doors after one hundred years.  It was briefly revived as entertainment complex, but then fell into disuse again for another 20 years.

Once again, however, the mill has been reincarnated.  With the vision and determination of a unique team of scientist/educators, the mill has gained a new life as a venue for students to learn about and participate in science.  While maintaining the integrity of the old building, including outfitting the original silos as exhibit spaces, the mill has now become a different kind of food provider.  Instead of the flour and grain it once produced for the local community, the mill is now a source of food for curious and eager young minds.

Hill Country Science Mill, Johnson City, Texas (image courtesy of HCSM)
Hill Country Science Mill, Johnson City, Texas (image courtesy of HCSM)

The Hill Country Science Mill opened its doors in February of 2015. My 3rd-5th  GT classes were fortunate to visit the complex in April. After spending a school day at the Mill, they were all eager for even more time to explore its many interactive exhibits and amazing BioLab.

A couple of weeks after our trip, the 5th graders got the chance to Skype with one of the founders of the Hill Country Science Mill, Dr. Bonnie Baskin.  She graciously answered their questions, and gave them insight into the design and carefully-selected exhibits.

Dr. Bonnie Baskin, one of the founders of the Hill Country Science Mill
Dr. Bonnie Baskin, one of the founders of the Hill Country Science Mill

One student asked Dr. Baskin about the motivation behind the digital avatars each visitor can personalize when he or she arrives. (Using a “Passport” with a QR code, patrons can scan the code and create their own avatar at the entrance on one of the many iPad mini’s.  Once the avatar is created, there are many opportunities throughout the Mill to scan your passport, and you can learn from your avatar the science behind particular exhibits.  You can also “favorite” exhibits and follow up on your visit using the QR code once you get home.)

When asked why the staff chose to include the avatars in the experience, Dr. Baskin replied that they really wanted to appeal to an older group of students.  Many interactive museums are aimed at the toddler/pre-school set, but the Mill targets middle and high-school students.  This is not to say younger ones won’t appreciate the experience, but that there is a great interest on the part of the staff to keep the attention of older students.

Hill Country Science Mill Avatar
A guest creates an avatar (image courtesy of Hill Country Science Mill)

My students were fascinated with one of the silo exhibits – the Fractalarium (designed by two San Antonio artists), and asked Dr. Baskin about this inclusion of an artistic work.  She confirmed what my 4th and 5th graders had already observed, that math, art, and science often converge in amazing ways.  This piece of scientific art, based on the design of the broccoli, is a perfect example.

Fractalarium (image taken by one of my students)
Fractalarium (image taken by one of my students)

Many of the students told Dr. Baskin that the BioLab was their favorite room.  Dr. Baskin agreed that this exhibit has a special place in heart due to a background in biology, and told the students they specifically designed this room with its zebrafish, mud battery, and microscopes, to resemble a real research lab.

BioLab picture taken by one of my students
BioLab picture taken by one of my students

Another field trip favorite was the Augmented Reality Sandbox. The sandbox has a projector above it that shows the contour lines of the “mountains” and “valleys” in the box.  It also simulates rain when you hold your hands over the sand.  Dr. Baskin shared that this is one of the harder exhibits to keep in working order because so many students enjoy it that the calibration gets off on the projector. However, she said that, like all of the exhibits, the staff finds that the maintenance is well worth it to provide so many interactive experiences for visitors.

Augmented Reality Sandbox
Augmented Reality Sandbox (image courtesy of the Hill Country Science Mill)

The only complaint that I heard from my students about this trip was that there wasn’t enough time to do everything.  That’s a good problem!

Many of my students said that the field trip to the Hill Country Science Mill inspired them to seriously consider a career in one of the STEM fields, and most of them definitely intend to return to the Mill for a visit.

You can see a gallery of some of the other pictures my students took below.  Of course, if you are planning a visit to the Hill Country Science Mill, you should definitely get more information from their website.

Congrats to Tom Kilgore, winner of the Family 4-Pack to the Hill Country Science Mill!  He and his family headed for an awesome experience!

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How to Be a Rocket Scientist

I think I can safely say that rocket scientist was never in my radar as I considered different occupations growing up. It was never suggested to me and, quite frankly, I probably didn’t even know rocket scientists existed.  If I did, I’m pretty certain I didn’t entertain any notion of attempting that career path.

rocketscientist

If someone had given me a few words of encouragement and Brett Hoffstadt’s book, things might have been different.

Possibly.

Okay – maybe remotely possibly. I’m pretty sure I would have ended up teaching no matter what.  But maybe I would be teaching rocket science.

The point is that “rocket science” sounds very intimidating, but reading this book will show you that passion for the subject plays a much bigger part than an Einsteinian I.Q.  when it comes to success.

How to Be a Rocket Scientist is easy to read, and gives great suggestions for finding mentors, resources, and even movies that will help a teenager determine if this is his or her destiny.

It’s a short read (around 51 pages) at $2.99 as an Amazon Kindle download. You can also go to the “How to Be a Rocket Scientist” website for more information.

Mr. Hoffstadt has over 20 years of experience in the aerospace industry.  He also happens to be the parent of one of my 5th grade students.  But I’m not biased because of that connection.  I’m biased because I read his book and thought, “Wow, I really could be a rocket scientist if I want to some day.”

It’s nice to know I have options 😉

Why My Daughter Won’t Be a Teacher When She Grows Up

image from: http://tariqmcom.com/beautiful-quotes-on-success-the-success-is-not-key-to-happiness/
image from: http://tariqmcom.com/

My daughter, who is 11, has a pretty standard response prepared for people who ask her what she wants to be when she grows up.

“A teacher – or maybe an engineer,” she says.

I smile inside.  I smile because I think she says, “teacher” for my sake – which means that she: a.) sees how much I love my job and b.) doesn’t think it’s a bad aspiration.

If I really thought she would like to be a teacher some day, I would not discourage her.  Many of my colleagues disagree.  They have told me that they would never allow their own children to become teachers.  I understand their frustration and disillusionment.  It’s not an easy career by a long shot (but, really, what career is easy?) –  and it can be taxing both financially and emotionally.

My own teachers in high school registered disappointment, one by one, when I told them I had decided to pursue a career in education.  Despite the fact they had inspired me, some of them obviously felt themselves to be personal failures for not convincing me to go to medical or law school – or to become a college professor at the very least.

I was undaunted by their discouragement, and I’m sure my own daughter would be, as well.

No, my daughter will not be a teacher.  Not because I will prevent her – but because I suspect she doesn’t really want to be a teacher.  Unlike me, she never spent hours teaching her dolls and stuffed animals when she was in pre-school.  Her patience with children younger than her has never been exceedingly long.  And, she never goes out of her way to explain difficult concepts to others; in fact, she rolled her eyes when I asked her to explain how to play Flappy Bird.

She will not be a teacher because that is not her passion.  She may not see that yet, but that’s okay.

Could teaching become her passion one day?  Possibly.  If it does, I will whole-heartedly support her.  But I will also support her if she decides to become an artist, a rock star, an astronaut, or a stay-at-home mom.  If she is willing to put in the work and sacrifice to follow her dreams, who am I to stop her?

In my post on The Science of Character, I included this quote, “Instead of asking students what they want to be, we should be asking them who they want to be.”

I asked my daughter to look at the Periodic Table of Strengths on the site, and her goals for the future her are: creativity, enthusiasm, kindness, fairness, appreciation of beauty, and optimism.

If she becomes that person – and, truly, I feel she is already well on her way – then I will feel that we have both been successful.

Meet the Doodler

4th grade students giving
4th grade students giving Sophie Diao their full attention

Last week, I posted about this year’s Doodle 4 Google contest with the theme, “If I Could Invent One Thing to Make the World a Better Place.”  I mentioned that one thing that I am particularly excited about is the page of Classroom Activities that complement the contest this year.  Included in this are three live events where students can “Meet the Doodler” online.  Fortunately, my 4th graders got the chance to view the first event yesterday, and it was a great experience.  If you were unable to participate, you can see the archive here.

Two elementary schools were able to join the Doodler in the Google Hangout.  You can apply to be included as one of the video guests by signing up here for the two remaining events (2/19/14 and 2/26/14 at 1 PM EST).  Or, you can just do what our class did, and watch the video while posting some questions in the chat window.

Yesterday’s video (less than 40 minutes) featured Sophie Diao, one of the ten Google “Doodlers” that create the fabulous specialized logos we see periodically.  She explained the process for creating a Google Doodle, how long it generally takes, and what she does when she can’t think of any ideas.  A neat part of the presentation included an assignment for everyone watching to try to design their own Valentine doodles.  I’ve included some of the ones my students did during the short presentation, and you should watch the video for some outstanding ideas from the 2 elementary schools that participated.  If you are looking for a fun, last-minute Valentine activity, throw this challenge at your students! (For more Valentine ideas, check out this post.)

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This is Why I Teach

from here
Click here to see a video of these two men discuss what it means to be “visionary and brilliant.”

I know.  I just posted an inspirational video yesterday, and here I go again.  When I saw this article on BrainPickings.org, though, I realized that the two Neils – Gaiman and deGrasse Tyson – verbalized something that I believe wholeheartedly.  If I ever appear to be good at what I do, it’s because I genuinely love my job.

But if I couldn’t be a public school teacher for some reason, I think I would probably want to be Neil deGrasse Tyson 🙂

Curiosity.com

Curiosity.com is a website from the Discovery Channel.  It is visually appealing, and has many topics that you might be, well, curious about.  For example, you can see the 30 strangest landmarks in America or view an image gallery of geniuses.

Curiosity.com is not “vetted” for educational purposes, but there is a link to Curiosity in the Classroom, which is.  Curiosity in the Classroom offers resources for parents, students, and teachers including lesson plans and downloadable activities.  It also gives information on careers and fun quizzes for students to take.  This portion of the site is aimed at students in 6th-12th grades.

If you have secondary students who are working on independent projects, but cannot seem to narrow down a topic, Curiosity.com might be the place to send them.