American Bike Month

14 05 2012

American Bike Week takes place every year during May and is generally a week of cycling events. Bike Week is dedicated to showing and teaching people how they could help the environment and exercise in a fun way that would also allow them to socialize while they bike ride. Austin, Boston, Portland, Santa Barbara, San Francisco and many other cities celebrate Bike Month.

Kate, on two wheels, outside the Museum.

Here at the Austin Children’s Museum, we love to bike. Gallery Manager, Kate, doesn’t have a car – she gets to the Museum, her college classes, and everywhere else she needs to go by bike. Ibaad, our newest Gallery Manager, rode the MS150 a few weeks ago. The ride starts in Houston and cyclist travel all the way to Austin, raising awareness and money for Multiple Sclerosis. Technology Education Coordinator, Emily, has been enjoying commuting to work on her touring bike, and getting special attention for kids for her goofy helmet:

Here are some fun ways to celebrate Bike Month:

  • Decorate your bike with streamers, bells, and colored tape.
  • Learn the names of different parts of your bike.
  • Have a bike parade in your neighborhood.
  • Practice pedaling by laying on your back and “pedaling” your feet in the air… Away you go!
  • Build an obstacle course to ride your bike around.
  • Find some pictures of bikes to find out how bikes have changed through the years.

Mathematics Awareness Month

30 04 2012

Celebrate your math skills in April!

Mathematics Awareness Month is designed to recognize the importance of mathematics in everyday life. This nationally recognized month was created by President Ronald Reagan in a way to try to make math more ‘cool’. During April, we’re encouraging everyone to discover the ways in which math is important and how it can also be fun!

Sometimes students have a hard time understanding how the math skills they are learning relate to every day life. To show how math will always be a useful skill to have, try incorporating math problems into your everyday life!

Use math while Grocery shopping! Try to work out the total price of your grocery bill while you are shopping, or work out how much you will save by using coupons when you shop. This will help you to enhance your basic math skills.

You could also play games! Board games, card games and strategy games all incorporate many mathematical concepts. From counting to probability you may see your chances of winning improve with your math skills.  Playing board games with money like Life or Monopoly will allow you to figure out calculations while also playing games.

You can also start learning about math early by reading about math. There are many books for all ages dedicated to helping people of varied ages with they math problems. These may be able to help you in showing you a different way to work out problems in an easier way than you learned at school.

Come by the Austin Children’s Museum to check out our feature exhibit, 123 Geometry Lane, which is inspired by the numbers and calculations in everyday life.

Recycled Robot Contest

24 04 2012

Every spring, the Austin Children’s Museum hosts a fundraising gala called Imaginarium. This year’s event will celebrate all things tinkering, and in that spirit, we’re decorating the tables with Recycled Robot Centerpieces. We’re asking for submissions of child-created robots and even having a Recycled Robot Contest. Would you like to enter? Here are some guidelines:

  • The robot must be friendly
  • The robot cannot be more than 12 inches tall and 12 inches wide
  • The robot must be made of objects you already have. Please do not go out and purchase anything.
  • The robot needs a name and job. Please wire this on an index card, along with your first name and age.
  • The robot should be stationary – no movable parts, please.

A panel of judges will evaluate the robots on creativity, use of recycled materials, and whether it met the guidelines. Robots will not be returned to their makers.

The winner of the Recycled Robot Contest will win a free Blowout Bash Birthday at the Austin Children’s Museum. A winner will be announced on May 18th.

Want to participate? Download this pdf entry form: robotcontest. Then, make a robot and deliver it to the Museum by Friday, May 4th at 5pm.

We used recycled material we found around the Museum to make a Catbot and this robot collage:

Keep America Beautiful!

16 04 2012

April is now known as Keep America Beautiful month. Here at the Museum, we have been trying to come up with ways that we could all actively participate in keeping our country beautiful!

There are many ways in which you could take part in this month whether you help to clean a spot or to pick up litter in a local park, any little helps!

  • Don’t litter and tell your friends that they shouldn’t litter

There are many reasons why people litter. It could be because there is no trash can nearby,  or they are simply too lazy to walk over to the nearest one. Litter is not only ugly, but it can also be harmful to the environment, it could injure animals and plants, but there are actions that you can take to prevent this.

Set an example to your friends and family by not littering yourself. This will show others how they should be acting and could make them want to do more to help the environment.

If your school doesn’t have a trash can outside for breaks, ask your teacher if it would be possible to get one!

Remind the people you drive with to always tie down their loads.

Debris from peoples cars can be seen all over the sides of roads. This could be avoided by simply making sure that anything that is on top or in the back or your car/truck, is tied down securely. This will stop anything from being able to escape and end up lying by the side of the road. This would also be seen as littering as you would most likely, not be able to stop to pick up the item, and therefore it would be left. This would pose the same threat to animals and the environment as any other form of litter.

Use a litter bag in your car

Bring a grocery bag on journeys with you to act as a trash can. This will allow any trash to be collected in one place. This would them make it easy to dispose of all your trash after any kind of road trip. You should also make sure to keep hold of any trash you create wherever you are. This way, once you come across a trash can, you can put it all in there instead of leaving it lying around.

Help get the banana peel into the trash can!

International Guitar Month

4 04 2012

International Guitar Month 2012

Guitars are highly popular  musical instruments. They have been around for many many years and have only developed into much greater sounding instruments since. Guitars can come in different shapes and designs, all chosen by the musician.

The Acoustic guitar have been used for thousands of years. The sound and tone of the acoustic guitar relies on the vibration of the strings which are then amplified by the hollow body of the guitar.

The Electric guitar however, was not introduced until the 1930’s. This guitar can be used with an amplifier to allow the player to change the volume and electronically manipulate the sound of the guitar.

Electric guitars can range in the amount of strings that they have. String amount can vary between 1 (very rare) to 12 strings. Some guitars even have two necks and twelve strings!

(Print and color this image and then add as many strings as you like)

César Chávez Day

31 03 2012

Did you know March 31st is César Chávez Day? This day is celebrated in Texas, Colorado, and California!

César Estrada Chávez was born on March 31, 1927 in Yuma, Arizona and passed away in 1993. He was a Mexican-American farm worker, leader, and civil rights activist who pushed for the development of labor unions for workers. He eventually formed the National Farm Workers Association (along with Dolores Huerta), later becoming the United Farm Workers (UFW) to fight for better wages and better working conditions.

His aggressive but nonviolent approach made the farm workers’ struggle a moral cause with widespread support throughout the country.
Chavez was charismatic and self-taught. He created a community that came together by inspiring well educated Latino idealists and encouraged them to offer a liberating  devotion to the farmworkers’ movement. His slogan is “Sí, se puede!”, which means “Yes, we can!”

In 2008, President Barack Obama stated:
“Chavez left a legacy as an educator, environmentalist, and a civil rights leader. And his cause lives on. As farm workers and laborers across America continue to struggle for fair treatment and fair wages, we find strength in what Cesar Chavez accomplished so many years ago. And we should honor him for what he’s taught us about making America a stronger, more just, and more prosperous nation. That’s why I support the call to make Cesar Chavez’s birthday a national holiday. It’s time to recognize the contributions of this American icon to the ongoing efforts to perfect our union.”

April Fools Day

30 03 2012

With April Fools Day just around the corner, here at the Museum we have been trying to come up with different ideas for fun jokes and pranks that you could try out on your family members and friends.

After looking through many different pranks on the internet, we found a very simple but very funny prank. ‘Sponge Cake’

Who doesn’t love cake? But how many people have been given a real sponge cake?

For this prank, all you will need are:

  • Sponge
  • Scissors
  • Frosting
  • Sprinkles (Optional)
  • Marker

To start, take your sponge and use the marker to draw a cake sized circle.

Then carefully cut (or ask an adult to cut) the sponge so you are left with the circle.

Spread the frosting over the sponge, completely covering the sponge so that no one will be able to know what is really under the frosting.

Decorate your cake with sprinkles to make it seen even more desirable!

Finally, just sit back and wait for your victims to come and try to eat a piece of cake! Watch for their reaction as they find out that it is in fact a sponge under there!

A Big Celebration of Small Things: NanoDays

23 03 2012

We talked about NanoDays, a national celebration of nanoscience, last year on the blog. Well, it’s back and on Sunday we’re hosting our own NanoParty here at the Museum.  From noon until 5pm on Sunday, March 25th, museum educators will be presenting various hands on activities to teach concepts related to nanoscale science and engineering and its potential impact on the future.

Come to NanoDays and explore tiny science, such as polymer chains to make slime.

Advancements in nanoscience are popping up in the news with increasing frequency. It’s likely that you have used products that have been improved by nanoscale research. Did you know that many types of sunscreen use nanotechnology? And that wrinkle-free and stain-resistant clothing are so easy to care for because of their nanoscale makeup?

Get up close to some small stuff!

We found some interesting NanoNews articles that we’d like to share with you!

  • Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Labratory have been studying how molecules might improve the performance of electronics. They recently made an experimental determination in which a molecule transferred an electrical charge to another molecule. Research with organic electronics have been used to make flexible display screens and solar cells. You can read more about this particular study here.
  • A group of nanoscientists from the Science Foundation Ireland have discovered a new material that could transform flat screen monitors for computers and televisions. The team is working closely with manufacturers who may be interested in using the finding in actual products. Find out more here.
  •  In nearby NanoNews, researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas and Virginia Tech have developed a vehicle inspired by a jellyfish to use for underwater rescue and surveillance missions. The “Robojelly” gets its energy from hydrogen and oxygen gas found in water – it doesn’t need batteries or electricity! The Robojelly is covered in artificial muscles that are made of a metal alloy wrapped in carbon nanotubes that is coated with platinum. Check out details here and watch the Robojelly in action!

Shape Symmetry

9 03 2012

Symmetry (particularly reflective symmetry) is when an image looks identical on both sides. Imagine placing a mirror vertically down the middle of an image, if the image looks the same in the reflection as it does without the mirror, then it is symmetrical.

Symmetry can be seen everywhere, buildings, swimming pools, drawings, just look around you, you will find at least one example of symmetry right where you are sitting (eg your chair)

Symmetry can be seen when you have balanced and equal parts on both sides of the image.

Try this:

Using the alphabet, take a look at each letter separately. Which are symmetrical and which are not?

A, for example, would be symmetrical. The line down the center shows you how the shape is the same on both sides. This means that it is symmetrical.

This is not true of all the letters of the alphabet however. Try the letter F. This letter is not symmetrical.

This letter is not symmetrical in any way.  With symmetry, you can imagine the mirror to be in the middle of the image vertically (shown on the letter A) Horizontally (Shown on the letter F) or diagonally. If the image shown in the mirror matches the image without the mirror, then it is symmetrical.

Why don’t you try finding some symmetrical words? Such as WOW which would be symmetrical vertically or go even further with a longer word like DECIDE which would be symmetrical horizontally.

Now lets try it with something other than the alphabet. How about an insect? Take a look at this image of a butterfly. Do you think that it is symmetrical?

To check to see if something is symmetrical without the use of a mirror, simply take a pencil and a ruler and draw a line down the center, like this:

The answer is Yes!

Now you can see that the image of the butterfly is symmetrical as it has balanced shapes on either side of the dotted line.

This technique can be used to test symmetry in all images. Try these out:

Which image is NOT symmetrical?

Celebrate Black History Month!

17 02 2012

It’s February & that means it is time to pay tribute to the ground breaking African-American scientists and inventors who made their incredible stamp on the world!

Patricia Bath:
Patricia was born in 1942 in Harlem, New York.

She is the first African-American female to receive a patent for her medical invention, the Laserphaco Probe! The probe has revolutionized cataract surgery around the world (cataracts are clouding that can develop in the eye and makes it very difficult to see). Patricia has set a great path for African-American women working in the medical field by serving on the staff of the UCLA Medical Center, as well as a resident in ophthalmology (anatomy of the eye) at New York University.

Sarah E. Goode:
Sara was born in 1850 as a slave and was later freed after the end of the American Civil War. She then went on to open her own furniture store in Chicago. During the late 1800s, many people did not have enough space in their apartments for beds, so Sarah invented a folding cabinet bed which she received a patent for in July of 1885.

The versatility of the cabinet bed allowed for a space to sleep as well as a desk that could be used for writing or storage. Sarah was the very first African American woman to receive a United States patent!

Rick Kittles:
Rick is an American biologist who was born in Georgia. He specializes in human genetics, specifically tracing African-American ancestry through DNA testing. Keith and his team analyzed DNA from 408 African-Americans in an 18th century graveyard in order to figure out what part of Africa they came from.

Knowing where your family has come from is an incredible story to unfold! How much do you know about your grand parents or great-great grandparents? What country did they come from?

With the help of your family, you can make your own Family Tree! You may be surprised at the results!

Click here to learn more about other amazing scientists, inventors, and ground-breakers in African-American history!

Be my Valentine?

13 02 2012

It’s almost time for Valentine’s Day! What a great way to show those you love how much you care by creating something special!

Here’s one craft that will add a lot of love to your Valentine’s day!

Create a Stained-Glass Heart made out of melted crayons:


  • Crayons (light & bright colors work best: think pinks, purples, and reds)
  • Hand held pencil sharpener or a pair of scissors (be careful, an adult may need to shave the crayons)
  • Waxed Paper
  • Permanent marker to write your own message
  • Optional: glitter to add a little shine!

Step 1: Peel the paper off of the crayons (try soaking in warm water for better results). Use a pencil sharpener or scissors to shave the crayons over a large sheet of waxed paper. Spread the shavings evenly on the paper. The more shavings, the better!

Step 2: This step is for parents–Set oven to 175 degrees and place the cookie sheet into the oven. Time may vary depending on how much shavings you use, but it should take about 5 minutes to completely melt. Keep checking on the progress every few minutes!

Step 3: After the crayon shavings have completely melted, take them out of the oven to let them cool for another 5 minutes.

Step 4: After allowing the crayons to cool, you can draw heart outlines to cut out! Try different sizes to see how many you can make!

Step 5: After you’re done cutting out your hearts, decorate them for your Valentine–add glitter, written messages, or anything you desire!

The hearts really start to shine when you hold them up to a light or place them in a window!

We hope you have a great Valentine’s Day!

Ready, Set, Roll! Is Back: Build Your Own Roller Coaster at Home

30 01 2012

Have you ever watched skiers going down their track, or gone so fast down a slide that you never thought that you would stop?

With the welcome return of the Ready, Set, Roll exhibit, we thought that we should investigate how you could create your own working track from materials that can be found in your own home.

What you will need:

-Tubing for example: Toilet paper roll, wrapping paper tubes, insulation tubes

-A variety of balls (sizes and weights)




-Books (used to raise height)

We had fun experimenting with different tubes to see how crazy our roller coaster could get! Check it out:

First we built a simple ramp (like a ski jump). The aim of this track is to allow the ball to pick up as much speed (acceleration) while it is traveling down the ramp and finally to land in one of the cups at the bottom.

From this we then tried the same ramp with different balls of different sizes and weights. Would the different sizes/ weights of the balls make a difference?

The image below shows a more advanced track, this time including a loop in the middle. In order to make it around the loop, your ball needs to gain enough velocity. What can you do to make sure your ball builds enough speed to conquer the Loop d’Loop?

To add an obstacle to your track, try adding a jump to see if your ball can make it across the gap.

For our jump, we used paper cups to hold up the track. Do you think you could make a wider gap for your roller coaster?

Finally, you can add a spiral cone to catch the ball in at the end of your track! It is very easy to make–Just draw a circle on a piece of paper, then either cut out a circle or have an adult do it for you. Next, you tape both of the sides together and add your finishing touch to the track!

You can make your roller coaster as long, loopy, or extreme as you want! See how adventurous you can get.

Once you’ve created your own coaster, you can try out ours at the Museum!

New Years Throughout History and Cultures

28 12 2011

The year is about to end, and New Year’s Eve celebrations for 2012 will take place across the country. How do you celebrate the start of the new year? Have you ever thought about how we know when the New Year actually is? This day is marked by our calendar, and that calendar was created by tracking the moon, sun, and earth!

Since the dawn of civilization man has kept track of time by use of the sun, the moon, and the stars. Man noticed that time could be broken up into units of the day (the time taken for the earth to rotate once on its axis), the month (the time taken for the moon to orbit the earth) and the year (the time taken for the earth to orbit the sun).

Ancient civilizations, were able to create calendars by keeping track of the moon and the sun. The ancient Mayas invented a calendar of remarkable accuracy and complexity. At the right is the ancient Mayan Pyramid Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico. The pyramid was used as a calendar! Four stairways, each with 91 steps and a platform at the top, making a total of 365, equivalent to the number of days in a calendar year!

At the end of the year, these ancient civilizations also celebrated the New Year, just like we do, with feasts, dancing and festivities. Today, most New Year festivities take place on December 31, but in other cultures they take place on different dates.

  • The earliest known record of a New Year festival dates from 2000 BC in Mesopotamia. In Babylonia the New Year began with the new moon closest to the spring equinox, usually mid-March.
  • In Assyria it was near the autumnal equinox in September.
  • For the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians the day was celebrated on the autumnal equinox, which now falls on about September 23.
  • For the Greeks it was the winter solstice, which now falls on about December 21 or 22.
  • In early Rome, March 1 began a new year, but after 153 BC the date was January 1.
  • The Jewish New Year, called Rosh Hashana, is sometimes called the “feast of the trumpets.” It starts on the first day of the month of Tishri, which may begin any time from September 6 to October 5. The celebration lasts for 48 hours but ushers in a ten-day period of penitence.
  • In Japan the New Year festivities take place on January 1 to 3. The house entrance is hung with a rope made of rice straw to keep out evil spirits. Decorations of ferns, bitter orange, and lobster promise good fortune, prosperity, and long life.
  • The Chinese New Year is celebrated for one whole month!. The official celebration begins in late January or early February. There are outdoor parades and fireworks to mark the occasion. Check out the cool dragon costume they dance with:

Finally, the American celebration of the New Year marks the end of the Christmas holiday period. Many people go to church on New Year’s Eve, and many attend parties. Now that you know the history of New Years, you can celebrate this holiday with the knowledge of the past.

You can have fun with a costume like the Chinese do, and download this neat New Year’s Mask, look through it so you can see what the coming year has ahead!

Make a Paper Gingerbread House

30 11 2011

Burrrr… It’s going to get really cold, really soon. Christmas is just around the corner. When the temperature drops we like to be inside where it’s nice and cozy. If you don’t want to brave the cold weather just yet, stay inside like us and make a paper gingerbread house!

This neat activity, is half the mess of a real gingerbread house, and it’s free! You can practice all your candy decorating skills so that when you get that real cookie house, you’ll be a pro.

You can check out the Museum Dec 1st-23rd during Gingerbread House Workshops, where we’ll provide enough candy and gingerbread to make a mansion! Registration just opened,  so sign up all you gingerbread architects!

Download our at-home gingerbread activity here: Paper Gingerbread House and tell us how your gingerbread homes turn out!

Woodcrafting 101

15 11 2011

Want to sew a design on wood? Not the usual material thought of for needle and thread, however the Museum’s Woodcrafting 101 activity brought us a crafty combination. Three stations were set up for each step of the process; marking a design, drilling the holes, and putting yarn in the wood plaque. Under the supervision of Gallery Educators, kids got to use stencils, power drills, needles, and thread to make a sewn wood piece.

At the first table, kids got to choose from pre-made stencils of stars, hearts, and houses (even a rocket ship!) for their design. Using markers, the “picture” was redrawn on the wood plaque, but only looked like random dots.

Parents and kids choosing a template and wood piece to start!

Those random dots came in handy while using the power drills at the next station. Hand drills and power drills (with adult supervision) were used to make holes through wood plaques. Proper safety was explained, such as using goggles and clamping the wood plaques to the table.

Gallery Manager, Matt Brown showing a woodcrafter how to clamp to the table.

Under the hands-on guidance of Gallery Educators, kids got to use power drills and learn how to correctly hold the drill and change the direction of the drill bit to make all the holes for the final step.

Matt Brown helping kids use the ‘big’ power drill.

Gallery Educator, Jennifer Himstedt, helping kids use the electric power drill.

At the last station, a little sanding was used to smooth out the wood plaque. The original pictures were redrawn with different colors of yarn sewn through the holes. Examples were used, but kids had amazing ideas to add colors and make each wood piece an original creation!

Kids sewing the final touches to their creations!

Woodcrafting 101 will be an ongoing program to give kids a hands-on experience working with wood tools and crafts. Gallery Manager and Woodcrafting 101 creator, Matt Brown has been setting up the program and has new ideas for ACM’s new program!  New ideas are in the works and all ages are invited to join with adult supervision! The next Woodcrafting 101 will be on December 3, 2011 at ACM.

If you have adult supervision, a power drill (or hand drill), needle and thread at home: continue reading this post for step-by-step instructions on how to make a wood plaque of your own.

Read the rest of this entry »


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