Friday, August 30, 2013

Committed Service to Kids in Need

This month, we celebrated the graduation of the Museum’s 17th (!) AmeriCorps team and their 22,500 hours of dedicated service over the past year. This group of 12 full-time members and four additional summer members extended the Museum’s reach to children and families in underserved communities throughout and around Providence and had a tremendous impact. There’s so much the Museum simply could not do without the hard work and passion of these committed and talented individuals.
Did you know that the Museum’s 2012-13 AmeriCorps team:
  • Facilitated imaginative activities that celebrate diversity to help improve school readiness for more than 1,000 Head Start preschoolers
  • Engaged over 500 elementary school-aged children with inspiring play-based math and science activities during after-school and summer Learning Clubs
  • Welcomed more than 1,300 low-income children and family members to free Museum family nights, where they received complimentary year-long admission passes
  • Recruited and trained dozens of Museum volunteers
  • Engaged Museum visitors in hands-on exhibits and developed interactive public programs
  • And much more!
Some heartfelt tributes shared during their graduation ceremony:

“[These children are] lucky if they meet someone who challenges their hearts and brains and changes the way they think. You might be that person.”
– Mary Ellen O'Mahony, Children’s Friend
 “Thank you for dedicating a year of your lives. It’s the best example of communities and people coming together to make the world a better places… leveling the playing field for these children and giving them the opportunities they deserve.”
– Marisa Petreccia, Serve Rhode Island
“We could not reach these children in these numbers and with this depth without you…What would be the point of having a children’s museum if we couldn’t reach the children who need us most?”
– Janice O’Donnell, Museum director
Our sincere thanks and congratulations to Alex, Alexandra, Amanda, Ashley, Bridget, Dylan, Francesca, Jack, Kaylor, Kayshia, Leah, Mandy, Megan, Ryan, Samantha and Sarah!

The Museum’s AmeriCorps program is made possible by a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service and Serve Rhode Island with additional support from Bristol County Savings Charitable Foundation; The John Clarke Trust, Bank of America, N.A., Co-Trustee; CVS Caremark Charity Classic; Frank B. Hazard General Charity Fund, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee; Harry M., Miriam C. & William C. Horton Fund, Bank of America, Co-Trustee; Museum Annual Campaign Donors; Sovereign Bank Foundation; Textron Charitable Trust; and UnitedHealthcare of New England.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Discovery: A Summer Learning Story

We’re reflecting on the incredible contributions of our 2012-13 AmeriCorps Museum Educators as their service year comes to a close. Leah Taradash shared this story about facilitating play-based summer enrichment activities to support school readiness for rising kindergartners.

The day that Michael learned that red and blue makes purple was a magical day at Asa Messer Elementary School.

As we planned the curriculum for our summer as part of Kid's Bridge, a kindergarten prep program for low-income children, we knew that we wanted to provide the children with new experiences that would inspire their creativity and inquisitive nature while getting them ready for school. Color mixing with paints was the perfect activity – it introduced materials such as paint and paintbrushes, allowed for creativity, incorporated scientific principles, and is just plain fun. After listening to the book Mouse Paint, the kids were excited to learn that they would use paints to mix colors, just like the mice did. I couldn't help but smile as they mixed different combinations of red, blue and yellow to make green, orange and purple and shouted their discoveries with glee.
When it was Michael's turn, he pointed to a cup that a previous child had mixed and said, "I want the purple paint!" He looked skeptical when I told him that to make purple he would have to use red and blue.  "I have to put them together? With this?" he asked as he picked up the paintbrush, making it clear that he had probably never used painting materials before. I watched him ever so slowly pick up the brush and dip it into the red paint. "I put it in there?" he asked, pointing to the blue. I nodded and he placed the paintbrush inside the cup of blue. "It's not working. Where's the purple?" "You have to mix it together," I said, and moved my hand in a stirring motion. "And maybe add some more red." He began to stir the paint together, adding a bit more red to the mixture, until suddenly flecks of a deep purple began to appear. Michael looked up at me with such wonder in his eyes and yelled, "It did it! It made purple! It really happened!" He spent the next five minutes experimenting with adding different amounts of red and blue to his paper and seeing how he could make different shades of purple.

Watching Michael and the other children's joyful reactions to discovering the science behind color mixing made me proud to  give them the opportunity to make discoveries about things that adults often take for granted.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Making Connections: Boys & Girls Club Stories

We’re reflecting on the incredible contributions of our 2012-13 AmeriCorps Museum Educators as their service year comes to a close. These stories were shared by Dylan Maeby, a member of the team that facilitated a Museum Learning Club at the Boys & Girls Club on the Southside of Providence and provided engaging STEM enrichment activities to 130 2nd to 4th graders.

Science Inspiration
“Potions” was the last in a series of lessons we developed about the science behind magic.  We’d used static electricity to move objects without touching them, made flip books to show that pictures can come to life, and now we were using ingredients like “unicorn horn” (Alka-Seltzer) mixed with “dragon blood” (food coloring and water) to illustrate the power of chemical reactions.  Throughout the lesson the kids were delighted as their mixtures bubbled and fizzed.  Through careful observation, they determined which ingredients were responsible for the reactions they observed and which ones were not.  A successful lesson for sure, we ended by combining all of the potions in one container for a final show.
When we arrived the next day, I was met at the door by a group of children. “Jaden has something to show you!” they told me. “I made this for you,” said Jaden, an often-rambunctious child, as he handed me a bottle filled with a combination of what looked like water, oil and food coloring.  “When I went home yesterday I told my parents what we did and then I asked if I could make my own potions.  This was the best one. It was hard to find the right balance of water and oil, but I did!”

He turned to walk away with a proud look on his face. A moment later he shouted, “Oh, I figured out that it wasn’t unicorn horn we were using, it was Alka-Seltzer!”

Building Bridges
Two sisters, ages 9 and 7, had been hard at work for well over an hour to create a suspension bridge from newspaper and string.  They had unsuccessfully tried numerous times, yet they remained undeterred.  Carefully adjusting the strings, taping then re-taping, the girls moved closer to accomplishing their goal.  As the younger girl tested the bridge once again, her sister had a revelation.  “We can do this at home!” she exclaimed.  “We have all of the things we need.”  They momentarily forgot about testing their bridge as they excitedly discussed all of the different materials they could use.  Eventually they perfected their design but I couldn’t help but feel that the real success lay in the many hours of play yet to come.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Persistence: A Learning Club Story

We’re reflecting on the incredible contributions of our 2012-13 AmeriCorps Museum Educators as their service year comes to a close this week. This story was shared by Alexandra Fleagle, a member of the team that conducted after-school Learning Clubs for 12 community organizations in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls and engaged kids ages 6-12 in fun hands-on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) activities.

At Fox Point Boys & Girls Club, our Learning Club kids had challenging attitudes towards school, science, each other, and their own potential to learn. Over the first few weeks, we learned what they needed and slowly earned their trust. However, I wondered how they would respond to my lesson on acids, bases and the pH scale. It was content-heavy and involved “painting” with a solution of turmeric and alcohol. These kids made a mess with wet glue; what was I thinking giving them something that permanently stains?
It turns out I had nothing to worry about – the kids were engaged from the moment I began. I mixed vinegar and baking soda to demonstrate a neutralization reaction and talked about how chemical reactions create completely different substances. It was going so well that I took a risk and started talking about chemical formulae and ions. “Acids have high concentrations of H+ ions, while bases have OH- ions. When they come together, you have two ‘H’s and ‘O.’ Does anyone know what those atoms make?” Their eyes widened with excitement and recognition, followed by shouts of “H2O!” “Water!” “We just talked about this in school today!”
During the main activity, they experimented and discovered the pH of 10 substances. Juliette, who was often vocal about her dislike of school and science, was the most eager to get started. After a while I saw her sit down and asked if she had finished. “Let me tell you what I found!” she said, and proceeded to explain her results as well as her reasoning and hypotheses. During the post-experiment discussion, kids who usually didn’t talk were eager to share their discoveries, and we began to explore why they were important and how we use this science in everyday life.
Next, I introduced the art activity, explaining that we were trusting them to act responsibly with the turmeric. They rose to the occasion. Jayhoni had been one of the most cynical members of the group. It had been very difficult to engage, let alone impress, her with any of the activities. But as she was painting, I heard her exclaim, “This is awesome!” The rest of the Club agreed. It had been a very good day.

Friendship: A Head Start Story

We’re reflecting on the incredible contributions of our 2012-13 AmeriCorps Museum Educators as their service year comes to a close this week. This story was shared by Amanda Nico and Leah Taradash, members of the team that served 1,000 Head Start preschoolers in 58 classrooms in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls with fun-filled Museum explorations and a year-long series of imaginative activities to help them understand and value diversity.

Amanda: In Head Start classroom activities, we focused on how friends can be both similar to and different from one another and that is okay. We read the book Alex and Lulu: Two of a Kind by Lorena Siminovich, which tells the story of a dog and cat who are friends but like to play different things, then we talked with the children about some of their differences and similarities.
Leah: During the next activity of our friendship curriculum, children created a book of what they like to do with their friends. Every child illustrated a page and we recorded their words under their pictures, then put them all into a binder and read the book to the class.

The Head Start team was very excited about this activity's potential but we never could have predicted the inspiring results reflected in the children's words and pictures. Their friendship stories were all different; some children chose specific things they liked playing with their friends, like basketball and drawing, while others thought about ideas like the leaves changing red in the fall or two friends getting into a fight and needing to say they're sorry. No matter what the story, it was clear that every child put a great deal of thought into how to represent themselves through their words and drawings.
Amanda: In one class, a child named Cecilia drew and we recorded her story about her friend: "Lyla was screaming too loudly and I was painting flowers and being an artist and being different. Lyla was white and Cecilia was brown and then we were sleeping and that is the end." Her teacher marveled at how she really listened and understood the message of the story we read in the previous lesson.

Leah: Presenting their pages as a class book also created a sense of classroom unity, giving the children the opportunity to learn about each others' interests while taking pride in their individual pages. The icing on the already delicious cake was seeing their excitement when we told them that the book would be left in their classroom so they could read it whenever they want!

Thursday, August 15, 2013


This week we welcomed Upstairs/Downstairs, a playful new puppet display created by AmeriCorps Museum Educators Mandy Roach and Bridget Sullivan. Mandy described their inspiration and process as they worked with the Museum’s collection of Betty Huestis marionettes.
We threw around a lot of different ideas before Bridget came up with having a large kitchen on top and a smaller kitchen underneath the floorboards so it’s kind of a play on scale. If you look at the top, it mirrors the characters and objects below. You can imagine it goes from big to small to smallest and that if you could look under the mouse house, maybe there’s a flea or cockroach kitchen!

We went through the collections and decided what puppets and characters and other collections items we were going to use. I really loved the old toys and wanted to incorporate them in the display, either as toys or by transforming them into something else. That’s where my inspiration came – for the things we didn’t have, what were we going to create and how?

I made the couch from a lot of recycled materials, like old jewelry boxes, fabric, crayons, corks, buttons – materials you can imagine that a mouse might use to make its own couch. The stove is a metal cup with belt buckles for the burners and the whole frame is a potato masher. If you keep looking, you can really see the props and the details and what they’re made of. I hope kids are inspired to think, “I can make that” from materials they have at home!
Bridget added, "I really liked that we were able to incorporate the idea of spatial thinking into the case with different perspectives and the scale of the two kitchens – and that it was an exercise in spatial thinking for me to create the components in the scene!"

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Spot the Robot

Spot the Robot, a charming new display created by AmeriCorps Museum Educators Amanda Nico and Ryan Peters, invites visitors to peer into the atrium walkway window boxes to discover Robbie the Robot’s mischievous after-hours Museum explorations.

Ryan: We wanted to tell a simple story: we follow the robot on his adventure through the Museum at night, but kids also get to watch the Museum collections come to life and interact with one another.

Amanda: Creating the boxes was a lot of fun and I found myself really inspired by different exhibits when making my boxes. I'm also really happy that we found a way to display so many collections items that guests would otherwise never see.

Robbie masquerades as a marionette.
Ryan: I wanted to create scenes that conveyed movement and I also tried to pack tons of detail into each box, to give the sense that even after you've found the robot there are still little things that bring you back to the box and keep it fresh.

Robbie's hands-on exploration of art materials in Discovery Studio.
The boxes are paired with a hunt challenging visitors to follow the clues to spot the robot in each scene. They’ll be on display for a few months, so check them out on your next visit!