Radical Robots

Published March 13th, 2017 by Courtney Cooper

When you hear the word robot, what comes to mind? Do you think of a machine with a human-like form, or do you picture something different? With the popularity of robotics as the subject of Hollywood movies and network cartoons, a certain image of robots has been indelibly imprinted onto our minds. We sometimes forget how many different types of robots exist, and that most do not look anything like us. Movies like I, Robot and Terminator, while entertaining, have cast a negative shadow on robots, depicting machines that develop a self-awareness and capacity for original thought that wreak havoc on humanity. The prevalence of robotics in the science fiction genre has undoubtedly influenced our thoughts and our fascination with robots, but the field of robotics is vast and encompasses many disciplines including military services, car production, space exploration, surgery, underwater exploration, crime fighting, and commercialized agriculture, to name a few.

Groundbreaking technology is leading to new, exciting developments in robotics that are changing the world as the field explores new pathways and possibilities. For example, with the decline in pollinating insect populations, there is growing concern as to how we will continue to pollinate our crops and wild plants. One chemist in Japan has developed a drone that can pick up pollen with a strip of horsehair coated in gel and deposit it onto other flowers. He hopes to create a fleet of 100 drones that use GPS and artificial intelligence to aid in plant pollination.

Another robot being developed is the bat robot or “Bat Bot”, which can fly and adjust its movements in mid-air to maneuver just like a bat. More agile than a drone, this robot could someday be used on construction sites to fly in and out of the structures to keep track of progress, according to a roboticist at the University of Illinois. Just imagine how many other uses this robot could have in the future!

In the medical world, a robotic sleeve that pumps the heart has been developed. The device wraps around the heart and contracts in a motion that mimics the way the layers of our heart  muscle move, pumping it when it is too weak to pump effectively for itself. This robot could help keep heart failure patients alive while waiting for a transplant.

Hydrogel robots could also help with medical procedures. Hydrogel is a rubbery substance made almost entirely of water. If designed for underwater use, these robots would be nearly invisible. A professor of mechanical, civil, and environmental engineering at MIT is looking to develop these robots for medical use. He hopes to create hydrogel hands which could perform softer, gentler manipulations of tissues and organs during surgical procedures. With so many new technologies emerging, robots help us to overcome our limitations and make the possibilities for the future truly limitless.

To explore the exciting world of robotics, join us at the Science Mill on March 14th, 15th, and 16th for Robot Mania during Spring Break. We will be having robot demonstrations as well as hands on robot activities from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Learn how to build, program, code, and battle robots as well as navigate obstacle courses with robotic cars, guide SWAT-like robots on a rescue mission, and paint with robots! Additionally, be sure to check out our permanent Critter Bots exhibit. This exhibit allows you to code and control 3 different robotic animals by creating  programs that make the animals move and sound!

Is there life out there?

Published March 2nd, 2017 by Amber Middlebrook

Last week NASA tweeted about an exciting new discovery! So, what does this mean to you and your classroom?

Within this astonishing discovery there is a wealth of cross-curricular content to be dissected and utilized within your classroom. These 7 new planets and their Red Dwarf star have opened the door to exciting space education opportunities, as well as a teachable moment for real world relevancy within scientific discovery.

Now is a great time to investigate the wealth of articles and interviews surrounding the possibly habitable planets to increase science literacy (there’s a list of a few articles and online resources at the end of this article). It is also a chance to come together with your grade level partners and colleagues and see how we can take this global excitement and create your own classroom enthusiasm! In the past, space exploration and shuttle launches were a part of classroom learning, but in the past few decades, due to decline in funding, NASA is no longer on the lips of every kid and space exploration has become almost a “been there, done that” type of topic.  But now, we can harness a new educational adventure on the orbit of Trappist-1 discovery!

Here are a few ideas of how to use the Trappist-1 discovery in your classroom:

  • Explore the concepts of science fiction versus science facts
  • Explore and define the requirements for life for cellular organisms and research why scientists believe that these planets are potentially habitable
  • Construct a story of traveling to a new planet, growing up in Trappist-1, the view of the planets in that solar system
  • Write a science fiction story about a new life form by considering some of the facts of the discovery and adding imagination
  • Solve the engineering problem of how will we get to Trappist-1
  • What role will the James Webb Telescope play in helping us to learn more about these planets?
  • Brainstorm entrepreneurial ideas of new companies that will help us get to Trappist-1
  • Ask students to calculate the travel times between the planets in Trappist -1, the light years between Earth and the region
  • Get out the H-R Diagrams and calculate the difference between this Red Dwarf (M dwarf) and our Sun
  • Incorporate a modeling activity wherein students can build a geometric scale model of our solar system and one of Trappist -1 to compare the two

Incorporate STEM careers into your discovery activities and discussions:

  • Why would we need to have a botanist or geologist on a space exploration to this region?
  • How would engineers contribute to furthering this discovery?
  • What other careers might be needed to make this adventure viable, more profound, or even feasible?
  • What careers might need to be created if there is life on this planet?

The possibilities of bringing science and cross-curricular learning to life using the excitement of this new discovery are outstanding. It’s the perfect opportunity to discuss relevancy of current events and to engage in a global discussion that could have monumental effects on life as we know it within their lifetime! Have fun!


Have a Heart Healthy February

Published February 9th, 2017 by Courtney Cooper

If the months of the year had designated shapes as they do birthstones and flowers, February’s shape would be the heart. Not only is Valentine’s Day celebrated this month, but it is also American Heart Month. As if painlessly pierced by Cupid’s invisible arrow, I find myself thinking about love and doodling hearts on the corners of my calendars, to-do lists, and schedules, reminiscent of the days when I sat in my desk at school and scribbled hearts on the homework I should have been doing. But sitting in that desk all those years ago it never occurred to me that the emotion so inextricably tied to the shape has scientifically measurable health benefits, and that experiencing love feels so good because it is so good for you. Oh love, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

1. H is for Holding Hands

The next time you feel nervous, reach for a loved one’s hand. The reassuring touch of a friend, child, spouse, or other family member decreases the brain waves triggered by the anticipation of something stressful. Stress and anxiety are detrimental to our health and can lead to high blood pressure, weight gain, and other factors that may contribute to heart disease. Take a cue from Hootie and the Blowfish and “Hold My Hand.”

2. E is for Embrace

Have high blood pressure? Wrap your arms around someone you love. Hugging encourages the body’s release of oxytocin, nicknamed the cuddle hormone or love hormone. Oxytocin can reduce stress inducing hormones and lower blood pressure, so when in doubt, hug it out.

3. A is for Attitude

Having a hard time shaking that bad attitude? Spending time with loved ones does wonders to change your outlook on life. Maintaining a positive attitude can help keep cardiovascular disease at bay. Adopt a glass-half-full optimism and reap the reward of better health overall.

4. R is for Rhythm of my Heart

You know the tell-tale signs of being in romantic love. Your eyes meet and your heart beats out of your chest, the atmosphere’s supply of oxygen suddenly does not meet your demand, and your stomach becomes the site of a substantial butterfly migration. Initiated by the release of hormones like dopamine and adrenaline, the increase in heart rate that occurs when you look into the eyes of that special someone acts like aerobic exercise, improving the fitness and blood pumping capabilities of your heart. When shyness overcomes you and you feel the urge to drop your gaze, hold it a little longer and give your heart some exercise.

5. T is for Time Spent

Spending time in the company of loved ones can lower blood pressure. When in the presence of those closest to you, the need for small talk disappears and the resulting quiet allows your blood pressure to decrease. Cut the chatter; silence is golden.

In addition to these five ways love keeps your heart healthy, two more deserve mention.

6. Laugh it Up

We constantly hear that laughter is the best medicine, and it’s true. Mental stress constricts blood vessels, restricting blood flow. The antidote? A good laugh with the people who know how to tickle your funny bone best - your loved ones.

7. “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?”

The love letters of old still have a place in our modern day love lives and in our health routines, too. Writing about the love you hold for the special people in your life lowers cholesterol. So go ahead and try your hand at being a sonnet-writing Shakespeare. Even if your writing isn’t eloquent prose, your body will act as though you’ve written the most beautiful poem of all.

With all the health benefits of love, why resist? Fall head over heels, jump in the trajectory of Cupid’s arrow, and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” At the risk of looking like a love-struck teenager, I will continue to draw hearts on my papers and write a love note or two. Maybe I’ll even doodle my name attached to a special someone’s surname in my notebook surrounded by, you guessed it, hearts.

To discover more ways to improve your health, join us at the Science Mill for our Science Social talk on February 11th, where Dr. Bernlohr, Ph.D. will discuss discoveries that have altered aging research and revealed how to live healthy longer.

Happy Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month.

Enrichment vs. Enjoyment: What to consider when booking a field trip and why

Published February 7th, 2017 by Holly

How do field trips really impact your students? Field trips, expand horizons, allow students real world applications and relevancy, and experiencing something in person, whether it’s history, art or STEM, leaves a lasting impact on a child, even as they become adults. The US Travel Association recently performed a study of 400 adults (200 who had taken a field trip and 200 who had not), and the study revealed that those who took “educational trips have better grades, higher graduation rates from high school and college and greater income. “ 1

We understand the reality and cold, hard facts about the current state of funding for field trips in central and south Texas. The expenses seem to be an overwhelming barrier to having a productive field trip. The cost, including buses, admission, lunches, staffing, and classroom time -  less time preparing for tests, completing curriculum and working on standards - often convince many educators to just not bother with the hassle and schedule field trips for rewards, end of year, GT or other small groups.

At the Science Mill, we are growing and developing better ways of helping teachers make classroom connections to field trip experiences. We currently provide TEKS alignments, pre- and post-lesson plans, and highly encourage teachers to examine our exhibits online, or in person, to really get a feel for how these hands-on exhibits can help expand on what you are already working on in the classroom.

When considering your next field trip, please ask us how we can help you make an experience more pertinent to your class curriculum and how we can help you design your own experience that allows you to make deeper connections to the standards you are working on in the classroom. We are here to support you and your students in creating a complete learning environment that inspires your students to become the best version of themselves by giving them more tools to help them do so.  Check out our field trip page on our website for more details about creating a unique learning experience.



Ignite your students’ curiosity in all things STEM with a unique field trip to the Science Mill!

Check out a video about how and why we do what we do to learn more about how a field trip to the Science Mill can make STEM come to life for your students!!

The Field Trip Experience:

  • Free Exploration of 40+ Interactive, TEKS aligned exhibits
  • 3D movie experience
  • Career connections to exhibits
  • Pre & Post Lesson Plans & Educator Guide available
  • Personalize your experience by correlating exhibits to current classroom curriculum
  • Convenient online booking

The Learning Lab Add-On Experience:

  • 30 - 75 minute hands-on, group based STEM activity employing inquiry based learning strategies
  • STEM Career connections
  • TEKS aligned: Science, Math & Technology
  • Grade Appropriate: K-2, 3-5, 6-8 & 9-12

M is for Math

Published February 7th, 2017 by Holly

This year, the Science Mill education staff has purposefully incorporated more engineering and math concepts into our STEM inspired Learning Labs.  We were excited to tackle this challenge of making math concepts “fun” and innovative, particularly with younger students. Our solution? Our K-2 math labs Pattern Palooza and Elemetrics, as well as, our 3-5 Shape Shifter City Learning Lab. These labs focus on the creative concepts in geometry, measurement and spatial reasoning.  We show math as being approachable and especially achievable for children that struggle with traditional approaches to math concepts. 

Pattern Palooza allows kids to begin their discovery of spatial reasoning using pattern blocks and shape manipulatives, allowing them to develop better mental rotation through play style practice. The Math for Young Children research-based lessons developed in Toronto, Canada help to promote the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics belief that, “spatial reasoning should be a large focus of pre-K to 8th grade math education.”  Just like these research-based lessons utilized by this test group, at the Science Mill we’ve created an exploratory lab that “set kids on a challenge and lets them figure out how to put the blocks together.” This fun investigation of shape manipulation allows kids to discuss basic positional language while beginning to develop a great sense of spatial reasoning and mental rotation. This is further amplified in the 3-5 Shape Shifter City lab where kids are asked design and create 3D structures from 2D nets. 

During our Elemetrics lab, children develop an understanding of measurement through kinesthetic learning experiences and have fun along the way by allowing their natural curiosity to guide their mathematical discoveries. Being able to construct an intuitive understanding of the world around them is huge for kids, especially for those who may struggle to be successful in more traditional settings. These concepts continue to be explored in our Pattern Palooza lab and Shape Shifter City lab. Our approach to spatial reasoning and math concepts helps build confidence and understanding in a creative environment.

By broadening students’ exposure to different types of activities other than those typically considered to be “math,” we’ve seen genuine surprise, ah-ha moments, and great enjoyment from teachers, parents and students alike.  These labs also lend themselves to simple extensions in the classroom or at home that could include numeracy and number line concepts in relation to basic geometric reasoning. The hope is that the success (wins) achieved in these style of labs with further encourage young learners to be confident in their math skills in higher grade levels.

For more information “Why Spatial Reasoning is Crucial for Early Math Education” please read the complete article presented on KQED’s educational blog Mind/Shift.


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