Archive for the 'Programs and classes' Category

Crime Scene Insects mini-camp

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

The "crime scene"! (Trust me, you don't want to see a close-up!)

We’ve introduced a pretty unorthodox summer camp for middle school-aged kids this summer: CSI: Crime Scene Insects. Clearly, awareness of crime scene investigation is on the rise, as evidenced by the popularity of many TV shows (CSI, NCIS, Bones, and many more) with this focus. But beyond entertainment, forensic investigations can create a context for engaging students in science and mathematics (disciplines where many U.S. students lag behind those in other countries). So we’re jumping on the bandwagon (or maybe I should say coroner’s van?) to make science and math interesting, challenging, and fun through forensics.

I had the privilege of meeting Dr. M. Lee Goff in the summer of 2004, when the museum where I worked hosted an exhibit about forensic entomology (loosely translated: the study of insects as they pertain to the law and crime investigation). Dr. Goff is one of the foremost forensic entomologists in the world and is the person on which the Gil Grissom character of CSI is based. Dr. Goff consulted with me on the creation of a forensic entomology program, which I have refined and re-introduced here as a three-day long “mini-camp” for students between 5th and 8th grades.

For the camp, students learn about the various species of arthropods that aid in the recycling of remains back to the environment. The arrival of these species to bodies, human or animal, follows predictable patterns and durations. With consideration to the variables present at each crime scene (temperature, relative humidity, and more), an accurate time frame since the death event can be determined for remains.

CSI mini-camp students use a field guide to identify insects

CSI mini-camp students observe insects under the video microscope

During the camp, the students try to determine the “time since death” for two case studies based on insect specimens we collect from the rats and identify with the aid of a microscope. To create our “crime scene,” we placed humanely euthanized rats (sold at the pet store as reptile food) in cages to prevent larger scavengers from accessing the remains, and allowed the insects and other arthropods do their work. The first fly arrived within 7 minutes of placing the first rat outside.

Yes, it can be “gross” and yes, the smell at the end of the bloat stage can be pretty strong, but the process of decay is fascinating. Our civilized society has made decomposition a taboo subject of conversation, not talked about or even acknowledged. Certainly, very few of us have observed decomposition beyond accidentally coming across a deceased critter while on a hike. Death is a scary and uncomfortable subject, but it is part of life and decomposition is a natural process. Sometimes, a scary subject is more so because we lack knowledge about it, and I think we are helping to lift the veil off this taboo subject. The students in our camp now have more knowledge about this part of the cycle of life and death, and we snuck lessons in science and math, too.

If you are in town and wish to see our “crime scene,” stop by the Museum during our regular business hours! The next session of “Crime Scene Insects” is June 28-30.


Dog-gone fun education

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

Monte the Service Dog makes a new friend

Surprise, surprise, no pooper-scoopers needed around here last week! We celebrated Poudre School District’s Spring Break with a series of canine guest presenters, and every one of the dogs was very well behaved: not a single indoor lift of the leg in the bunch.

Actually, all of the dogs are highly trained working dogs, no couch-potato pooches in the bunch. They brought with them knowledgeable humans who shared stories of the jobs these dogs do, helping people. If you missed them, come in the week of March 30 – April 2 when all of our guests return during Thompson School District’s Spring Break.

The common theme among all the canines (Shadow the Arson Dog, Monte the Service Dog, K9 Officer Ace, and Skid the Search and Rescue Dog) is DRIVE. Each dog is driven to receive rewards for performing their trained tasks. For some of the dogs, like Shadow the Arson Dog, their reward is food. The only time Shadow is fed is when he successfully identifies accelerants. That means Firefighter Mike Manzo, Shadow’s handler, has to practice with Shadow about five times per day with actual accelerants so that Shadow can eat – directly from Firefighter Manzo’s hand, in order to build trust. For others, like Skid and Ace, the reward is a toy. Skid clearly lives for his tug-of-war rope, while Officer Ace has a heavy-weight, fabric chew toy that “hides” in his handler Officer Rob Knab’s back packet.

Each of the dogs is incredibly focused as well. For example, Monte the Service Dog must ignore all distractions (food, happy children, squirrels) to be safe for his human, Rich Dixon, to handle. For example, if Monte was tethered to Rich’s wheelchair and became interested in chasing the neighbor’s cat, he could pull Rich’s chair over, a very dangerous turn of events for Rich, no pun intended. Officer Ace watched his handler so carefully that, even when in a “stay”, if a suspect were to attack one of the police officers Ace would immediately leap into action and bite the suspect without a command!

Here are a few stories about our special guests:

Shadow the Arson Dog can detect 96 known accelerants with his nose. He goes to over 100 fire scenes every year to determine if accelerants were used by arsonists. Although he wasn’t trained to do this, he also once rescued a small dog hiding under a desk after a burglar had set fire to the building in which the dog was hiding.

Shadow the Arson Dog demonstrates his amazing nose

Monte the Service Dog can hear a pencil drop, even in another room, and retrieve it for Rich. If the pencil rolls under a desk, between electric cords, Monte can still get it without disturbing any cords (because, of course, if he tried to move a cord with his mouth, that could be very bad for him!). Monte is trained to perform up to 70 tasks for his mobility-limited companion Rich. Many service dogs are the sole reason their handlers can live independent lives, and have their own homes and jobs.

Monte the Service Dog loves to have his tummy rubbed

The Fort Collins PD does not use German Shepherds because of the risk of hip dysplasia in that breed. Instead, the corps of 4 canine officers includes a Belgian Malinois, a Dutch Shepherd, and one that is German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois mix. All of the dogs are super social. When they “attack” a suspect, they are actually having fun. As the police officers said, watch the dogs’ wagging tails and you’ll know the truth – these dogs are playing!

Officer Ace the Police Dog is having fun, but is the "suspect"?

Skid the Search and Rescue Dog is still working on his certification. So far, he has had 250 search and rescue “tests” – and he has located his lost hiker EVERY TIME. He and his owner, Jill Reynolds, are volunteers and put in many hours of training to do this. Jill selected Skid as an 8-week-old puppy to do this with her, but the way I heard the story is that the little fluff-ball Australian Shepherd may have picked her, jumping into her lap.

Skid the Search and Rescue Dog is working the crowd

Do we think dogs are amazing? Yeah. We really do.

(If you’d like to see more photos from our Dog-Gone Fun Spring Break, go to our Facebook page and check out the Photos section.)

Meet Slinky!

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator, and Michelle Brannon, Slinky Wrangler

This is me (Slinky) and my friend Toby, the K-12 Education Coordinator at the Museum

Slinky the snake is our Museum’s wonderful ambassador, semi-official mascot, and headliner of our live animal collection. You can meet Slinky and our other animals (including Sergey the Russian tortoise, Josie the rat, and some really neat insects) this Saturday from 11 am to 2 pm during our Meet the Animals program. Michelle Brannon takes care of Slinky and our other animals, and she offered to translate a blog post from Slinky to the world. So, here goes!

My name is Slinky. I’m a ball python, and my species is native to parts of Africa. I’ve never actually been to Africa, but I hear it’s a pretty neat place. I was born in captivity, which means that ever since I hatched out of my egg, I’ve been handled by people. I’ve learned that people are super nice and I love to meet new ones all the time! If I haven’t met you before, there’s a problem. You absolutely MUST come visit me! I used to live in Discovery Science Center, but I’ve moved with them to the Fort Collins Museum building in Old Town Fort Collins. I have this really big new house that is just perfect for me! It would be great if you could come check it out sometime. My favorite place is under the big log in the middle, so look for me there if I’m not out on the floor meeting you face to face.

As for what I’ve been up to lately, I’ve been supervising and entertaining the field trip groups that come to visit the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center, digesting my latest rat, and planning this blog. It’s been on my mind for a while now, let me tell you. I tried to type it myself, but I got a tail cramp. I’m learning how to type by using Twitter, but this blog is a bit longer than 140 characters. My human friends are helping me out this time around. Can you get carpel tunnel in your tail? I’ll have to ask my vet on my next visit.

Oh, my Twitter account! You guys really should check that out. I normally update it once or twice a week (I’m a little slow, not having any hands). I like to talk about upcoming events at the Museum, and share amazing facts about my favorite subject, snakes. If you want to know exactly what’s going on around here, you need to follow me. You’ll also get some random musings from inside the tank, which we all know is pretty dang cool. How many of you can say you know exactly what a snake is thinking when he’s thinking it? Share the love, becoming a Slinky follower! There’s a link at the bottom of this blog that will direct you to my Twitter page.

That’s about it for me. I would love to write more blogs, so if you liked this one, leave me a comment here, or send me a message on my Twitter page. Ask me questions, or just give me topics to discuss. I’m really getting into this internet thing, so if you ask, I’ll answer! Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you around my tank soon!


Museums and Native American Awareness Month

by Cory Gundlach, Exhibit Designer

iPhone pics 103In honor of Native American Awareness Month, I’d like to share a recent experience I had at the Exhibit Museum of Natural History at the University of Michigan. “Native American Dioramas in Transition” includes fourteen dioramas on Native American cultures, each of which now includes contextual information far beyond the institutional didactics that first accompanied the exhibit over fifty years ago.  In order to give you a general sense of the environment that surrounds this exhibit, I think it’s helpful to know a little bit about the museum itself. From the densely ornate rotunda, a grand stairway leads to exhibits on the upper levels.  The second floor has exhibits on prehistoric life, the third—Michigan wildlife, and the fourth—anthropology, geology, a planetarium, education room, gallery for temporary exhibits, and administrative offices. As you enter the fourth floor, “Native American Dioramas in Transition” is the first thing you see.  It is predominantly modular in design, composed of two horizontal registers built into the wall. Each includes seven dioramas, one above the other.  The exhibit basically exists in the hallway leading to other galleries and offices, although on the far right end of the installation, disconnected from the dioramas, there is a supplementary display of contemporary quotes.  These are comments taken from the public, ranging from elementary school students, their aides and teachers, to PhDs who work at the university and elsewhere.  These comments are also superimposed over and around the dioramas.  They are brightly colored and simply designed, and they dominate the exhibit—both visually and contextually.  In some cases, they obstruct the view into the diorama:

I like the dioramas because you can see new things that are different from what you’ve already seen.  Native American people used different things than we do.  They had different houses and foods, probably because they couldn’t find as many things as we have and maybe because they couldn’t pay for them.

–Liam Coolican, Third Grader, Bach Elementary, Ann Arbor

iPhone pics 076The original dioramas are well-crafted, romantic interpretations of indigenous cultures, dating to 1959.  They are what you would expect from a big expensive university museum whose entry is flanked by the dusty white marble busts of its founding fathers. As you stoop down to gaze into some of these little boxes, you can just imagine yourself among the nude and scantily clad Indians going about their daily business, thanks to Dr. Robert S. Butsch, “a zoologist and museum preparator of European descent.”  Superimposed over the diorama on the Haida, portrayed within the idyllic landscape on the Northwest Coast, a sticker label reads, “Who Tells the Story?”, and the other, “Native Americans were not consulted when these dioramas were made.”

iPhone pics 104Another reads,

Do Indians Belong with Dinosaurs?

Visitors arrive at the dioramas after passing by extinct dinosaurs, stuffed animals, and an endangered species exhibit.  Some museum visitors, especially children, get the impression that Native Americans are just like the dinosaurs—extinct. Or that they are somehow “primitive” because they are displayed with wildlife.

It is critical to note that after fifty years, this exhibit will soon close—dioramas and all. This comes after years of feedback from the public. But rather than simply remove what has been an embarrassment for some time, the museum had the foresight and humility to recontextualize this embarrassment into a contemporary dialogue on the politics of display, which, in this case, literally “puts people in a box.”  This colonial gaze as method of display sits beside a text panel that advocates the cooperation of museums with indigenous peoples. A specific example is provided that takes place at the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, on the Saginaw—Chippewa Indian Tribe Reservation.

I left the exhibit feeling transformed, inspired, and challenged.  I felt challenged to become more engaged in cultural exchange and the dialogue that informs the representation of indigenous culture.  As an exhibit designer at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center, I feel lucky to have a role in these processes, by way of making mounts for objects and interactives, and assisting with programs that advocate the integration of indigenous expression into everyday life. This month, on First Friday, FCM&DSC hosted the Northern Cree singers, originating from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation of northern Alberta.  It too was a transforming experience.  What the performance lacked in lighting was more than made up for in sound, and I think perhaps the sound was more powerfully expressed because of it.  In only three songs, I was deeply moved. Nearly to tears in fact.  After the first song, a statement was given about how the public receives the music of the Northern Cree. While many have never heard it, it is somehow familiar, and this deepNorthern Cree familiarity is the power that unites humanity. The next day I was lucky enough to see Northern Cree (who performed three times) and many others perform at the 27th Annual Pow-Wow at Colorado State University. This performance came just after I witnessed Kevin Locke’s hoop dance and flute songs at Laurel Elementary. As I reflect on the emotions that overcame me at both performances, above all I feel proud to be a part of an institution that advocates indigenous culture. While November may be the only sanctioned month in which to raise awareness of First Peoples, it is of course by no means the only month to do so.  Even as museums spearhead this cultural campaign, it is critical to engage within them to ensure that issues of cultural representation are part of a broad public dialogue.  What took the Exhibit Museum nearly fifty years to realize, and then publicly address, is an excellent example of how public engagement effects change in museums, and therefore the public at large. I would like to welcome the public to meet this challenge and opportunity as the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center continues to develop exhibits and programs that stem from the advocacy of indigenous expression as one of the core values of the institution.  Participate in museum programs and cultural centers, go to Pow-Wows, and celebrate the opportunity to be a part of something beautiful, enriching, and powerful.

For more information on “Native American Dioramas in Transition,” go to

For the Director’s comment, got to

To contribute to a discussion on the exhibit, go to

Northern Cree Singers

Kevin Locke

Scat, cat!

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education


Not five feet from my front door, my mom and I spotted this nice pile of scat one recent morning. My family and I live just west of Windsor. The Poudre River is a few miles to the east of their house. The landscape is mostly scrubby fields dotted between the manicured and well-watered lawns of several housing areas. The neighborhood itself is hopping with cottontail rabbits. Out for a walk with my dog last night, I counted eight rabbits. That’s a great buffet just waiting for a carnivore right there.

One carnivore, the bobcat, will eat “anything that moves,” but it’s generally believed that they prefer cottontails. After consulting a scat field guide (not to mention viewing the little hairs impacted in the scat), I think the scat we found is from a bobcat. Given the choice of prey all around the area, it makes a lot of sense.

I love the fact that at some point one night, while my family slept, a bobcat walked right by the front door. If not for the deposit that bobcat left, we would never have known. We spend so much time viewing “deposits” left by people (buildings, roads, billboards) on the landscape that we forget about all the ways animals leave signs of their passing, too. Fur and feathers; tracks and scratch-marks; nests and egg shells; burrows and of course scat … it’s all there for us to see! We may not get to observe the animals that actually left those things but how wondrous that we can see the evidence of their presence if we just keep our eyes open.

Every second Saturday of month (and this one is coming right up), the Museum hosts two programs: Meet the Animals and Tracks, Scat and Fur. At Meet the Animals, our visitors can interact with some of the animals from our living collections. At Tracks, Scat and Fur, visitors can see the tracks and scat of many of the mammals of our region, and kids can make their own track “field guide” to take home. It’s a great way for people to learn how to “match the evidence” with the “culprit,” if you will!

The Knee-High Knapsack Club starts July 7

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

Conducting investigations in history or science requires skills of observation. The weekly Knee-High Knapsack Club early childhood program encourages children ages 3-6 to make sense of the things around them. 

Together with their caregivers, children ages 3-6 will use their five senses to engage in educational play — sorting, categorizing, and classifying by sight, sound, smell, taste and touch — abilities that are essential as children move from early childhood into school age and beyond, maybe even laying the groundwork for careers as historians and scientists! 
The Knee-High Knapsack Club will be held every Tuesday from July 7 through August 11, beginning at 10:00 am and ending at 10:45. The program is free with paid admission. 

For more information about this program, please contact the Museum at 970-221-6738.

Final installment (for now) of the Fort Collins Memory Project

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

KarlMeissnerOur last story from the inaugural Fort Collins Memory Project workshop comes from Lew Arlen Meissner, whose family, like many in this area, were Germans from Russia. Enjoy his story here, and if you missed any of the previous four stories, browse back through the last month and be sure to check them out too.

Fourth installment of the Fort Collins Memory Project

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

This week’s story of immigration from the Fort Collins Memory Project comes from Kathy Moddelmog, who recalls her parents’ move to Fort Collins after being married in Chickasha, Oklahoma. Read her story here, and be sure to enjoy the previous stories too (look in the “Oral history & oral tradition” category over on the right for links to the other stories).


Third installment of the Fort Collins Memory Project

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

The third installment of the Fort Collins Memory Project comes from Stan Schilling and Marol Klein-Goodwin — stories of hard work growing up on the farm (beets for Stan, wheat for Marol) and the strong traditions of the Germans from Russia, including music and dancing the Dutch Hop. Find Stan and Marol’s story here.

A truck load of beets heads to the beet dump

A truck load of beets heads to the beet dump

Second installment of the Fort Collins Memory Project

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

edward-garbuttThis week’s story from the Fort Collins Memory project comes from Ann Garbutt Ryan, whose ancestors were early immigrants to the Laporte area. Enjoy Ann’s story here, and if you missed last week’s debut story, you can find it here.

March 2023

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