HGS at the 2021 Houston Gem & Mineral Show
by Janet Combes, Houston Museum of Natural Science Committee Co-Chair
On November 12-14, 2021, the annual Houston Gem and Mineral Show was held again this year – after it was cancelled last year for the first time in over 60 years due to COVID – and the Houston Geological Society once again hosted an outreach booth. Although the local school districts did not permit field trips that typically bring several thousand kids on Friday, 97 private school students and 660 home schooled children did come on Friday with specified stops at the HGS booth. On Saturday there were 83 scouts working on geology badges with the HGS booth as a designated part of the process. Total attendance at the HGMS 2021 show was: 3329 paid + 385 teachers/parents + 757 kids = 4471. Paid attendance per day was 739 on Friday, 1638 on Saturday, and 952 on Sunday.
This year to limit contact during the pandemic – no 3D maps with no shared 3D glasses and no shared hand lenses– but geology posters and rocks to look at and samples to take home and geologists to talk with were there at the HGS booth. To further limit contact, a plastic cover was laid over the specimens, so only the barite and rock salt samples were exposed. Hopefully, next year we will be able to let people see and touch the specimens and use hand lenses.
(Above) HGS posters on what geologists do
(Above) Rock display layout
HGS booth volunteers at the HGMS show included: Alan Foley, Greg Zelewski, Steve Johansen, Nancy Engelhardt-Moore, Huw James, Michelle Pittenger, Ken Wiliams, Sarah Heinlein, Paul Riegler, Janet Combes, and Ken Green. Other volunteers wanted to participate but couldn’t due to travel or COVID restrictions.
It was quiet until the late morning on Friday. However, about noon, people started moving through the area. The volunteers talked to them either by the posters, handout specimens or the displayed rocks. One-bag of Rock Salt or Barite Rose per family or group was distributed in order to make sure the samples lasted through the weekend. All afternoon, there was a small, but steady stream of parents and kids. As one of the volunteers said “We enjoyed our interactions and everyone was interested in the Rock Salt specimens. A few kids really wanted to taste the Salt. So, we had to come up with ideas to discourage the boys from licking them. We did! I enjoyed speaking with the parents about energy and the kids about salt”. The new Career Poster also attracted lots of interest from the parents - it was a big hit (see poster HERE(link is external)). At least 2-docents were needed, since there usually were multiple families interested in our items.
A large number of Scout groups came through on Saturday. The HGS display posters addressed the questions that the Scouts needed to answer. The volunteers only needed to direct them toward the appropriate posters and let them go at it. Then they followed up with some Q&A time.
(Above) Visitors and HGS volunteers at the HGS display
A popular HGS activity at the HGMS show is the distribution of rock samples. John and Dawn Jordan had donated some pieces of barite rose that were given away and were very popular. The Hockley Salt Mine gives the HGS several hundred pounds of rock salt every year or two on request. HGS volunteers then break the large pieces into fist sized pieces and put them in baggies (to resist Houston humidity) – and include labels. There was a “salt party” on October 17 this year to break up and sort and bag the donated salt to use as give-aways at the HGMS show and other outreach events. Seven HGS volunteers and two others – Jim Tucker, Nancy Engelhardt-Moore, Xiuju Liu, Marsha Bourque, Steve Johansen, Dianna Phu, Trinity Phu, Paul Riegler, and Janet Combes - spent several hours banging on the salt rock and putting pieces into baggies and making the labels – and separating out some of the pieces with salt crystals for give-aways to teachers. These samples will also be used for other outreach events through the year.
At the HGMS show visitors given salt specimen baggies were encouraged to note the color and translucency of the salt, the shape of the crystals, the strength/weakness of the salt, to stroke on the crystal faces & edges, to note the ability to scratch the crystal faces with fingernails and then to guess the rock substance. This proved to be empowering and raised many smiles on the children's faces.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science volunteers had volunteers with various take-home activities at the tables adjacent to the HGS display tables. The groups interacted frequently.
(Above) Bag of salt from Hockley
(Above) Sample salt baggie
(Above) Salt piece with a crystal