Curriculum Written Solely by Chris

Upon arriving at the Mid-America Air Museum, Chris inherited a series of planned field trips, only one of which had been fleshed out. One of the unwritten tours was an art and design tour. This one was exceedingly difficult to plan as the vision for it needed narrowing down (originally it focused on art, design, and technology) and it was a difficult subject to marry with the Air Museum’s focus.

In the resulting experience, instructors can start by introducing students to pre-visit materials that discuss planes as art, art/design on planes, and nose art on the B-24 bombers that trained in Liberal in World War II. At the museum, students exercise “another side of their brain” by looking at the aircraft as collections of artistic elements. Depending on their age, students either color or design aircraft in response to prompts that have them consider the relationship between those artistic elements and how a plane is perceived.

Given a subject matter (weather), a title ("Weather: Myths and Mysteries"), a timeline (1 month) and the goal of matching a field trip and lesson plans to Next Generation Science Standards for third grade, Chris took the lead in creating this field trip and lesson plans for the Cosmosphere.

"Weather: Myths and Mysteries" is a 3rd grade field trip experience that can be easily adjusted to groups of different sizes thanks to its built-in rotations. For the lesson plans, Chris interpreted data sets from NOAA and the National Weather Service, created graphics from scratch, and created physical pieces to accompany the program as well. One of the largest challenges was connecting seemingly-unconnected math, science, and writing standards to weather in a coherent set of lesson plans. Click on the gallery to see parts of the lesson plans and read further explanations.

Curriculum Co-Written by Chris

The Mid-America Air Museum had planned a series of themed field trips shortly before Chris joined the staff. The only one of these which had been fleshed out was the science-focused tour.

Working within a structure the volunteers at the Mid-America Air Museum were already accustomed to, Chris revised the tour portion to improve its focus. Chris also improved the “lecture” portion to better fit with the tour, and provided age-differentiation to the hands-on portion. With an eye toward marketing the experience, Chris also changed the inclusion of generic paper airplanes to a design made just for the museum (modeled after the historic “Flying Pancake” since Liberal, Kansas hosts a yearly pancake race in conjunction with a Olney, England).

"Apollo 13 Redux" is a field trip experience that a coworker and Chris wrote while at the Cosmosphere (official description here, some social media of it here, and a news article about it here).

Given the directive of creating a fast-paced field trip that would foster creative thinking and teamwork in response to an imaginary problem with an Apollo mission, Theresa and Chris researched and designed the experience based on actual NASA reports. Their deadline was 3 months as they worked around the Cosmosphere's staff-intensive camp season. They also collected or created public domain graphics as necessary and even physical components when needed. The gallery, right, showcases the work. More detailed explanations are here. Photos of the program are from the Hutchinson News (source here).

Exhibit Work by Chris

New Exhibits Designed

Shortly after arriving at The Mid-America Air Museum, Chris embarked on a project to improve the displays of the historical progenitor of the museum: the Liberal Army Airfield. This was a new responsibility and required using the design experience he’d picked up through other work, matching observations he’d made about other museums’ displays, and creating a simple proposal of the concept.

Some of the choices in creating the exhibit included how much of the existing content to keep, and how to organize the content to fit a narrative structure that would make the exhibit flow smoothly between topics. As the Liberal Army Airfield trained B-24 pilots, but the Mid-America Air Museum does not have a B-24, Chris chose to have the muralist paint a full-scale bomber on the existing panels. This both kept costs down by using existing materials but also helped give a sense of the massive bombers’ scale.

Improving Existing Exhibits

Chris learned how to move 3 different weight classes and 2 different types of aircraft at the Mid-America Air Museum, a new-to-him practice which had to be learned on the fly. He used this to improve the ordering of the collection—highlighting aircraft features and relationships for visitors on both guided tours and casual visits. A secondary benefit included improving the overall feel of the museum when spacing between aircraft could be increased. Chris worked with the maintenance staff to move aircraft so they could reach light fixtures as needed.

Chris also gave volunteers new guidelines to rewrite the existing placards to make them less reliant on technical specifications and use more stories relating to the aircraft. He provided a new template for the design and coordinated with a new volunteer to translate the text into Spanish as well.

Artifact Acquisition

The Mid-America Air Museum struggled to display B-24 related items because of those objects’ rarity and the difficulty in effectively connecting small pieces to these massive bombers in the minds of patrons. Chris accidentally discovered a turbocharger on eBay of the model used on both B-17s and B-24s. This large artifact was a critical piece of technology that enabled the bombers’ high-altitude mission so was an excellent acquisition for scientific and historic reasons, it was also produced by Allis-Chalmers (which would resonate well with visitors in Southwest Kansas), and the fact it was a turbocharger appealed to Liberal’s strong car tuning culture.

Chris worked with the seller (in the UK) and an outside foundation to purchase the turbocharger, a freight company to ship the artifact, and a customs broker to bring the turbocharger into the US. He designed a stand for it that could be easily moved in the future with a pallet jack and coordinated with a volunteer to weld it. Chris also collected references to turbochargers that actually came from the Liberal Army Airfield for the displays. Finally, it was placed near the recently completed mural of a B-24 Chris had overseen, in a location corresponding to its actual installation on the bomber.

Research Conducted by Chris:


Per the invitation of a political science professor at his alma mater, Chris researched and published an academic encyclopedia article on Dwight D. Eisenhower and his use of deception and lying in war and politics, available as:

Givan, Christopher and Tobias T. Gibson. “Dwight Eisenhower.” Encyclopedia of Lying and DeceptionTimothy R. Levine and J. Geoffrey Golson, eds. SAGE Reference, 2014.


Historical Event


After reading a NASA report on an attempt to recover early manned rockets, Chris combed through contemporary NASA reports, historical photos of Navy operations, and other miscellaneous sources to find:

  1. Why the project was abandoned, including that:

    1. Recovery of boosters was deemed inessential

      1. The "moon race" elevated other priorities

  2. What Navy vessels were involved in the project:

    1. Based on descriptions and photographic evidence, probably the USS Fort Snelling

  3. The possible disposition of the booster used in the test

  4. Other early recovery plans including for the Atlas rocket, Saturn I rocket, and Titan II

The research turned into a full blog post, linked here.


With the discovery of paintings Olive Beech, of Beechcraft fame, had given to a Celeste and John Patton, Chris read through contemporary newspaper mentions of the couple as well as mentions on to figure out how she would have known the two and why she gave them the painting. Although nothing was telling, the couple did live interesting lives and the painting they received was from an interesting project. Details are here.


Other Projects by Chris

Interactive: Fairbairn Crane


Chris built this interactive crane for the public library's summer celebration (theme: "Build a Better World"). He intentionally designed it to be cheap but durable, made mainly of layered cardboard. To give it appealing aesthetics, it was modeled after the graceful shape of a Fairbairn steam crane and featured both a hoist and hydraulic swinging arm. More pictures here.

Facade: Pirate Ship

This facade was commissioned to hide a donation bin for a pirate themed "Trunk or Treat" event. Chris researched different types of ships to model it after, settling on a caravel because the donation bin was rather tall. Constructed of layered cardboard, the total cost of the ship was $0 thanks to the use of available materials. More pictures here.


Programming by Chris

Chris had learned some C in high school, so he used online tutorials and forums to extend that into a working knowledge of C++ for a new project. His goal was to provide a system which could use face detection to automatically assess the attentiveness of participants in a museum setting. Besides doing academic reading on eye-tracking and attention, Chris had to learn C++ tools, the Boost and FFMpeg libraries, and design the system to work automatically for already-busy educators and docents. Instead of tackling the complex needs of today's security risks, the system relies on existing, free, third-party tools for transferring data. A (partial) video showing setup and the basic results returned is to the right.