Children's Museum: Critical Analysis of the Exhibit.
For many young children, family visits to local science museums or zoos are commonplace events in their lives. The increasing popularity of science museums as sites of choice for family recreation and learning is affirmed by the surge in construction of new children's museums and continued increases in science museum attendance rates in the U.S. (Association of Children's Museums, 2009). Children's museums commonly include exhibits that focus on both sciences content and process skills. In 1975, there were approximately 38 children's museums in America while 243 exist today. Furthermore, an additional 78 children's museums are currently in the planning stage throughout the country.
Similarly, museum attendance in the U.S. has increased to the point where it is estimated that one in five Americans visited a science museum in 2008 (Association of Science and Technology Centres, 2009). Families account for more than half of science museum visitors and many science museums have developed special exhibits and programming for young children. Such exhibits and programming are costly investments for both science museums and families on tight budgets in these economic times. I recently visited one such museum exhibit with my family. This is a description of my visit to a children museum exhibit.
Children's Museum Exhibit Design.
The design of the Museum Exhibit is an important part of the exhibit. Museum professionals including designers, educators, and evaluators strive to develop exhibits that "do more than entertain" (Allen, 17-33). The design of this exhibit was user friendly as stated by Allen who provided her perspective on recent design and evaluation research at her science museum. She discussed many examples of how exhibits were designed and redesigned to facilitate science learning and the types of learning outcomes that were studied. Allen identified four characteristics of successful educational exhibits: immediate apprehend ability, physical interactivity, conceptual coherence, and broad appeal. These four characteristics mainly stem from a user-cantered design approach and efforts to make the conceptual foundations and applications of exhibit content explicit to visitors.
The Children Museum exhibit enhanced my knowledge as well as provided recreation. The design of this exhibit was multi-sided (i.e., exhibits included three dimensional components), multi-user (i.e., multiple users could interact with exhibit components at one time), multi-outcome (i.e., exhibits allowed visitors to pick and choose which exhibit content to explore), multi-modal (i.e. exhibit components invited visitors to use different learning modalities: visual, auditory, tactile, orkinesthetic), readable, and relevant. This type of designs are user friendly and are most effective exhibits for promoting desired learning behaviours among families. Previous research studies also found that such exhibits allowed family visitors to interact with the exhibits and each other in a manner that was more suitable for their individual needs and interests.
Like majority of visitors my motivation, to attend the museum exhibit was more recreational than learning. Mostly visitor attend museums for many different reasons; which impact what they do and learn on their visits. Falk (108-111) used interviews, questionnaires, and a modified concept mapping technique called personal meaning mapping to determine how the personal agendas, that is, the motivations and visit strategies, of 40 adult visitors affected their learning at a geology exhibition at a natural history museum. He also documented six different categories of motivations representing the full range of perceptions people have about museums and their potential for leisure and learning. Interestingly, they noted that most visitors have more than one motivation for visiting museums (Falk, 1998). In general, individuals with strong educational motivations show significant conceptual learning while individuals with strong entertainment motivations show significant vocabulary development. Individuals with both strong educational and strong entertainment motivations show significant vocabulary and conceptual development. Furthermore, visitors with strong educational motivations spend longer periods of time in exhibits compared to visitors with weak educational motivations.
Museum enhanced my knowledge and it proved recreational for me. There was a slide show for children before visiting the science playground. It helped to motivate the children and enhanced their curiosity and interest. Kubota and Olstad (225-234) compared exploratory behaviour and post-visit knowledge of 64 sixth-grade children from intact classes at one school who visited a science playground at a science centre. This relevant pre-visit orientation helped children…