Friday, June 13, 2014

Discovery Museums

A few notes about discovery museums.

"Teaching is manipulation of the environment such that
learning happens."    --- Kangichy Welle

When we moved to the West Coast, I immediately joined up with the Exploratorium.  I had been teaching in Micronesia for some 25 years, had been aware of the Exploratorium, even seen many of the cool stuff on the web, but yearned to visit these places of learning.  We also joined up with the California Academy of Sciences.   Eventually, we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and managed to get a membership there.   We have not yet visited Chabot.  We have visited the Lawrence Hall of Science, however, a number of times.  Many more I hope to visit this summer: one of them is the Intel Museum.  I was able to visit the San Franscisco Bay Model: Wow!  

Each of these sites is unique.   Incomparable.

I cannot believe, however, that NONE of these sites has a really nice magnifying glass---a simple loupe---of moderate price, for sale.  All manner of trinkets and scientific curiosities are on sale, some of them for exhorbitant prices, others more reasonable.   Someone is missing the point, here.  Everyone.   In Micronesia, we learned that a simple, high quality magnifying glass can provide hours of exploratory fun.   I have carried a reasonable one, most of the time, and used it for research and the equivalent of web surfing.

Nows the time to ponder: what has happened to these exploratory museums?  To our consciousness?  


Fe has had several opportunities to observe young children at the Exploratorium.  She has decided not to take them back for a while.  I wondered about her thoughts.   I have thoughts of my own.  I've observed, even for kids a few years older, that scientifically well-thought out demonstrations or exhibits are often lost in a hyperkinetic button pushing mode of exploration.   I'll be the first to admit that I have often sold kids short---I am amazed at how much they pick up along the way, when paying NO ATTENTION AT ALL (as far as I can tell).

Still, I wonder about the layout of the new Exploratorium.  I have been privy to conversations by Adults, in which the new layout is touted as really, really effective.  But how does it work for little ones?

Fe makes the point that the lives of these kids can be greatly enriched by the kinds of learning that is promised by these discovery museums.  But she waxed upon her sense, about the Exploratorium this morning.   Here are some notes:
  • kids cannot focus amid the jostling.
  • it's too crowded
  • parents should be able to relax and watch as the kids explore: they cannot
  • the layout is too confining [my word], encourages collisions and interference, and not focus and concentration
  • as the kids start to focus, the barrage of other kids and the generally confining conditions turn it into playtime.
  • kids are curious, but at young age their concentration is easily interrupted.
  • It's like a buffet: all the food is there, but you don't have time to make your selection, or really taste the food.  

She felt the Academy of Sciences is (CAS) more open and welcoming.  The kids really like it.   For my part, I thought the level of many CAS activities is more mature, but there are lots of really amazing things to explore.

Moving on, we need to work on Nature Deficit Syndrome.