Museum of Natural History Notes (Part 1)

by ryan

I went to New York City last weekend and besides gorging myself on pizza and french fries, freezing my booty off, and laughing at people falling on the ice skating rink at central park – I went to a couple of museums. The big mama of NY museums is The Museum of Natural History (famous for disrupting Ben Stiller’s innocent attempt to have a slumber party on the grounds). They have all the things that kids sometimes ask us about (dinosaur bones, penguins, sharks) but also seem to have a very interesting relationship with interactivity in exhibits (more to come on this in Pt. 2)

But an interesting thing that I noticed as I walked through the human evolution section was that they also did a DNA extraction. In contrast to our set up however, they had an entire room dedicated to the experience. The facilitator (a high school teacher volunteering on the weekend) basically let the visitors do all the steps of the demonstration. The family that I watched do the experiment seemed independently engaged in the material. Apparently they have school groups schedule the experience in advance sort of like how we might do the tactile dome. It was illuminating to see the same procedure being done in a different way. It got me a little bit more excited about the DNA extraction, wondering if we could try a similar facilitation of giving the kids the instructions and letting them take control of the demo. Another contrast was how high tech and advanced the classrooms and models around were. While we have a industrial looking table and an ancient poster board, they have a shiny new classroom and 3-D models that are larger than life. But while these implements are nice, it seems better to me that we have more freedom and ability to adjust the demo to the group and the mood of the table. I want to write more later on the use of interactive exhibits that I noticed in the museum, but first here are some pictures of the DNA setup.

The instructions are very very similar yet written on a white board for everyone to see.

The classroom allowed separate groups to explore on their own and the colored chais add an important IKEA aesthetic to the experience.

The models were super cool and I especially liked the colors which made the cell look mysterious and beautiful.