Interactive Exhibit Philosophy

Mark WalhimerInteractive Exhibit Philosophy Leave a Comment

I came across an excellent article by Kthryne McGrath. Below is an excerpt:

“By setting up a problem to be solved, demanding interaction, producing effects from direct actions and allowing variations of approach, cognitive development in children is enhanced. Hands-On Children’s Museums encourage contextually relevant reasoning. These museums are successful, concrete examples of interactive, participatory learning. As reflected in their interactive exhibits, the combination of a realistic setting and the use of objects that belong in that setting is being recognized as an important educational development. Their continued and increasing popularity is unprecedented and the framework used so successfully in the museum context can be translated into the elementary classroom. A study of 259 Children’s Museums in the United States was undertaken by the author to examine what kinds of similarities existed in this type of museum. Research questions addressed demographics, exhibit type, interactivity, and success and educational programs. This paper analyzes portions of that data in order to propose an outline for creating an equally successful interactive environment in elementary classrooms.

American educational practice has generally been based on the premise that knowledge is something that can be transmitted directly from teachers to students. Although practitioners attempt to develop new ways of transmitting knowledge, early childhood theorists have always disagreed with any concept of passive learning. The body of current early childhood literature strongly encourages participatory, hands– on, learner-centered, outcome-based learning. However, even though scholars in the field of early education recommend creating experiences that are participatory and interactive, changes in actual practice are not occurring in the average classroom. Passive, worksheet oriented pedagogy that utilizes traditional content and organization appears more the norm than the exception in many American classrooms. Yet, while our elementary classrooms have been slow to implement true interactive learning strategies, Children’s Museums have been in the vanguard of educational change.

Piagetian theory reminds us that cognitive development stems from action on the environment and interactive learning occurs as a result of assimilation and accommodation of stimuli. According to the position statement of the National Association of Education of Young Children (NAEYC), developmentally appropriate practices such as providing children with concrete learning activities, creating environments which enable children to learn through active exploration and interaction, and designing appropriate activities for different ability levels, all enhance a child’s ability to learn. Hands-on museums effectively utilize interaction with the environment by offering a multiplicity of learning opportunities and presentations styles (Edeiken, 1992). Exhibits in various categories that are based on cognitive objectives (i.e., creating relationships between event and object, encouraging creativity, divergent thinking, understanding general principles) become the basis for exhibit creation. These institutions recognize the importance of structuring the presentation of information to meet a child’s existing base of knowledge so that additional knowledge can be integrated and used by the child (Wadsworth, 1989). The most popular subject matters, Life/Nature Science, Physics, History, Environment and Technology, lend themselves to focused, singular principles or events that can be understood and enjoyed by the participants (Speaker, 1995).

Experts in the field of Hands-On Children’s Museums (Edeiken, 1992; Danilov, 1986; Fisher, 1960; Lewin, 1989;) all point to a connection between this type of museum and the educational implications for children by relying on the premise that children develop intellectually through direct experience. Psychologist Robert Glaser (1984) asserts that interactive inquiry methodology is extremely important in order to teach children to think within the context of the subject matter. The coupling of a realistic setting with the use of objects that belong in that setting and experienced in contextually relevant ways enhances a student’s ability to store information within a contextual framework (Springer and Deutsch, 1981). Jerome Bruner’s work in encouraging inductive reasoning has also influenced the philosophy and creation of interactive exhibits (Bruner, 1966; Seefeldt and Barbour, 1990). Howard Gardner’s work on types of intelligence has led to the creation of interactive exhibits that address a multiplicity of learning styles (Edeiken, 1992). Based upon this research, cognitive -objectives concerning exhibits are delineated with visual, perceptual, kinesthetic and affective strategies as major components. Gardner cites the philosophy and practices of children’s museums as having powerful implications for how schools might design curriculums that elicit students’ deep understanding of material. The participatory kind of thinking that occurs in the context of a children’s museum can occur in any classroom. Teachers should strive to put learning into context. As Ann Lewin (1989), Director of the Capital Children’s Museum, points out, the children’s museum is a model for what could be one cornerstone of the elementary school of the future: children exploring real materials in a context rich with possibilities for learning Methodology. “

For the full article:
Interactive exhibit theory: Hints for implementing learner-centered activities in elementary classrooms
Education, Spring 2001, by Speaker, Kathryne McGrath

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