Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Relevance and Wonder, Science and History

I've mentioned before that we're working on a project that's a marriage between a local history museum and hands-on science center: the Fort Collins Museum and Discovery Science Center

One of the strategies in terms of exhibit development is leveraging the history to support the science, and science to back up the history. This helps create an environment which is multi-layered, and connection-rich (not to mention a nice match with current educational standards).

Using history to provide context to the science presents the concepts in a real-world manner. Visitors don't tend to experience life in isolated silos of science, history, art, etc. They experience them simultaneously, so this is a familiar fit. 

At the same time, science and scientific phenomena can provide a level of impact and wonder that history can't. The vehicles in science museums tend to be more hands-on.  So we're using the engaging tools of science exhibits to provide attractors to both topics.

On another level, we're using this overlap approach in two other ways. One is that we're fostering connections between global topics and visitors by using local instances of an idea, and vice versa.

The other is by highlighting role models of all ages, shapes, sizes and abilities. This brings a first-person voice to the multitude on the museum floor- it personalizes the experience. It also can have the affect of making seemingly out of reach achievements seem more... acheivable for the average Jill.

The ideal for any cultural institution marriage is to develop a situation where the complementary qualities can come together and create something bigger or better than either could be on their own.

Prior to a new building, the Museum is starting to experiment in the existing museum and via their blog to with these ideas. Take a look!

Monday, December 14, 2009

More about Green Design in Tempe

By Scott Moulton, LEED® AP

[This is a follow up on a previous post on Tempe Historical Museum.]

Beyond the material specifications, another key sustainable strategy we used for Tempe Historical was to design a system for displaying artifacts and telling stories that was easily reconfigurable. The limitations of a single purpose exhibit often lead to a short life span and staff being constrained by whatever assumptions the designers were working with.

For this client we came up a modular design let the museum re theme their exhibits and adapt over time. One design is a system of platforms that support interchangeable graphic stands, artifact displays, and flip books which include visitor's stories. The platforms ties all the modular parts together into a cohesive exhibit and become an organizing element for the museum.

One challenge for this modular approach is creating the appropriate level of interchangeability. A system can become burdened by it's own flexability at a certain point taking on too many features that may never be used. For Tempe we worked hard to insure they had a framework to support the change but the primary goal was to present the artifacts and local history in a compelling way.

Monday, December 7, 2009

New Grant Means Green Exhibit Guidelines Coming

Gyroscope will be participating in a new NSF grant out of OMSI: "Promoting Sustainable Decision Making in Informal Education". It's a two-part project, with part 1 being an exhibit:
"The project responds to calls for broad environmental education of the public in response to environmental crises (such as climate change), and specific research suggesting that even museums that do provide information about such issues rarely help their visitors learn to make the comparisons necessary to make more sustainable choices. For the public audience, the project team will create a 1,500 sq. ft. bilingual (Spanish/English) exhibition to encourage the public to develop skills in making personal choices that affect the sustainability of their community."
Part 2 is geared towards the professional audience, and will consist of guidelines:
"For the professional audience, the team will create a set of tools and indicators for assessing the sustainability of exhibit-development processes, using the triple bottom line of financial, environmental, and social impacts. For example, a Green Exhibit Guide will provide resources and a checklist for exhibit development projects, and will propose field-wide standards analogous to the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system for green buildings. Regional workshops will engage exhibit developers, designers, fabricators, and administrators in using the tools in their own institutions."
Scott Moulton, LEED® AP of our office will be an advisor for the professional audience segment of the grant. We'll post relevant updates as they become published. Congrats to the team!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Green Design in process at the Tempe Historical Museum

By Scott Moulton, LEED®  AP

I thought it would be interesting to use one of our current projects, the Tempe Historical Museum, as an example of some of the different sustainable strategies that we are employing here at Gyroscope. It also gives us an excuse to show off some cool in process photos of an exhibit being built and installed.

Our approach to green design on this project can be found in the way exhibit content was developed: a modular display system that allows for ongoing adaptation, the minimal use of integrated lighting, and in the specification of beautiful, durable green materials.

Today I'll focus on the topic that everyone loves when talking about green design - the materials. Here is a laundry list of some of the interesting materials we used along with their properties.
  • Lyptus Wood - Fast growing variation of eucalyptus that is sustainably forested. Solid wood was used extensively for it's durability.
  • Expanko Cork - Combination of recycled cork and rubber. Cork is a rapidly renewable resource and XCR4 is a very durable flooring material.
  • 3 Form Chroma - translucent plastic material can be re-surfaced and re-colored. 3-form has a program to reclaim material.
  • Wheatboard - a panel material made from a rapidly renewable agricultural resource. Net greenhouse gas contribution during life cycle analysis of wheatboard is negative!
  • Valchromat - a through colored mdf (for durability) using organic dyes. No added formaldehyde, wood fiber from forrest waste.
  • Yemm and Hart plastic - made from recycled plastic detergent bottles 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tinkering & Museums: Part 2

By Justine Roberts

So, why do museums like tinkering?

I started to think about what tinkering offers these museums and realized that it fits into where many science and children’s museums are heading. Tinkering helps to meet the needs of some important forward-looking initiatives:
  • Tinkering is intergenerational - Museums increasingly understand the importance of supporting adults’ active engagement and are looking for experiences that encourage adult participation.
  • Tinkering supports repeat visitors - It is an inherently rich, layered experience. It is easy to customize, and it supports long dwell times. This allows people with a range of abilities and levels of expertise to be successful.
  • Tinkering is interdisciplinary - Tinkering, with its combination of engineering, experimentation, technology, construction, and aesthetics has multiple entry points, is open to diverse play and learning styles, and can have many outcomes.
  • Tinkering develops skills - Whether taking apart an old toaster or building a robot the activity is process-oriented and fosters critical thinking. Such experiences encourage lifelong learning, which is increasingly emphasized by many museums.
  • It is authentic – Whether taking toasters apart or building robots, welding or sewing, tinkering uses real tools and materials. Often it is messy and it certainly could be a little dangerous!
  • Documentation and Reflection - While tinkering, visitors make things. These artifacts can be displayed to inspire others, or used to document the maker’s learning (see the Standards of Excellence report for more on this).
  • It supports constructive play - Tinkering emphasizes inquiry, science concepts, engineering and invention. There is room for imagination as tinkerers build scenarios around their creations. But it departs from more traditional immersive role-play exhibits.
  • Its good for business - Tinkering is also good for the business of museums. Tinkering’s mix of engineering, science, and creativity is highly fundable. It is seen as developing the innovative thinking critical to the 21st century workforce.
All together these aspects of tinkering describe a different type of museum, and one that helps position its users for success in the new economy in ways even they didn’t predict. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tinkering & Museums: Part 1

By Justine Roberts

Over the past month I have heard about tinkering on NPR, and read about hakerspaces – collectives that operate workshop/lab spaces - in the Wall Street Journal. I learned that Home Depot attributed a drop in profits to more people fixing leaky faucets, rather than replacing them. And my kids started asking to see Disney’s newest Tinkerbell movie, in which she completes her makeover from magical fairy into a creative and capable problem solver. "Tinkering" has become a popular American movement.

Fixing what you have, and saving spare parts, is what my grandparents’ generation did too, coming out of the Great Depression. One of the differences today is the DIY movement represented by Make Magazine, The Tinkering School, and even the quirky Slow Media folks. It was really just a matter of time before tinkering moved from the margins into the center.

What really made me stop and think was the realization that museums have been out in front on this. Just to pick three examples: The Austin Children’s Museum has a Tinkerer’s Workshop and a Maker Kids exhibit (and was involved in the MakerFaire/Austin); the Exploratorium’s newest ExNet exhibit is on Tinkering; and Explora offers exhibits like Systems In Motion and My Chain Reaction.

Next: Why Do Museums like Tinkering?