Boston Children’s Museum is an educational institution. This bears pointing out because amidst all of the giggling and yelling and general fun-having that kids engage in here, it is easy to forget that this museum is about fun AND learning. What you experience here is not simply thrown together – every program that the Museum offers was created over a period of months and sometimes up to a year of planning and testing. Exhibits are developed over intensive periods of 1-4 YEARS with evaluation, research and child development and/or cognition theory incorporated into the work. That exhibit that you are having so much fun in is a carefully orchestrated experience designed to maximize learning impact. It was created by anywhere from 5 – 20 professionals who take their job and the Museum’s mission very seriously! And at the center of all of this is you and your child. We consider not only what your child will experience and learn, but how roles can be created for you, their adult caregiver so that you are involved in their learning in some way.
With that in mind, we want to share with you on this blog some of our in-process exhibit development work. We hope to give you some insight into the immense amount of thought behind all of our work, and hopefully to pique your interest and get you as excited about our upcoming exhibits as we are!
Our first spotlight is on “My Sky” – Boston Children’s Museum’s first-ever astronomy exhibit, opening in summer 2014. Planning for this project, which is generously funded by NASA, has been conducted for the past two years in collaboration with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, which is co-located with the Harvard College Observatory to form the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the largest astronomical research center in the world. The Science Education Department of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory is working with staff from Boston Children’s Museum to develop the strongest and most developmentally appropriate science content possible for this exhibit.
“My Sky” is an exhibit designed for children ages 5 – 10 and their favorite grownups. The focus of this exhibit (as the name might imply) is on the sky above us, particularly the Sun, the Moon and the stars. Its emphasis is on encouraging families to practice skills and explore content that are foundational to later appreciation of and understanding of astronomy. In other words, some of the most important skills that astronomers (and people who just plain love looking up at the night sky) practice, such as observing, recognizing patterns and describing, will be skills that kids get a chance to practice in the “My Sky” exhibit. And some basic astronomy content, like observing the phases of the Moon, or recognizing constellations, will also be highlighted. The purpose of the exhibit will be to get families excited about some pretty exciting stuff, and most importantly to encourage families to look up when they are outside together, especially at night.
“My Sky” will be an immersive experience, suggesting places that families can look up together and make observations of the Sun, the Moon and the stars. Throughout 2013, we have been prototyping some of the experiences that were developed for the exhibit. Here are some images of that prototyping:
Constellation Creation – children were challenged to find their own constellations on a wall filled with stars, draw those new constellations and name them. “Antler Pig”, “Eared Plant” and “Broccoli Pants” were three favorite new constellations invented by kids. Look up in the sky…do you see Broccoli Pants?
Families would lie down together and point out constellations that the recognized, and even point out shapes that they made up themselves. Laying down together, looking up at the stars and talking about what you see is a relaxing and beautiful experience – and one you can try in your own backyard!
Sun Spotting – children got an up close and personal look at some of the stunning footage of the Sun from the Solar Dynamic Observatory. Kids chose a day from the past year and saw real movies showing what the Sun looked like on that day. If you have never seen any of these stunning satellite images, check out the Helioviewer here to see them yourself.
It’s Just a Phase – visitors tested a model of the Earth, Sun and Moon, and saw how the position of the Earth and Moon relative to the Sun causes the different phases of the Moon that we see in the sky. As they moved the Moon around on the model they were playing with, the phases of the Moon in the window in front of them would change accordingly. It was a great reinforcement of how Moon phases happen.
These are only a few of the exciting activities that are under development for the “My Sky” exhibit. Come join us next summer, 2014 to see the finished exhibit and until then – keep looking up!