The Makers are Coming

From the outside, it looks like an ordinary day at Boston Children’s Museum.  Families and local working folks are having lunch, kids are chasing the pigeons, people are texting friends to make plans for tonight.  Inside the museum, kids and families enjoy the exhibits—blowing bubbles, exploring the Japanese House,  creating art.  But if you were to take a peek behind the secret doors, you’d spy a very different  scene. Boston Mini Maker Faire 2017 is just a few days away, and everyone on Boston Children’s Museum staff is getting ready.

In one room, the Production Team looks over the site plan.  They’re putting the finishing touches on the map and figuring out exactly where each Maker is going to go.  Some Makers need to be inside and some need to be outside; some need a lot of space; some need electricity; some need access to a water faucet.   The team is also working on placement of food trucks, water fountains, dining tables and Port-a-Potties.  It’s a lot to manage.

In another room, staff are stringing together lanyards.  Every Maker will get one.  Nearby, other staff are sorting out the materials needed for the Museum’s own booth at the Faire: the Nerdy Derby, the Human Paint Roller, and Scribblebots.  Upstairs, people are sorting the materials that have been gathered for the Take Something booth, where visitors will be able to pick up all kind of materials and gadgets to take home for their own maker projects! In other places, ticket sales are coming in, emails are being sent, phone calls are being made.

The staff managers are figuring out a schedule for Sunday.   Staff will need to cover the Admissions table and the Information Tent (and the Info Desk inside), as well as assist Makers pack in and out, help visitors find their way around,  reunite families who have gotten disconnected from each other, check tickets, as well as staff usual Museum exhibits. In addition, the staff will be joined by about 40 volunteers. Scheduling all those people into all those locations is a gargantuan task.  The staff managers are sure to drink a lot of coffee while they work it all out.

The Facilities Team is making sure we have all the tents, tables, chairs, signs, stanchions and everything else we’ll need on site on Sunday. With nearly 100 Makers coming, it’s important that we make sure they all have what they need to have a successful day. There’s a Plan B in case of bad weather.  We’ve been monitoring the forecast closely for the last week,  fingers crossed.  As of right now, it’s looking pretty good.

Behind the scenes at Boston Children’s Museum is abuzz with all kinds of activity to make sure this Sunday’s Maker Faire will be a grand success.   It will all be worth it when the crowds arrive on Sunday morning discover the joy of creating, innovating, inventing and….Making! You can still buy tickets here!  We can’t wait to see you!

 

The Fish of Māui : Te Ika a Māui

Kolie Swavely is the Elvira Growdon Intern for Collections Management and Curatorial Practice for summer 2017. Her work at Boston Children’s Museum has focused on cataloging and digitizing the Polynesian collection and finding cultural materials that connect to stories, myths, and legends around the world. She is completing a graduate certificate in Museum Studies at Tufts University.

Hello! Or, as the greeting goes in New Zealand, Kia Ora!

As the current E. Growdon Intern at Boston Children’s Museum, I work within collection’s storage, a place that some could compare to the likes of a secret garden. Now, imagine that garden filled not with flowers, but with ethnographic artifacts and pieces of cultural history collected by world travelers over 100 years ago!

As museums continue to care for their collections, ensuring that each and every piece of art and artifact is in the best condition possible, it is easy to lose track of the stories each one tells, and has yet to tell. Like a fish to a glittering lure, there is always an artifact that catches your eye, beckoning to be explored and revived. Here at Boston Children’s Museum, I myself have been hooked. While carefully documenting objects, I continue to uncover many that speak to me; and this fishhook I present today definitely speaks loudly of its cultural origin, the Māori of New Zealand.

Fishhook/ “Matau” Culture of Origin: Māori of New Zealand. Object ID: OS 78. Collection: Oceania; Polynesia. Materials: Bone, Abalone, Wood, Sennit Cord. Dimensions: 1.125” x 0.625” x 3.75”. Collected by Miss Lucy M. Prince, 1898. Donated, 1915

This beautiful fishhook (above) was donated to Boston Children’s Museum in 1915, Continue reading

Hidden Features: Microphotography

Boston Children’s Museum collects and houses many unique artifacts and specimens from around the world. Sometimes, we find artifacts with hidden unique features. In one of the many shelves in collection’s storage, there sits a Swiss chalet model, measuring roughly 2 inches tall, among a drawer of other Swiss miniatures. On the front of the model, the words “Rigi Kaltbad” are carved. Upon searching “Rigi Kaltbad” online, I learned that it is a historic resort area in the Swiss Alps. This little model, which was donated in 1942, was likely a souvenir novelty acquired on someone’s travels in Switzerland. One of the model’s interesting features includes its roof flipping to the side to uncover an area for an inkwell, but the chimney contains the hidden unique feature.

    

A very small piece of glass is situated in the chimney, and by holding the glass to a light source and then looking into the chimney, it reveals 4 microphotographs! For each image, they measure about 1 millimeter wide, which is about the size of a pencil’s tip. These types of viewing devices are called Stanhopes and were invented by René Dagron around 1857. Stanhopes came in an array of objects from pens, rings, pendants, and many other objects.

View from the back of the chimney glass, where 4 microphotographs are seen.

The 4 microphotographs in our object display and label areas of the Swiss Alps including Rigi Kaltbad, Rigi Staffel, Schnurtobel-Brücke, and Rigi Känzli. When searching those labels online, I found similar historic images of these areas from the early 1900s that match the sites and imagery in the microphotographs. I then experimented with trying to capture the 4 photographs. Since the museum does not have a microscope with the ability to take pictures, I went through a trial and error process to find the best way to capture the 4 microphotographs. I attempted different angles and lighting with a macro lens and even the museum’s exhibit microscope component, Scope on a Rope, but unfortunately none of those options worked. Lastly, I decided to try and use my iPhone, and surprisingly, it worked better than the other options! Explore the images and video below as you take a virtual peak at a Stanhope!

    

    

 

Source:

The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography: Digital Imaging, Theory and Applications, History, and Science by Michael R. Peres

 

Behind the Scenes at the Museum: Critter Care

critter-careHi there!  We’re doing Critter Care right now.  Meet Marina, one of our Visitor Experience Associates.  She’s cutting up food for our critters.  Boston Children’s Museum has four live animals:  Watson, our bearded dragon lizard; Oliver our ball python; and we have two new spotted turtles who we haven’t named yet.   Every day a Museum staff person is assigned to “Critter Care”.  No experience is required to sign up for Critter Care, just a willingness to deal with the messes that animals can make. Critter Care team members seem to think that the benefits and enjoyment of working with the animals outweighs the little bit of unpleasantness.

Caring for the critters gets them used to humans as we handle them which is important because we like to take them out of their homes occasionally to have them meet our visitors during “Creature Features”.  Some Critter Care staff are also trained in “Creature Features”, where they learn proper handling and how to talk to visitors about the animals.

Staff members on the Critter Care team generally really enjoy getting to know the animals and develop a real fondness for them.  They learn a lot about these individual animals, as well as the species in general.  Watson is a staff favorite.  He’s extremely social and often can be found at our staff Morning Meeting.  He likes to latch on to the front of your shirt and hang there, head cocked to the side listening. Sometimes we let him skitter along the floor. His claws slip a bit on the tiles, but he is undeterred – so much freedom!

The next time you’re at the Museum come visit our live animals on the first floor in Investigate, between Bubbles and Raceways.

Behind the Scenes of Happy Noon Year

hny4Every year, Boston Children’s Museum celebrates the New Year with a special event called Happy NOON Year. For many of our visitors, it is challenging to stay up and ring in the New Year. To help be inclusive in this celebration, we invite families to celebrate with us and count down to the noon hour on December 31st. One of the traditions of this event is to drop a Museum staff-made ball during the countdown. My colleague Steve and I agreed to take charge of its creation this year, and our mission was to make the best, greatest Happy Noon Year ball ever with our master plan of decorating a 4-foot tall clear beach ball! Continue reading

Eleanor’s Adventures in Wonderland

Two summers ago, I went “down the rabbit hole” of dollhouse furniture in the Museum’s collection (https://bostonchildrensmuseum.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/down-the-rabbit-hole/) With hundreds of pieces of previously uncatalogued dollhouse furnishings, one of my interns finally picked up where I left off. Read more about her adventures in here with Boston Children’s Museum collections…

IMG_7593My seven year old self would be extremely jealous of the position I’m currently in. For the past few months I’ve been helping digitize records of Boston Children’s Museum’s dollhouse furniture collection as the Growdon Collections Intern. Growing up an avid doll-lover, memories of playing with my own dollhouse are some of my strongest; and one of my favorite places to go – and drag my unwilling family to – was an independent doll and dollhouse store. Getting the chance to dive headfirst into the endless drawers of miniatures at Boston Children’s Museum is literally my childhood dream!

It’s my last day as Growdon Intern and as I look back fondly on my time here, I’m astounded at how much I’ve learned. It’s hard to appreciate the work the Collections team does when visiting Boston Children’s Museum for a short time, with 24 window displays, and special programs only showing a small percentage of the range of over 50,000 objects! Continue reading

Liam Patrick – Runner Story

Welcome to our Boston Children’s Museum Marathon Team Runner Spotlight Series! This is an opportunity for you to get to know our incredible Boston Marathon runners and their journey to the 120th Boston Marathon. 

This is our last story and last week! We hope you all enjoyed meeting our runners,and we encourage you to spread the word about our team’s perseverance to hit their goals, both in miles and in dollars.

If you wish to support any of our runners, visit our Crowdrise page today


Liam Patrick FamilyLiam Patrick is no stranger to running around.

As new CFO of &pizza, father of two playful kids, active Trustee of Boston Children’s Museum, and advocate for underprivileged children, Liam is familiar with going the distance. Continue reading

That Giant Milk Bottle

BCM at NightSince 1977, visitors to Boston Children’s Museum have been greeted, as they approach the Museum, by a 40-foot tall building in the shape of a milk bottle. This may seem like an unusual choice for the front of the Museum, but it was not placed there as a statement on the importance of dairy in one’s diet, nor is it a marketing tool for Hood. There is a story behind this structure, and it is one filled with twists, turns and intrigue. The Milk Bottle’s journey has been an interesting one, and in the nearly four decades since its trip to Boston, it has become a beloved icon of the Museum and our mission. Continue reading

Borrowed and Returned

ExhibitOne of the most frequently asked questions I have here in collections is, “How did the Museum get all this stuff?!” (Considering how eclectic our collections are, that question
is usually asked with a hint of awe and wonder.) For the vast majority of materials in the collection, the answer is simply that they were gifts or donations to the Museum. Occasionally items are purchased; occasionally items are “found in collections” (which is just what it sounds like – an object with no documentation that has been lost to time and storage); and occasionally items are loaned. Well, in this past year, one old loan has been of particular interest. Continue reading

Joyful Discoveries: Evaluating the Museum Visitor Experience

How many visitors drive the Bobcats in Construction Zone on a typical day? Do visitors in PlaySpace use the resources we create for them? If a child doesn’t get to go on stage during a KidStage play, how might that affect their experience during the show? If visitors use an exhibit in a way we didn’t design for, but they still have fun, is the exhibit a “success”?

At Boston Children’s Museum, where visitors choose their own route, create their own experiences, and construct their own meaning from all that happens during their visit, questions about evaluation and measurement can be challenging to answer. There is no such thing as a “standard” visitor experience, so the idea of “measurement” takes on a whole new meaning within the Museum walls. So how does Boston Children’s Museum go about evaluating programs, exhibits, and visitor experiences in ways that help meaningfully inform our practices or improve the museum experience for visitors?

As the Museum’s Evaluation Coordinator, my role is to implement evaluation projects that work to answer these questions while not losing sight of the inherently playful and open-ended nature of a museum visit. Here’s a little glimpse into how this work gets done at Boston Children’s Museum.

Observations: Visitors at Play

Cardboard 1 smWatching visitors explore, play, create, and interact – and taking good notes on what visitors are actually doing – is a crucial part of any evaluation project at the Museum. Are visitors using an exhibit component in the ways we thought they would? Do they appear interested and engaged? Are they having fun?

Last summer we spent time observing several special workshops created for an audience of older children and their families. We observed that during a music workshop, adults and caregivers took a backseat and watched their children explore sounds and create musical instruments. However, during an engineering workshop, adults and children actively worked together to build structures that would hold up against a simulated earthquake. As educators and program planners in the Museum, we now have a better idea of what kinds of activities engage both adults and children, because we took the time to observe real visitors engaged in real Museum activities.

Surveys: When We Want a Broader Picture

Sometimes, we need to collect data from many visitors, but we just don’t have enough time or staff members available to interview people in any open-ended way. Surveys are a great way to get a lot of information in a short amount of time.

Recently, we collected surveys from KidStage visitors, and what we learned opened up a host of new questions for us to explore. For example, we found that Friday Night visitors had more positive experiences in KidStage than Weekday visitors. Why might this be? These surveys helped us learn about visitors’ experiences in KidStage at a certain level, but we’ll need to continue asking good questions to really understand where we can continue to improve.

Interviews: Listening to the Visitor Voice

Boston Children's Museum Family Fest 2013Asking visitors to tell us about their experiences, in their own words, is a vital part of understanding how visitors actually experience the Museum. What do visitors think they’re getting out of a Museum experience? How are they connecting with exhibits and programs? What do visitors think is missing, or what could the Museum do to improve?

Recently Boston Children’s Museum celebrated Arthur the Aardvark’s 8th birthday. Some Museum staff were curious: How many visitors came to the Museum to celebrate with Arthur? To answer that question, we asked visitors a few short questions, one of which was the open-ended question: Why did you decide to visit Boston Children’s Museum today? We learned that nearly 20% of visitors came to celebrate with Arthur. However, allowing visitors to describe their reasons for visiting, in their own words, also taught us some interesting things about what gets visitors to the Museum. Many visitors were simply looking for something fun to do with their kids while visiting Boston. Others were using the Museum as a way to spend time together with family and friends. Learning about our visitors through these simple, open-ended questions helps us see our visitors in more nuanced ways, and helps us create experiences that can better serve the diverse needs of our audience.

At Boston Children’s Museum, we aim to “spark a lifelong love of learning” within our visitors. We also work to maintain this spark within ourselves, as the playful educators and experience creators we are. Evaluation at the Museum keeps us asking questions and seeking new insights from our visitors, which help us sustain our own love for inquiry and curiosity, and our own desire for “joyful discovery” in the work we do every day.