Their ghostly eyes are lovely windows to their souls.
Lemurs are primates – they have long tails, tree-climbing hands, and incredible curiosity. At least that’s what I encountered on my visit to the Duke Lemur Center (sponsored by Owen Software). Education specialist Chris Smith led me on an amazing tour. See below:
The Duke Lemur Center offers tours, similar to the one above. Their goal is to raise funds for research (Smith estimated that 10% of the center’s funds come from tours). Most of all, the center aims to educate the public and raise awareness about lemur conservation. And it seems to pay off: in 2013, they received 18,000 visitors (5,000 more than a previous record-breaking year). In addition to tours, the educational department is expanding to bring in even younger visitors, so conservation education can start earlier. The Duke Lemur Center now has a “primates for pre-schoolers program” for kids ages 3-5, and a “leaping lemurs summer science camp” for 6th and 8th graders from all over the country. For the grown-ups, there’s an “evening with the experts” with such curious topics as “are you smarter than a lemur?”.
Come back Wednesday for another video on Duke Lemur Center, when we’ll explore some of Chris Smith’s strategies when talking lemur science to the public.
Perched on a cantaloupe slice, the palm-sized animal – with its glossy chitinous surface and half dozen legs – sat motionless. The black-green bug looked more like a statuesque chess piece and less like a creepy insect. It was probably the reason why Dan Babbit chose the Atlas Beetle as his companion and ice breaker. Babbit is the manager of Smithsonian’s Insect zoo, and that day he was addressing a new group of museum volunteers and he started with the blunt question: “Is anyone afraid of bugs?”
Never before had I’d seen a science discussion start with a disclaimer.
Dan was being careful before bringing the live specimen for the volunteer’s closer inspection. Who can blame him – in the US alone there are 19 million entomophobes. How can we teach entomology to such a crowd? Can we break the bug phobia stereotype?
Here at Sci-Ed we started investigating reasons that may explain the fear of bugs. We mentioned repulsion, disease-carrying potential, cultural aversion, and even deeper philosophical issues. Now, we list suggestions to encourage the general public to value insects:
Changing our perception of the bug. Phillip Weinstein recommends we “put insects in a more positive light, and to remove such fears as may be passed on from parents, zoos and museums can play an integral educational role.” At the Smithsonian’s Insect Zoo, Dan Babbit creates a safe and fun environment for visitors to learn more about insects and arachnids. Which brings me to the next topic…
Creating mesmerizing museum exhibits. At the Smithsonian’s insect zoo, visitors can face their fears by watching the daily tarantula feedings. Children sit on the floor in expectation, and adults toughen up to touch a cockroach atop a researcher’s hand. At the Florida Museum of Natural History, visitors can watch students and volunteers pin butterflies for the museum’s lepidoptera collection. (An epic collection, housed in a three story building, library-style: each book-sized spot contains one box of butterflies or moths). If you catch curator Andy Warren, you may even get a behind the scenes tour of oddities in the moth and butterfly world.
Fostering cool class projects, like spidernauts. Babbitt, who keeps a space spider in his freezer, has talked to Sci-Ed earlier about engaging the public and raising their interest in arthropods. Stories like the space spiders brought a lot of attention to those invertebrates. Jumping spiders were sent to the space station and broadcast to thousands of classrooms on Earth. Kids accompanied the arachnid’s journey by observing their own hand-caught spiders. After the experiment was over, one of the spiders, Nefertiti, was flown back to Earth and housed in the Insect Zoo. Visitors who may walk right past a spider exhibit felt compelled to stop and ask about the space spider.
Taking advantage of outreach programs. According to entomologist turned psychologist Jeffrey Lockwood, “About 20 percent of children fearful of spider and insects report learning their aversion from parents”. Kids are not innately afraid. During a visit to the University of Florida Entomology Department, I asked resident expert Stephanie Stocks if she observes the parent effect during school visits. Much like Dan Babbit, Stocks brings zoo bugs in tow. She reported that, up to second grade, children are unanimously curious. Some older kids, however, learned from their parents that they should step back. Arachnologist Chris Buddle visits kids in their classrooms and describes the experience in his blog – along with a powerful call to arms. Buddle states that spending time teaching kids about entomology is always worth it.
Participating in pop culture. Like we said before in Sci-Ed, using storytelling and heroes to teach science won’t hurt. One study (pdf) found, unsurprisingly, that children did much better at identifying Pokémon types as opposed to animal or bug species. Films such as A Bug’s Life and Antz took the anthropomorphic route. In the words of Lockwood, “If turning humans into insects countenances hate, then turning insects into humans has the opposite effect. Artists humanize insect heroes by transforming their alien features into eyes, mouths, heads, and appendages more like our own.”
Keeping a pet bug. Curator Andy Warren told me he was once afraid of spiders, which sounds like a peculiar setback for an entomologist. Warren conquered his fear after caring for a pet tarantula. One study tracks thousands of children to look into the effects of keeping an invertebrate pet. The authors observed several benefits from keeping a pet insect that go way beyond loosing fear of bugs and contribute to an expanded view of ecology and science.
I might get a pet beetle myself. And hope that one day we won’t need to start classes by asking if anyone’s afraid of bugs.
References and further reading
Balmford et al. Why conservationists should heed Pokemon. Science 295 (5564): 2367b, 2002.
Prokop et al. Effects of keeping animals as pets on children’s concepts of vertebrates and invertebrates. International Journal of Science Education, Vol 30, No 4, 431-449, 2008.
Snaddon et al. Children’s Perceptions of Rainforest Biodiversity: Which Animals Have the Lion’s Share of Environmental Awareness? PLOS One DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002579 , 2008.
Anyone who has been following my posts knows that I have a huge weakness for sci-fi and science, and if someone was to marry the two of those together, I’d be there immediately. Especially if it involved Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars or Middle Earth.
Well, it happened.
The Canada Aviation and Space Museum is currently hosting Star Wars: Identities. Star Wars: Identities is a travelling exhibit that highlights human development using the mythos of the Star Wars universe. I had been keeping an eye on this exhibit as a few years ago I had been to the Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology exhibit in Montreal, which was excellent, and the same organization (X3 Productions) was responsible for this one. And when I found out they were using Star Wars to teach people about psychology, I knew I had to go.
You see, we all have questions about how and why people turn out the way they do. Even people raised under the same roof can have wildly disparate personalities, and can view the world through very different lenses. The exhibit highlights the difference between Anakin and Luke Skywalker, and how, despite coming from the same planet and having (similar) genetic makeup, their lives take two very different trajectories based on their experiences and the environments they are exposed to.
So, I headed down to Ottawa Aviation and Space Museum with my parents in tow to check it out. Upon entry, you’re given a earpiece and a wristband that you can use to trigger the various displays. The exhibit is structured around 3 main themes, each of which has several stations: Origins, which looks at your species, your genes, your parents and culture, your Influences, which investigates the role of mentors, friends and marking events, and finally, your Choices, which include your occupation, personality and values.
Perhaps my favourite part was how, at each of these 10 stations, you make decisions and choices that help form your Star Wars character (mine is below). Are you good? Evil? A Wookie? A merchant? What do people from your planet do to celebrate? All of these choices are substantiated by psychological theories – for example, the station around personality asks you to fill out a short questionnaire based on the Five Factor Model of personality traits. Another station looks at how your culture can affect you, and how moving from one culture to another impacts your development using a theory called Acculturation (which, incidentally, is the focus of my PhD dissertation). Each of these is illustrated by contrasting Anakin and Luke (and occasionally other characters), and highlighted using clips from the movies.
Following my visit to the museum, I had a chance to chat with Sophie Desbiens, the Communications Manager for X3 Productions (the organization behind the exhibit).
Q: I understand that you consulted with psychologists at the Universite de Montreal to help with the design of exhibit. Can you tell me more about that?
The exhibition’s scientific content was created with the collaboration of a few scientists directed by the scientific content team of the Montreal science center. When we set out to explore that scientific notion of identity we wanted to make sure we were up-to-date and on point with contemporary ideas and theories for that type of subject.
Q: How did you ensure that the science wasn’t lost amidst the lightsabers and props?
That was easy in a way since the props are there to illustrate our point. As mentioned before, we take the Star Wars characters to explain identity. More precisely, we follow the evolution of Luke and Anakin Skywalker who were born on the same planet with very similar genetic background and see how they turned out to be completely opposite personalities. Also, the SW universe is very well known, people are familiar with the story and the characters so it is easy to take this as a jumping off point to go into more abstract subjects like genetics, mentorship, etc.
Q: Why Star Wars?
Why not? 😉 And as I said before, the characters and the story have been around for over 35 years now and still going strong. Why? Because it is the story of all humans in a way. George Lucas has always said he was influenced by Joseph Campbell when he wrote Star Wars and it shows as we have all the archetypes of every mythology here: it is the journey of the hero. The hero’s journey is most often than not a coming of age story, and in this we find the perfect connection to explore how someone grows up, acquires a certain identity throughout trials and tribulations.
Q: How is the exhibit set up?
Again, the Star Wars universe is perfect to illustrate the 10 components of identity we chose to explore. There is the notion of your Origins: Species, genes, parents, culture, your Influences: mentors, friends, marking events, and Choices: occupation, personality and values. All of these are part of your identity, they are the forces that shape you.
When you look and compare Luke Skywalker and Anakin Skywlaker, all these 10 aspects have shaped them:
Luke was born on Tattoine, he is the son of Anakin who has a high-level of midichlorians in his blood, he is human. Luke’s mentors are Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, they (and his friends) will influence him towards the light side. Meanwhile, Anakin ended up being mentored by Palpatine who influenced him towards the dark side.
Q: What is your favourite part of the exhibit?
My favorite part of the exhibition is that I can create my own SW character with an RFID bracelet throughout the visit by answering questions related to those 10 aspects of identity. Also, we learn how characters are created in fiction as well as in real life.
Finally, I think it is really interesting to see the difference in how visitors create their avatar. Adults will tend to go along with reality, or something close to who they are, however the kids will naturally go for the complete opposite and be totally creative in their avatar.
Q: How has the exhibit been received?
Fantastic, not only from SW fans but also from teachers and especially parents who are glad that they end up having discussions with their teens because of this exhibition.
Q: How long are you in Ottawa for, and where are you heading next?
We are in Ottawa until September 2 and then we are setting up to move the exhibit for the European leg of the tour.
If you’re in the Ottawa area, I thoroughly recommend checking out the Exhibit. It is a travelling though, so if you can’t make it to Ottawa, keep your eyes open and hopefully it will come to a town near you soon. Tickets are $24 for adults, $20 for seniors and teens, and $13.25 for kids and include admission to the Aviation and Space Museum as well. They only let in a certain number of people at a time though, so I recommend buying your tickets online in advance (they have allocated time slots and let in ~50 people every half hour).
Disclaimer: I did not receive financial remuneration or any other incentive to attend the exhibit. I’m just a giant nerd.
I’ve never experienced microgravity. But a red-backed jumping spider called Nefertiti did.
Living vicariously through Nefertiti were over 2,000 middle school students who watched the arachnid’s adventures.
As true experimenters, the kids maintained control groups on Earth: their own hand-caught spiders, housed in salad-box habitats. This is the story of “spidernauts,” the intrepid spider astronauts, and the young scientists-in-training that they inspired.
A spider, a human and their epic journeys
I first learned about Nefertiti’s journey while on an excursion of my own. It was in the midst of rockets, gears, and artifacts that I explored NASA’s Johnson Space Center as an envoy from Owen Software. Trying to soak all in, I attempted to decipher Soyuz’s panels in Cyrillic alphabet while also learning about non-human travelers deliberately sent to the space station. Each trip sends a crew of three Homo sapiens, a handful of Arabidopsis, C. elegans, Drosophila and several other species to space. It is an exceptional opportunity to study the effects of microgravity on living beings. For example, the zebrafish(Danio rerio) is our vertebrate proxy for the study of bone development in absence or gravity.
Until recently, the use of NASA’s studies was limited to academics—scientists who can interpret the results in the published data. The space station website keeps a list of publications, but as Jean Flanagan discussed last week, there’s still a chasm between available data and data that can be translated to a middle or high school classroom.
But something changed, and that change was personified by arthropod ambassadors flying into space. Butterflies and spiders were sent to the space station and this time, thousands of middle school children watched. On Earth, the students conducted their own experiments with these butterflies and spiders.
“Different habitats, similar beasts.”
That is how Chris Buddle, arachnologist and professor at McGill University, describes the two species of spidernauts. The pair was composed of Nefertiti, the red-backed (Phidippus johnsoni), and her companion Cleopatra, a zebra jumping spider (Salticus scenicus).
The idea of observing jumping spiders was actually proposed by an Egyptian student as part of a contest. Jumping spiders are active hunters, who dart over unsuspecting prey—as opposed to catching them in a silk web like most familiar spiders. The main goal of the jumping spider study was to investigate how their predatory behavior be affected by microgravity. Would the spiders be able to leap?
On the phone, Buddle sounded enthusiastic about the project, but unsurprised with the spider’s ability to adapt to microgravity.
“They have draglines, micro hairs on their feet … and exceptional eyesight. Their body responds quickly to directionality, doesn’t matter whether they are in a horizontal surface or vertical surface.”
The spider’s scientific adventure was chronicled by Moreno and colleagues in “Butterflies and Spiders in Space: Space Life Science Investigations for the Classroom.” In summary, the study reports that 3,000 teachers and an estimated 180,000 middle school students worldwide followed the extraordinary lives of those arachnids, using internet lessons via BioEd Online.
BioEd Online is an initiative by Baylor College of Medicine, designed to address needs of science teachers and help them spice up their lessons. The site has teaching materials, powerpoint slides, videos, online courses and podcasts. While Nefertiti was in her space home on the space station, BioEd Online offered videos, images, and lessons on space spiders. In one of the videos, “DIY Spider Habitat,” kids learn how to repurpose a plastic salad box into a spider home on Earth. (Check out the wonderful teacher’s guide.) But Nefertiti is not the first to star in online lessons; a previous space investigation with Painted Lady Butterflies paved the way to following space animals with live educational lessons.
The benefits of this project are immense. By creating their own experiments, students start to experience science. According to a poll taken after the experiment was over, 80% of participating students showed interest in science careers, and 39% found extra ways to contribute to the experiments, “such as writing poetry, using measurement data for math problems in an Algebra class, planting a butterfly garden, and keeping butterfly journals,” teachers reported.
After space, the spider’s final destination: the Insect Zoo
Nefertiti currently resides in Dan Babbit’s freezer. The entomologist, who also manages the Smithsonian’s Insect Zoo, told me of the third leg of Nefertiti’s journey. “We got an email out of the blue from Bioserve—the company that put together the spider unit.” In a mix of surprise and astonishment, Babbitt reminisces: “this spider should go somewhere.”
Babbitt is currently trying to preserve Nefertiti, so that she can continue to inspire museum visitors—both children and adults.
“One of the big things we push throughout the museum is observation—anything we can do to help people look more closely at an object or specimen or the living insect.”
Chris Buddle believes Nefertiti and the spidernauts are a wonderful, compelling story.
“The fact that there are spidernauts is something that thrills me.”
In his blog, he tries to demystify the public’s phobia surrounding the arachnids.
“There’s a lot of fear, and the best way to battle fear in science is with stories, facts and evidence.”
Moreno NP, Vogt GL, Denk JP, Stodieck LS, Countryman S, Thomson WA. Butterflies and Spiders in Space: Space Life Science Investigations for the Classroom. Gravitational and Space Biology. 2012; 26(1): 77 – 87.
Whether in schools or science centers, we commonly associate understanding science as the primary objective with these environments. To become engaged as an active participant in science or science policy one needs to have some foundation in the science to make informed decisions. For the education and outreach side of science and natural history museums, I agree; the best decisions are made by informed people. But how many of us can think of an example of some decision made or action done that was made without any good understanding of the science?
In 2009, the Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) published Many Experts, Many Audiences, Public Engagement with Science and Informal Science Education. The report, too long to read in one sitting, rethinks the definition of “engagement with science” from the standard “transmission of knowledge from ‘experts’ to public” to “mutual learning by publics and scientists” where varied knowledge, values, ideas and perspectives can be exchanged in dialog, rather than a panel discussion or lecture. This is very important because science isn’t the answer to our problems, but it will help us make an informed decision along with our values. Many Experts, Many Audiences acknowledges that not all public engagement with science (PES) activities and programs will directly influence policy and leaves the discussion open if that matters or not.
From Many Experts, Many Audiences; comparing several programs as Public Understanding of Science versus Public Engagement with Science
So what makes a program engagement versus understanding? The report defines this on a spectrum, not just one or the other, and this is based on three variables
Content – focus on the natural world or policy
Expert participation – Provides input or Uses input
Audience participation – Receives ideas or transmits ideas
A few examples
Many science centers across the country and world have been employing various methods to engage the public in science. In order to do so, and remain a relevant and trusted institution, science centers need to maintain a neutral standing by only presenting the facts and allowing visitors to make their own decisions.
Conversations: One of the programs I am most familiar with is the Forums program at the Museum of Science in Boston, MA. Programs are typically set up so that there are about 20 round tables where participants can have conversations in small groups to more comfortably have conversations. The beginning of the programs usually will have two presentations, the first will focus on the science of some particular issue (nanotechnology, sustainable food, genetically modified babies, etc.), and a second speaker will give a presentation on the ethical and social aspects. The first half of the program is very public understanding of science (PUS) but the second half invokes the engaging aspect. Each table of participants is given a problem and roles, and they need to come to an agreement on how to best solve the scenario while considering everybody’s views. The programs are very engaging and create very interesting conversations, though one short coming is that it tends to attract the same demographic of already-engaged or invested participants.
Global Participation: A global initiative that provides the same type of experience but with a more diverse audience is World Wide Views, run by the Danish Board of Technology. The diversity of the participants comes from this happening in many countries, but also because each center that hosts the meeting is required to invite a cross section of the local demographics. To assure this, a stipend is offered to participants so that they do attend.
On one day in 2009 and another in 2012, citizens in countries around the world listened to presentations about global warming (2009) and biodiversity (2012), and then answered a series of questions about topics such as do they believe there is a problem, should the environment or economics be the priority, who should pay to help solve the problem, etc. The global warming recommendation results were shared at the 2009 United Nations Conference on Climate Change. What I find really interesting is that you can see how your region or country compares to others.
Citizen Science: On a more local level, and back to Boston, a project I was fortunate to be a part of in its nascent stages, was the Toxic Traffic Citizen Science Project (the link is old and only refers to a one-time program). This project involves urban schools in Boston and Cambridge, with students who live and go to school in areas with higher pollution due to traffic.
Students would begin with an introduction to what traffic pollution is and how it affects the human body. They would then learn how to use a device that would take air quality measurements around their schools’ neighborhoods. Finally, they would develop recommendations based on their data and have policy conversations. David Sittenfeld, Forum Manager at the Museum of Science, gives a presentation at an ASTC meeting in this video (it’s a little shaky).
The conversation topics are endless and range in their provocativeness: genetically modified food, fracking, climate change, mining practices, abortion, taxing sugary drinks, and many, many more.
Let’s get engaged
Many Experts, Many Audiences makes note that three recognized goals of informal science environments are to
Make science accessible to all and improve scientific literacy
Make apparent the relevance and importance of science to everyday life and society
Increase the number of people entering science-based careers
But let’s consider also highlighting this goal — to inspire the public to become more engaged with science-based issues.
Science and natural history museums are natural places for conversations to take place. They are recognized as unbiased and trusted centers where people of all backgrounds and beliefs can gather comfortably to learn. They should also be recognized as places where people can share their views and perspectives, because science alone doesn’t solve our problems, but it does play a role in answering important questions. So let’s celebrate that, as well.
About a month ago I visited the Adam Lister art gallery. In one art exhibit, an artist had placed a gumball machine filled with what he called “tiny art”. The machine had a sign that encouraged people to play, by inputting one dollar and turning the knob. Puzzled, I scrambled for quarters to feed that gumball machine and find my prize. In return, I received a small plastic shelled ball – similar to the toy-filled shells in arcade gumball machines. Instead of a toy, the plastic ball held a piece of tiny art, created by one of the local artists in the community. An art gallery has a different goal than a museum, but still, I thought we could re-use that idea. Can an exhibit encourage participation? From that moment on, I decided to learn more about the concept of a participatory exhibit or museum.
The participatory museum is a concept advocated by Nina Simon. At the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, she designs interactive exhibits that offer visitors a chance to create art. For example, the museum houses a table display with empty mason jars, paper, and pen, which invites visitors to share a memory. This idea is analogous to a “message in a bottle”. So far, visitors have already shared thousands of memories in jars, which go on display in a museum wall, side by side with the museum’s art collection. Some powerful, emotional memories have been stored (such as a mother’s note to her deceased son in Iraq). One take home message here is: art is no longer something you simply stare at.
I interviewed museum specialist Laura DiSciullo, who offered one such example of participation: “interaction may involve strangers interacting, or visitors interacting with past and future visitors by leaving a comment. There were times when I was the only visitor in an exhibit, but the experience was still interactive in that I could see what previous visitors had contributed, and leave my own contribution.”
In addition, she mentions exhibits that “have elements geared toward intergenerational learning, esp. a family of visitors interacting. Not only are the adults helping the children learn (and perhaps vise versa), but it is also a social, bonding experience for the family.”
In her TED talk last November, Nina Simon states that “museum objects should be more like dogs”. Dog owners out there might understand what she means: you are outside walking your dog and are approached by friendly strangers who ask to pet him. Nina Simon sees museum artifacts as social objects. Like a dog, a museum object offers an excuse for strangers to have a conversation. Specifically, they are a “safe social object that mediates an encounter that otherwise wouldn’t have happened”. Dogs and social museum objects are opportunities for conversation; they mediate conversation between strangers.
In her book, Nina Simon invites us to “imagine looking at an object not for its artistic or historical significance but for its ability to spark conversation”. This is how she defines the concept of social object. One social object example comes from a Santa Cruz museum exhibit that shows the income disparities between white and black populations in the exhibit Race: Are We So Different? A group of teenagers stares in shock at two piles of dollar bills, with wildly different heights. For Ms. Simon, the exhibit is mediating a serious conversation (income disparity) between a group of strangers (teenagers and other museum visitors), that might not have happened otherwise. Another powerful example of social objects is the wrecked car displayed at the Jeremy Deller: It is what it is: Conversations about Iraq exhibit, which prompts visitors and an invited expert (a veteran, journalist, or scholar) to debate.
Bringing social objects to science museums
Science museums already offer opportunities for visitors to participate, mostly via interactive exhibits. But how do we bring debate, especially one that continues after a visitor leaves the museum?
Many science topics would benefit from serious discussion. Evolution, climatechange, human origins, or vaccination (considering the current “antivax” climate) are a few that come to mind. How can science museums use social objects to help foster debate?
The Hall of Human Origins, at the National Museum of Natural History, emphasizes the evolutionary relationships between early humans and anatomically modern human. The hall welcomes visitors with a provocative message: “what does it mean to be human?”. It lines up reconstructions of early humans (such as Australopithecine and Neanderthals) that culminate with an impressive wall of skulls. Standing in front of that wall, one can join conversation that is invariably going on: some children are terrified, other are curious. I saw it for the first time when I was there with my sister, who is an MD. She unconsciously switched to doctor mode and starting point out to causes of death based on what she saw on skulls. “Here’s a brow fracture; this guy suffered a blow to the head”, or “that poor guy must have had a massive toothache.”
The hall also offers a lecture series called HOT – short for Human Origin Topics – that focus on controversial science and philosophical questions (e.g., evolution or religion). But perhaps the most popular object in the hall – and a great example of a social object – is the MEanderthal photo booth. Visitors line up to take their photo, which will be morphed into a Neanderthal version of themselves. Long lines form in this particular object, and people interact while waiting in line. Laura DiSciullo told me that MEanderthal is “a fun conversation piece for friends and families, or perhaps strangers waiting in what can be a long line for this popular feature.”
Other science-based institutions offer social objetcs and exhibits. The National Zoo has a pizza playground, with the goal of teaching children where their food comes from (pepperoni does not sprout from the ground). The Perot Museum of Nature and Science displays a giant drill in their energy hall that – and if this seems controversial it’s because it is – that illustrates hydro fracking. DiSciullo also reminds me of “the world population counter [at the Hall of Human Origins] that continually increases, and the large display saying how much of our DNA we share with other species (including bananas).”
How can science museums become more social?
The process starts during exhibit design. DiSciullo explains that, during design, educators advocate for learning outcomes. One example, used by some museums, is the GLO, or Generic Learning Outcomes: “ [GLO] describe all the types of learning that can take place – learning facts is one possible goal for visitors, but not the only one.” In addition to learning, museum educators also encourage other outcomes, such as “helping visitors make connections between things they already know, or express themselves creatively, or make a positive behavior change based on what they’ve learned.” We’ve all seen programs like the one at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, where visitors receive card to instruct them on sustainable and health decisions.
Nina Simon urges museums to answer the following questions: “how do you want visitors to learn from or interact with each other? Do you want to promote dialogue…? Do you want to promote group collaboration? Do you want visitors to respond to each other, to help each other, to create things together?” With those goals in mind, museums aim for a learning outcome of social interaction. As museum consultant Darcie Fohrman reports to Simon, “In the museum field, we know that learning happens when there is discussion and conversation. We want people to ask strange questions and say, ‘I don’t get this.”