Trip Report #3: Hands-On!

This weekend I spent most of my time at the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) presenting a project with Cici at the World Maker Faire. The museum was very crowded during those days and the Maker Faire was using an important part of the museum’s space, but I managed to take a look at most of the rooms and exhibitions.

Space

The museum is bright and spacious but not so overwhelmingly big that you could get lost.
There are three main floors: Street Level, Upper Level and Lower Level. The distribution is basically the Main Lobby and two wings: The North Wing and another area composed by the Central Pavilion in the Street and Lower Levels, and the Great Hall in the Upper Level.
These areas are very spacious and contain all the exhibitions instead of having them in separate smaller rooms. This makes the walk through the museum very fluid and open for exploration, which also allows children to run freely. The Central Pavilion has the feeling of a huge playground with different sections where kids can play with arts and crafts and science related toys.
I think an important experience of the museum is the park where it is located, which allows for a nice walk expands the activities for the kids with tube slides and other structures to climb. Most of this outdoor area was being used for the Maker Faire but I took some time to walk and get a sense of the experience in the park as well.

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Exhibition
The experience in the museum is designed to be fun and educative, specially for children. Most of the exhibitions are interactive and not too monitored, which allows for more hands on learning and experimenting.
The different areas of the museum are labeled as follows:
Street Level: Central Pavilion (Mathematica: A World Of Numbers, Seeing The Light), North Wing (The Search For Life Beyond Earth, Preschool Place).
Upper Level: Viscusi Gallery, Great Hall (Connected Worlds), North Wing (The Sports Challenge), Theater.
Lower Level: Central Pavilion.
This time, most of the Central Pavilion and part of the Upper Level were being used for the Maker Faire. Our installation was in the Viscusi Gallery, where I think the temporary exhibitions are held.
My favorite area was the one with the math and light exhibitions. Although a part of it looks very old, it hosts a lot of demonstrations on concepts of geometry, light refractions and other optical illusion works, as well as a hall mirrors and some experiments with bubbles. Even though this is a kid-centric museum, these kind of themes are really fun for all ages and can make you understand everyday experiences in a different way. See more of my affinity to this kind of things in my diorama post.
The second highlight was obviously the recently opened Connected Rooms, which contained a massive immersive installation where people can interact with a growing ecosystem. I loved the simple interaction that made children and adults learn and have fun. Our installation for the Maker Faire worked with very similar concepts in a much smaller scale, so it made sense for me to be temporarily connected to the exhibition and spirit of this museum.

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Interactivity

The majority of the exhibits here are designed to be interactive, so kids and adults can touch as much as they want. This is a great experience to have, specially considering that most of the museums don’t allow touching anything. It’s educational approach makes use of a lot of hands on installations and experiments.
That being said, there were some exhibitions I didn’t find so interactive. Instead, they were merely “push here” displays. Also, some of the exhibits were quite old or worn down from everyone touching them. This can be expected and it means that they require a lot of maintenance. It looks that they try to keep the interactivity updated somehow by adding new displays with newer technology in some of the exhibitions.
The Maker Faire seems to fit quite well with the interactive and scientific approach of the museum, working as a sort of extension of the exhibitions.

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People

The museum is definitely designed for kids but it is fun and interesting for adults, too. During that day the Maker Faire raised the average age, but there were still a lot of children running around.
The staff is really friendly and approachable. They know about the exhibits and also help you to interact with them correctly. I would say that in this case talking to them makes a visitor get a better experience, considering that some adults are not used to touch stuff at museums.
This made me wonder about how to apply this hands-on experience to a museum for adults, since kids seem very open to touch and try everything but their parents seemed very hesitant to interact with the displays at first.

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Website
As other museum websites that I have visited so far, this one offers information about the time, directions and general information to plan a visit. However, something interesting about the NYSCI website is that it doesn’t provide so much detail about the exhibitions. Instead, most of the information is about the activities that the museum organizes and other related projects and events. I wrote before about how some museums try to create a community around them. In this case, the educational perspective allows this museum to develop activities related to schools or parents seeking to broaden their children’s learning process.

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