Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Couple of Ideas for the Taking

Chicago Public Library Oak Park Branch

“Hey! I got an idea!” I get a kick hearing someone, usually a child, say that. As a child, I loved the feeling of getting an idea. And I still do.

Having ideas is a wonderful feeling of possibility and adventure. Ideas can take us many places, connecting with people, developing new interests, learning more, and doing something helpful. Recently several ideas have popped up in my reading and have stuck around a bit longer than ideas sometimes do. Without a museum that I work with on a long-term basis, I am not able to act on them directly. But I can put them out there for the taking. The three emergent ideas that follow, described in a preliminary way, will hopefully spark someone else’s sense of possibility and move them to take them further.

Local Inventors and Innovators
In late December the business section of our local paper, The Star Tribune, featured the story of two University of Minnesota graduate students who developed a mobile app that is helping to increase the productivity of small farmers in an arid province in India. The story of these young innovators and their thinking that is now doubling the fruit and vegetable yields while decreasing water and fertilizer use tucked itself somewhere in my mind. Recently it reappeared as a question: how could this, or other similar innovations, find its way into science center and museum experiences, programs, and partnerships?

The application of science principles to a current need with tangible, beneficial outcomes is a compelling, timely story–the kind that engages museum visitors and strengthens the museum experience. This story involves young inventors and entrepreneurs, has local-global connections, is located at the nexus of water and food production, and offers potential partnerships with businesses, colleges, and universities. Other innovations are likely to have similar entry points and connections related to local inventors, a problem to solve and its context, the thinking involved, risk taking, and STEM content.
School Program Experiments
In a guest post on Museum Questions, Jackie Delamatre, educator at the RISD Museum (Providence, RI) wondered what if… the museum visit for school groups was less like the school classroom and, instead, imagined ways to encourage learners to direct their learning, explore their interests and questions, and make their thinking visible.

That made me wonder, what if… museum educators could truly rethink the school visit by, for instance, optimizing the opportunities museums’ informal learning environments offer. Together multiple small experiments with school programs in many museums could break the mold of current museum school tours. Is it possible to create a shift so schools would learn from museums and borrow their informal learning strategies?

This week on Museum Questions Rebecca Herz identified three field trip related experiments she intends to try at the new Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum where she's executive director. A number of interesting ideas are embedded in these experiments. This is hopefully just one of many experiments that are–and could be happening–at all kinds of museums, ones that start with the learner; plan using the museum’s remarkable resources; and focus on thinking or looking skills. Or, develop experiments that go somewhere completely different. Sharing ideas and making connections among museums can happen in many ways, including here on Museum Notes.

Design + Children’s Play + Research
I was sorely disappointed when I wasn’t able to see either exhibition on design for children. The best I could do was to check-out the 2013 Design for the Modern Child at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the 2012 Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900 – 2000 at MoMA on-line. With somewhat different emphases, these exhibits featured furniture, toys, tableware, wallpaper, and textiles designed for children. The MoMA exhibit considered modernist thinking about children and design for them.

As engaging as these exhibits appear to have been, I am eagerly looking forward to an exhibition that focuses on designing for children’s play and the research behind it with children playing at the heart of the experience. This exhibition brings together aspects of the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Wonder Years exhibition; Paige Johnson’s Playscapes blog on design of play structures; and The Strong’s American Journal of Play.

Incorporating the perspectives of an art museum, children’s museum and university research lab, it might explore an object’s play value, the learning associated with imaginative play, and design-play connections. Rich with images of children at play, it could also serve as a play lab for conducting research. Above all, this would be an exhibition brimming with play, not just about play. I really hope this exhibition can travel so I can be sure to see it.

Please Take These Ideas
Let them inspire you and make them into what you can. Share them with colleagues; develop them further. You may find them more helpful by splitting and combining them and connecting them with other project ideas, plans, or practices already in the works. Set them in motion, folding them into an experiment. Let me know what comes of them and your thinking.

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