October 11, 2008
At an era in which children are captivated by technology, the thought of attending an educational institution, such as the museum, for leisure may be disregarded. However, the Maryland Science Center is such an intriguing place that as a collegian myself, I was enthralled by the vibrant colors and activities at each exhibit. The gleaming, three-story museum consists of several galleries including the Science Arcade, Follow the Blue Crab, Fossil Quest, Your Body: the Inside Story, Science on a Sphere, Our place in Space, Bodylink, Spacelink, Planetarium, Newton's Alley, Terralink, Dinosaur Mystery, and the Demo Stage. Evidently, the museum covers numerous scientific topics from Astrology to Zoology.
In Newton's Alley, children are able to interact with the physical science: matter, energy, force and motion. One exhibit revealed the concept that white light is simply a mixture of different colors by using a prism that separates white light into a rainbow of colors. Conversely, by mixing red, blue, and green light, white light was formed again. Another exhibit showed how heat could create patterns in water by revolving a wheel to create a cycle in water. Hot air is denser than cool air. So as energy is added to water through the cycling, it gains heat and rises; bringing the heat to the cooler water above. This cycling of water is similar to a convection current that allows us to see mirages during the hot summer day. Both displays accurately convey their information for they manage to demonstrate the phenomenon through its visual appeal. The first exhibit would effectively get across to children since it is so simple. In contrast, children may have difficulty understanding the second exhibit. The diction "convection current" in the explanation of the display is enough to confuse a young child.
Your Body: The Inside Story focuses on the inside of the human body. One display in this gallery focuses on the importance of balance by allowing children to balance themselves on a plank for as long as they can. The exhibit then explains that a liquid inside the ear sends signals to the brain enabling balance. The balancing activity does not involve the use of ears and thus fails to accurately portray the information. Furthermore, the concept may be incomprehensible to young children. Logically, ear and balance may seem unrelated. Another exhibit in the gallery showed that the mixture of warm and cold temperature would feel hot. The feeling of coldness and warmness simultaneously sends a message to your brain making you think that the temperature is hot when it actually is not. In contrast to the previous display, this exhibit accurately conveys the information and effectively gets across to children by enabling them to physically feel the temperature change.
In Spacelink: Space News Update Center, an exhibit demonstrates how scientists use a system of coordinates to find the way around mars. Children are able to use a controller to move a robotic figure across the mars display. Doing so shows them where they are through the camera implanted in the robot. This method accurately describes how the NASA really locates itself around Mars. However, most children seem to be only concerned with playing with the robotic controller that they don't understand the main concept. Thus, the information is not effectively getting across to the children. In another gallery, Follow the Blue Crab, an exhibit shows how both seahorses and blue crabs both need salty water to survive. The mouth of the Chesapeake Bay is where the bay and the ocean meet therefore; the water there is the saltiest. Although this display manages to portray its information through the use of pictures of the bay, it may be unable to grasp the attention of energetic children.
Clearly, the Maryland Science Center had mostly interactive exhibits. Although these activities got the children to be involved, there were some disadvantages with such displays. For instance, many times, the children merely considered the museum as their playground. Therefore, their attention was only aimed towards the activities at each display rather than the information that it presents. It is probable that most children do not even read the explanations at each station. Furthermore, in contrast to traditional museum displays, interactive activities provoke the learning environment to be disorganized. Frequently, kids were seen running around, horse playing, and even displacing the objects from some display, thereby ruining the display for future participants. Therefore, one can conclude that interactive displays have both benefits and disadvantages.
Museums have to compete with other leisurely places to attract customers. However, the high cost of the ticket to some museums including the Maryland Science Center, may discourage some customers from attending. Thus, in order to continually attract families, the museum may seek for donations just as the National Zoo, or possibly get funding from the government.