Posts tagged ‘MiZA’

June 14, 2012

Slower/Faster, Larger/Smaller: Exploring Ratio and Proportion with ‘Math Moves’

“This chair is too big!” she exclaimed. So, she tried out the next chair.”This chair is too small,” she said. So, she tried the very last chair in the corner.”This chair is JUST right,” and she said happily snuggled into it.-Goldilocks at the Math Moves Exhibit

TERCtalks tries out the ‘Math Moves’ chairs for size at the Museum of Science, Boston

There’s something quite fantastical about the new ‘Math Moves’ exhibit at the Museum of Science in Boston. Entering the Blue Wing flanked by a larger-than-life chair (and a doll-sized one) to the tune of sonic resonance and the sight of cast shadows, the setting is far more Robert Southey-ish/Lewis Carroll-y than ‘Museum Forum for Pre-Algebra Learning’ or ‘Early Preparation for STEM Career Interest’. But—as a true testament to the exhibit’s success—‘Math Moves’ exposes youngsters ages 6-12 to concepts of ratio and proportion through genuinely fun activities that are not only ‘hands-on’—they’re multisensorily, experientially and kinesthetically-on!

In the ‘Math Moves’ realm, grasping proportion can be as simple as sizing up three chairs (a la ‘Goldilocks’ above) or manipulating and gauging shadow sizes by moving cutout objects in front of a light source. Understanding ratio can come through dancing on a rainbow footboard near a monitor where visitors can see visualizations of their speed in comparison to a partner’s speed, or moving wheels along a track to compare frequencies of sound. And active engagement with fractions could come through building blocks, balancing levers, or even using body size as a relative unit of measure.

The ‘Math Moves’ exhibit is part of the MathCore project, a 5-year research endeavor and partnership between Explora (Albuquerque, NM); the Museum of Science, Boston; the North Carolina Museum of Life + Science; the Science Museum of Minnesota; San Diego State University’s Center for Research in Math & Science Education; Selinda Research Associates; and TERC’s Tracey Wright, funded by the National Science Foundation (DRL-0840320). Educators from the four institutions, three research centers, and advisors met in the first year to develop innovative ideas for exhibits on ratio and proportion. The result is a collaborative exhibit that is being hosted at the four institutions over the next 3 years. The project is being evaluated on visitor experience over time.

Next up for MathCore? An exhibit component uniting dance and math, currently in development. Think dancing “twice as fast” or “half as fast” within a fixed amount of time is a no-brainer? Well, even this adult learned a thing or two about math and movement during a test trial. Stay tuned for further details!

April 26, 2012

Trumpets from the Front Line of Visitor Engagement

I learned a tidbit recently about what to takes to be an effective zoo and aquarium educator, and I think it comes down to this:

 Sometimes, you just have to BE the penguin.

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Image of an Adelie Penguin courtesy of National Geographic

 Before you think I’m mixing Eastern and elementary (school) philosophy and need to double-check my sources, I want to tell you a story about one of the most illuminating glimpses into engagement I could have ever observed. It came in the form of nearly 30 zoo and aquarium educators recording observation data and taking turns preening, bowing, and “swimming” penguin-style across the jellyfish floor of the New England Aquarium.

I shook my plumage dry with the best of them, and eagerly recorded the emphatic behavior of my chosen ‘penguin’. It didn’t occur to me until after I had placed my colored Post-Its on the wall to count his waddles, preens, and singular high-pitched bray that the “Be An Animal Scientist” activity was a scientific data collection and analysis activity designed by aquarium educators to engage…K-2nd grade aquarium visitors. Still, there we all were—a flock of mature mock-penguins—completely lost in our enactments.

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My recorded ‘penguin’ behaviors…

It all came together when I considered the nature of this exuberant end to the first day of the ZAARC (Zoo and Aquarium Action Research Collaborative) Institute. The Institute was an introductory meeting designed to initiate discussions, presentations and modeling of effective action research* practices to determine how and if zoo and aquarium educators could engage in reflective inquiry and examinations of ‘visitor engagement’ at their own institutions.

And then I realized the question really came down to the how, not the if.

Perhaps measuring engagement through action research can be even MORE preemptive than pilot testing designs with visitors. Perhaps it really is about just buckling down, being that proverbial penguin, and testing your activities yourself. If you end up flapping your flippers wildly and trumpeting with aplomb, you just know you have developed something truly special.

*Action research, as I learned that day, is a “form of inquiry that enables educators in every job or walk of life to investigate and evaluate their work” (McNiff and Whitehead).