As early as the walk toward the museum, before even setting foot on the property, NYSci sets the tone of the experience that one is about to have. The museum is slowly revealed to the visitor who approaches with the 111th Street train station behind them. At first you can see the spires of NASA rockets on the perimeter, followed by the far wing of the building, the outside mini golf course, until you look up and see the “New York Hall of Science” welcoming you in.
One step into the museum, and it felt like being back in elementary school. My first stop was the cafeteria, to grab a snack. The round shape of the space with open windows and a view what looked like a playground, really set the scene for a place geared toward a younger crowd (and to make adults kids again, perhaps). From entry it was clear who the audience was, right down to the large round dining tables ready to handle big school groups and the menu items that included ham and cheese, pb&j and fried chicken strips with fries. It was very different than your typical museum fare, but it was fitting for its mass clientele.
The first exhibit was very hands on, with each area requiring full user interaction (of one or more people). However, the first set-up right by the entrance was a bit confusing, as there was no caption and I was not sure what I was supposed to be learning or doing.
And then it was as if they heard my plea for captioning, as every other piece was provided with a very clear caption of what to do and what was to be learned from that particular set-up.
The Mathematics exhibit that followed had wonderfully beautiful style and design components. The tangible features pulled the user in to interact and explore math. But there were way too many words for a discipline of numbers. It seemed a bit off in that respect. The topic didn’t match the execution.
What was most interesting about this exhibit is that it was the only one that existed in both English and Spanish. There were double captions at each kiosk and set-up. I wonder why this exhibit had that and no others did. Was it deliberate? Was it a choice by the creator? Did the museum want to start transitioning bilingual exhibits and commission this one to have that feature?
It would have been nice if the exhibit was arranged so that it told the story of evolution in a linear way through time in that space. That wasn’t the story that they were trying to tell. And the learning experience of the exhibit was to be able to jump around to any kiosk. But in a different iteration of this, it might be nice to travel through the story.
THE SEARCH FOR LIFE BEYOND EARTH
In this exhibit lies great, 4-dimensional interactive pieces, where the audience is pulled into this world and stimulated by 4 of the 5 senses.
Touching these spheres sent an immediate shock to the body, as they both unexpectedly engaged the sense of touch through temperature. The Mars sphere is very cold and the Earth sphere has varying degrees of hot and cold. Manipulating the sense of touch was really effective at drilling in the information and making it memorable. A mine wall in the exhibit was also heated, which again added another dimension to the experience.
This exhibit also engaged the sense of smell of items familiar and of tangible, other worldly material. Using the sense of smell for interacting was another great way to share the information and make it stick. I can imagine children remembering the time they smelled a meteorite for the first time at this museum. It could be very inspiring.
The interactivity of the kiosks in this area really drew in the audience, or at least us, where we stopped at this particular area for quite a bit of time. Whether it was the joy of spinning the wheel, manipulating time or controlling nature, it had our attention and was certainly a memorable stop.
The hands-on exhibits are at eye level. When there are items that are not to be touched, they are set a bit higher than eye level as to be out of reach to children.
One strange thing I noticed in this area was that the captions seemed to ask a question and answer it immediately after. Although it seems that this museum focuses on the discovery style of learning, this style of captioning robbed the visitor the chance to discover on his/her own.
The interesting observation I noticed with this exhibit was that it seemed to derive the same level of engagement from young children as did the playground areas and preschool play areas. In the worlds of physical and digital, attention between the two seemed about the same for children. The only difference is that Connected Worlds engaged the adults as well. Instead of watching their kids play or passively play with them, in this exhibit, they too, were engaged with the interactions.
On the road to the Science Playground, I found this subtle installation to be quite delightful upon discovery. In the perimeter of the balcony above the lobby, hidden in the wooden rail are historical images from the city that one has to look through a magnifying glass-type-screen to view. One has to first realize that these items are actually part of an installation and not decorative bits to the railing.
The Science Playground itself seemed like it would have been a very fun, memorable experience for a child, and for parents it seemed like a great place to rest and let your kids run out their energy so they can sleep on the car ride home. Definitely a high engagement place for children. The exhibits within the playground were very much hands-on, explore and learn by doing. Without clear captioning, it was hard to know exactly what I was supposed to do or learn from a particular area.
OUT OF ORDER/BROKEN
Several interactive kiosks throughout the museum were frozen or not working. In some cases the computer component was not working but an overhead voiceover continued to play, so you had a sense of what you were missing.
In general, NYSci was very engaging and interactive in both the physical and digital sense. It was certainly a place that is more engaging for children, less adults. But there were exhibits that did seem to sway more toward the older demographic as the audience. This museum relied heavily on the learn-by-doing, discovery method, where learning is more learner-based. The learner* is always able to find the correct solution, whether the exhibit provides the answers or guides them to it. The discovery is also based on the knowledge one already has, using that to deduct solutions and happen up new knowledge.
The museum was fine. It was missing something that I can’t quite put my finger on. It had more of a DIY, temporary feel to it than other science museums I have been to. But it definitely seems great for the young maker, explorer and school group.