Making Models

Topic: The Nature of Science Subtopic: The Scientific Process

Case Study

of an Exhibition

by Christine Reich

Published on April 18, 2007

  • Description and goals

    For more than a decade, the Museum of Science was engaged in a major, long-term exhibition plan called “Science is an Activity” that aimed to engage visitors in activities that fostered science thinking skills. Making Models was the fourth and final exhibition of this type created by the Museum.

    The goal of Making Models was to create a learning experience that would provide visitors with practice in four specific science thinking skills: recognizing the similarity between models and the things they represent; assessing the strengths and limitations of different models; using models to raise questions, communicate ideas, and test hypotheses; and creating models that explain or communicate ideas.

    To achieve the above stated goals, the exhibit was sub-divided into three main areas: an introductory area designed to increase visitor awareness of different types of models by presenting both scientific and non-scientific models in multiple formats; a central exhibit area where visitors engage in hands-on activities as they raise questions, find solutions, communicate ideas, and create their own “mental model”; and a surrounding area that presents a collage of models used in visitors’ everyday lives.

    The overarching philosophy behind the design of this exhibit was one of inclusion and equity, particularly for persons with disabilities. Accessibility features or accommodations in the exhibition were not designed for the exclusive use of visitors with disabilities. Rather, the exhibition provides equitable and independent access for all visitors, by providing: multiple methods for receiving information (audio, text and images); multi-sensory interactives; and an architectural design that emphasizes comfort and usability without sacrificing the intended playful aesthetic.

    All of this was done with the ultimate aim of creating an exhibition where visitors of all ages and abilities would feel comfortable as they sit, stand, listen, read, interact and converse while engaging in the process of science.

  • Development process and challenges

    The overarching framework that defined the concept was an abstract idea that was, at times, hard for the team to really pin down (as well as the visitors). We cared not only that visitors engaged in specific types of activities that reflected science process skills, but also that they were aware that they were doing so. These two goals were not easy to achieve.

    The other challenge was the focus on universal design. We really had to think outside the box to come up with some new and innovative design ideas that would help us to achieve our goal of developing an exhibition that reached the broadest possible audience.

  • Lessons learned, mistakes we made (and what we did about them)

    Modeling skills: Engaging visitors in activities that reflected the above described modeling skills was not an easy task. Some techniques used included applying role play scenarios to the activity design (Imagine you are a fish farmer…), mystery games where visitors guessed what an unidentified model represented, and juxtaposing multiple models of the same thing next to one another.

    Universal design: This is probably the area where most of our learning took place. The involvement of persons with disabilities (particularly paid consultants who were both disabled and had access-related expertise) was critical. Using the universal design for learning framework developed by CAST, Inc. in Wakefield, MA ( also helped to set us in the right direction. We tried to engage as many senses as possible in all of the modeling activities, and we focused on delivering information through multiple modes of communication (audio, text, and images). The technical designers also came up with some clever mechanisms for increasing the physical accessibility of the exhibition. (see attached PowerPoint presentations for more information).

  • Exhibition Opened: May 2003

  • Exhibition Still Open!

  • Traveling Exhibition: No

  • Size: 3,000 to 5,000

  • NSF Funding: Yes, Grant No. ESI-9909573

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