My Sky

Topic: Earth & Space Sciences Subtopic: Earth, Moon & Sun

Case Study

of an Exhibition

by Margaret Middleton

Published on January 31, 2015

  • Description and goals

    My Sky is a 1,500 square-foot traveling exhibit developed by Boston Children’s Museum (BCM) in collaboration with NASA, and in partnership with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Designed for children ages 5-10 and their adult caregivers, My Sky is full of hands-on opportunities to explore the Sun, Moon and stars while building fundamental science skills like observing, comparing, measuring, and experimenting. The premise of the exhibit is the democratic notion that the sky is science learning resource that is available to all of us, all of the time.

    My Sky provides adults with cues and tools for learning together as a family and ideas for how to continue the learning at home. Throughout their visit, families are encouraged to “look up” in the exhibit and in their everyday lives.

    Knowing that astronomy can be an intimidating topic for adults and children alike, My Sky offers multiple entry points to finding personal connections to the sky through a diversity of perspectives and interests. “The Sky Inspires”, an interpretative thread that runs through My Sky, honors artistic and creative thinkers alongside scientists. The creative, artistic spirit of this thread is echoed by the design elements, from the painterly graphic treatment on the exterior of the Moon Dome to the faux finish of the lime green walls in the Bedroom and the inclusion of a striking, sky-inspired wood and steel sculpture that hangs from the ceiling.

    The entry to My Sky is a gateway, welcoming visitors, inviting them to look up and preparing them for their experience. The exhibit consists of environments that feel familiar and accessible and also a little aspirational for children who look up to teenagers. These environments include a skate park with sky-themed graffiti, a cool bedroom with a loft bed, and a camping scene with tents to explore.

    Designed to feel immersive, each environment has its own special floor and, to support exhibit’s refrain “look up”, most spaces even have their own ceiling. The Moon dome is more than immersive – it’s transportive. It’s dark and otherworldly. The carpeting on the floor and walls of the dome’s interior changes the sound quality of the space, and the Moon glows, surrounded by hundreds of shining LED stars.

  • Development process and challenges

    Addressing astronomy for 5-10 year olds is no small task. The universe is vast, and scientists understand only a fraction of how it works. Our partnership with SAO was critical in this regard. They are leaders in astronomy education, and particularly in studying the common misconceptions that many children (and adults) bring to interpreting what is observable in the sky. The project relied on SAO’s 20-year experience designing astronomy learning interventions that draw upon contemporary research on how people learn and on the most effective strategies to engage learners in active construction of scientific ideas. All science content, exhibit concepts, sketches and text were reviewed by SAO to ensure clarity, consistency and accuracy.

    Media were carefully chosen for the exhibition, and considered within the context of most effective practice. For example, it was clear through our prototyping that the most compelling way to present the Sun is through real footage of solar activity. BCM worked closely with NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory to create a first-of-its-kind full-year interactive movie of the Sun from calendar year 2014. Children use a Spin Browser™ to scroll through this stunning footage and see solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and what was happening on the Sun on any day from last year.

    When considering how we should introduce children to the Moon’s topography and misconceptions about a “dark side” of the Moon, we first designed a digital interactive. Reflecting on our goals for the exhibit and the age group of our audience, we decided instead to create a 5-foot diameter, topographically accurate, scale model of the Moon that children can touch, rotate and explore. The model was created by Blue Rhino Studio using the most recent GIS data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. This tactile experience brings the science to life in a way that no digital experience could have.

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

    Formative evaluation included an iterative process of exhibit prototyping before the final design. Soon after the exhibit’s opening at Boston Children’s Museum remedial evaluation began and recommended changes were made in response to the project evaluator’s observations. Formative evaluation was conducted with a diverse range of families, ensuring that the components were broadly usable and understandable. The team added labels, updated interpretive language, made electronic interfaces to be more intuitive, and tweaked exhibit elements to make them as safe as possible.

    Saki Iwamoto, BCM’s Health and Wellness Educator, helped to ensure that the exhibit adhered to ADA standards. Saki, a certified Child Life Specialist has knowledge and clinical experience working with children with various special needs. One example, is the lighting for the orrery which presented a potential risk for visitors with low-vision and light sensitivity. Saki worked with the design team to identify a combination of light angle and lumens that would be safe for visitors.

  • Exhibition Opened: July 2014

  • Traveling Exhibition: Yes

  • Location: Boston, MA, United States

  • Estimated Cost: $100,000 to $500,000 (US)

  • Size: 1000 to 3,000 sq ft.

  • Other funding source(s): NASA

  • Website(s):

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