Exhibit Experiences at the NYSCI


Suze and I (Morgan) paired up and spent time at two very different exhibits. The first one, called the Lux-Rota was incredibly analog, and it was at the end of a very old school seeming "Mathematica" section. One of the museum guides confessed that the kids tend to be bored by this particular exhibit. It consists of three dials labeled "Frequency", "RPM" and "Voltage". 


As you turn the dials, a rod displayed on a board in front of you rotates and changes in speed, lights up and changes in brightness, and blinks and varying degrees of rapidness. Here is a video:



The second exhibit we spent time with was almost the polar opposite. It was the totally immersive and dynamic "Connected Worlds" installation. That exhibit felt super current and mystical. Like many others, we spent a good 15 minutes or so figuring out how it worked and what was happening, which was very unlike the 1:1 cause and effect experience we had with the Lux-Rota. It was clear that this one was a much bigger hit with the kids, judging by how engaged they seemed (taking on the role of explaining to many of the adults how it all worked) and how much time they spent there.





Sports & Learning

My group chose to observe and participate in the Sports section. We also visited the interactive Connected Worlds exhibit. Here is my observation  and reflection.

“Ropes & Pulleys”

The Ropes and Pulleys activity was a very physical exploration of science. There were 4 large steering wheels that were attached to ropes with pulleys on them. These elements formed a web wall. Whenever one steering wheel would move, so would a section of the web. Although my partners and I could not fully get the system to work, it forced us to talk to one another to try and come up with a plan and  try to figure out how to create a pattern. The environment was open and there was a lot of light, and overall was very simply designed, not using advanced technology. For the students that it was intended for, I think they would have to spend a significant amount of time working together to get the system to work. Therefore, it requires patience and effective communication skills. The students would also need an “expert” or teacher/leader to assist and assure completion and success.

“Test Your Balance”

The Test Your Balance activity was really fun. The purpose of it was to show students that spreading your legs farther apart creates more balance versus having them close together. The activity consisted of a mechanical surfboard, a start, button, and had some padding around for safety. The activity felt like an arcade game or carnival challenge versus a learning experience. I say that to say, students of younger ages would probably love it. The challenge would be to make sure that the lesson about balance is clear. This activity is also a solitary one. The activity and the learning can be done without a partner or group, teacher, explainer, or leader.

“Bounce Back”

The Bounce Back activity was extremely simple, but gets the point across. The materials needed are a variety of soft and hard surfaces, and a basketball. Although it was simple, I found it exciting to watch the ball fly into the air after being bounced on the hardest surface, the hardwood floor. There was room for two students to participate at once, but the interaction between the two students is unclear. It was also a quick activity and did not take a lot of deep thought to understand the concept.

“Wheelchair Race”


The Wheelchair Race let students understand aerodynamics by having them “race” one another, video game style. By turning their wheels of their wheelchair, their avatar moved forward. The racing chair, with one wheel out front and no back support was the fastest one because it was built for speed. The racer, in a real race, would lean forward and the wind would go over them, rather than prevent them from going as fast as possible. This was the conclusion that we came to after the two racers switched chairs and realized that the racing chair was programmed to always win. The activity was not about arm strength, but about aerodynamics. This activity was also very engaging and felt arcade-like. This activity was also very social and required two people to play. What was great about our group’s trial was that the two participants decided to switch spots. In the cases of younger participants, I don’t know if they would figure that out.

“Flaming Fastballs”

The Flaming Fastballs activity was a baseball themed batting cage set-up. There was a batting cage, 3 different weighted balls, and a speedometer. This activity was an individual activity, and did not require any assistance. The participant gathers the three different balls, and then throws them to the back of the cage. The speedometer tells them the speed of each one, and in the end, they can see which balls are best for going fast.

“Connected Worlds”

Connected Worlds was an ambient interactive experience. The objective is unclear to me, but the impact was great. It was easy to lose track of time in there because it was dark, and the music added to the tranquility. It felt like a real life video game. By moving the “logs” participants changed the pattern of the water. By moving one’s arms a certain way, they could grow trees or cut them down. This activity is great for all age groups, because as our class group discussed, many of them didn’t read the introduction/directions at the entrance. They were pulled into the exhibit. But, there were young kids at the exhibit who led the way. They explained how the activity worked and they were the experts. As far as environment, this had the most stimulating one, but as I mentioned before, the purpose for me is unclear versus the surfboard, wheelchair, or batting cage examples, or even the maker space which is up next. It was just nice to be there. Maybe the importance is to show how humans have a direct impact on the environment and that our actions can change many pockets of the ecosystem?

“Maker Space”

The Maker Space was great. (Most pictures above are not from the actual space, but from activities around it.) Kids are able to come to the Maker Space after school, for weekend programs, and summer camps. What was compelling for me was that the creator/director of the program mentioned having to create balance for himself in developing the program. Although he had fun making different elements, he had to realize that there had to be structure and a purpose to the activities. What was most relevant to the readings was the making of the journal. Because we are reading about journaling as part of the learning process, I thought it was really creative to have students make the actual journal that they would then be taking notes in.

We were also introduced to an example of what great things kids can do when they are given simple tools and left with time and freedom to be creative. Caine’s Arcade came up, but we were also shown and told about examples made by kids in the NYSCI Maker Space programs. Light Sabers, rubber band guns, water fountains, 3D printed prototypes, laser cut prototypes, woodwork, and other things. Caine and these kids are proof that age is not a huge limitation, but access or freedom perhaps are.

Racing Cars

The sports area is a very popular part of the museum, even though its exhibits are some of the most basic and least technologically advanced.

The centerpiece of this area is the largest exhibit: 3 shiny racing cars. The aim of this exhibit is for participants to sit in the cars, press the gas pedal, and race against each other to measure their reaction time - who reacts fastest to the ‘Go’ sign.

I was confused about why this exhibit was so popular. It seemed to be quite basic, with little room for engagement (just pressing one pedal). I asked an Explainer, who was a high-school student who worked on the exhibit. He said that participants of all ages were drawn to it due to the loud noise the engine makes (I hadn’t even noticed this), and the opportunity to compete. He said the main thing they learn is that a lower number is a winner (AKA lower reaction times win).

Exhibit from the perspective of an adult


Observation of 2 year-old child: ran up to cards and climbed all over them, touching and smelling the wheels. The exhibit was very experiential, perhaps because from their perspective it seemed enormous. The idea of being ‘in the driver’s seat’ was novel. 

Observation of two 17 and 18 year old girls: They ignored the entire activity and sat down in the driver’s seat, touched the steering wheel, and then left.


Two year old's perspective of the exhibit
Two year old's perspective of the exhibit


Observation of two 17 and 18 year old girls: They ignored the entire activity and sat down in the driver’s seat, touched the steering wheel, and then left.

Teenage girls' perception of the exhibit
Teenage girls' perception of the exhibit


I think this exhibit is popular because it is safe and familiar. It is reminiscent of everything from sitting in the backseat of your family car, to playing arcade games. People already know how to interact with it, so in this sense it grounds the rest of the exhibition area. However the potential for learning is limited, because there is only one learning outcome really: to understand reaction times. And there is not an additional built-in open-ended element to the exhibit which would stretch learners and encourage higher-order thinking. There is alot of scaffolding for learning but not any requirement for higher-order thinking. To caompare this to the wheelchair activity - there is a higher-order learning exercise around aero-dynamics as well as racing and reaction times. That is what is lacking in this exhibit. 




NYSCI Exhibits

A visit to the NY Hall of Science (NYSCI)

Thursday February 16, 2017

I partnered with Javi Arenas

The two of us first visited the exhibit:  The Search For Life Beyond Earth


On Earth, wherever there is life, there is water.

Are there other places in our solar system that might contain water and perhaps life? Discover what scientists have learned about life in extreme environments on Earth and how this suggests what kind of life we look for in our Solar System and beyond.

An array of interactive exhibits invite visitors to move from one extreme Earth environment to the next as they explore each environment’s unique characteristics and discover one or more organisms that live there. A final link between understanding life on Earth and searching for life beyond may come from remote exploration within the solar system. Such exploration in space has revealed locations that may be quite similar to extreme environments here on Earth, with liquid water and the potential for life.


From: NYSCI website: nysci.org/search-for-life-beyond-earth/
This exhibit is designed to show how life has been discovered in the most inhospitable places on earth and, therefore, may be present on other planets even though their environment doesn’t seem conducive to life. It is a highly sensorial exhibit utilizing sight, smell, touch, and sound. All of the displays are interactive, some more than others. I enjoyed the exhibit and learned some new information. Some of the displays were fun, some beautiful, some very curious. However, the compactness of the displays was a challenge to my focus and attention. For example, I could hear all of the recorded narration from every part of the exhibit at the same time. No other visitors were present in the space, neither were any explainers. I wonder if the sensory overload and compactness prevents visitors, especially children, from absorbing the breadth of the information presented.

The first display that Javi and I spent time experiencing was Sometimes, life stinks. I appreciated the play on words! There were 3 squeezable cylinders topped with a metal cap with a few holes, kind of like a salt shaker. If you leaned in and squeezed, you got a whiff of certain kinds of microbes. One did not smell good! We were shown how if an explorer or a future Mars rover catches a certain smell it’s a sign that microbial life might be present. I liked the combination of touch and smell.

The next display that we spent some time with was Water in motion: a beautiful thing. Since we are both visual people we were interested in the beautiful visual effect of this “artwork” that shows how hot and cold water mix to form patterns under ice surfaces. There was a round metal frame with a glass disk that was inserted into a stand that allowed the disk to be flipped over. The disk was filled with a white substance and water. When the disk was still a sharp line separated the two materials but when we flipped the disk the substances began to move and interact. The swirls created had a fractal quality and was mesmerizing. The display however seems very hypothetical, nothing was said about this effect being seen on earth, though I’m sure it happens. Specifically we are seeing “what it looks like under the ice of Europa” “if there’s warm water… it might look like… may support life” (bold italics mine). Still, it was pretty and fun and held our attention for a while.

The last display that we spent quite a bit of time with was Which world is colder? At the poles? The equator? It’s really a very simple display and straight-forward experience but the sensation is very captivating. The sphere representing Mars is very cold and the same temperature all over. The sphere representing earth is warm at the equator (lower part) and is colder at the top. The text notes that, “the red desert planet is cold” pointing out a conflict between the word desert and our expectation of the temperature in a desert. No specific connection is made here about the potential for existing life and temperature. However, other displays in the exhibit make it clear that life can exist in extreme cold and hot. Perhaps it’s not difficult to make the connection that although we know Mars to be incapable of supporting human life, it’s possible other forms of life could exist there.

Leaving The Search For Life Beyond Earth exhibit Javi and headed over to Connected Worlds. “NYSCI’s groundbreaking new exhibition immerses visitors in a fantastical animated world where your actions – gestures, movements, and decisions – impact how well the world is kept in balance. As visitors explore and play, their actions – gestures, movements, decisions – have both short and long-term effects on the digital habitats. These effects are based on core concepts of sustainability science including feedback loops, equilibrium in a dynamic environment, and casual links and influences.” (NYSCI website). Let’s face it, interactive immersive environments are seductive. This one is no exception. It’s a beautiful display in a beautiful space. The room feels very much like a play space and certainly the youth in the exhibit were enjoying the interactive play. The educational goals set out by the museum are very ambitious and I’m not confident that these aims are well supported beyond the visual/interactive experience (but the explainers help a lot). It makes me wonder where the connections truly happen between game space or play space and educational space, especially when the goals are so specific.

Honestly, I felt the logs and their interaction with the flow of water was more interesting than the rest, something about the interaction of object and image. It seemed to become indexical of our place as objects in the environment, key to the interaction with the images on the wall.


Me being me, I was immediately focused on the list of corporate supporters, very conspicuously placed at the entry next to the exhibit’s main sign.

I know that without corporate support museums could not function. But, I’m so rabidly anti-capitalist and so suspicious of the evil that these corporations do in their primary lives that I had to look them up and see what they’re about. I don’t want to just discredit them without facts and figures however 1) with their billions of dollars they better be doing good work in the world not just in museums in NYC. 2) They better be supporting public education since our government has failed miserably in doing so. 3) They need to do all this without any pressure to adhere to a particularly evil ideology. LOL I better stop… I’ll just get angry!

JPB Foundation:

To enhance the quality of life in the United States through transformational initiatives that promote the health of our communities by creating opportunities for those living in poverty, enabling pioneering medical research, and enriching and sustaining our environment.


The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense..." NSF is vital because we support basic research and people to create knowledge that transforms the future. This type of support:

  • Is a primary driver of the U.S. economy.
  • Enhances the nation's security.
  • Advances knowledge to sustain global leadership.

With an annual budget of $7.5 billion (FY 2016), we are the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America's colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.


…the agency also supports "high-risk, high pay-off" ideas, novel collaborations and numerous projects that may seem like science fiction today, but which the public will take for granted tomorrow. And in every case, we ensure that research is fully integrated with education so that today's revolutionary work will also be training tomorrow's top scientists and engineers.


Tech entrepreneurs are using innovation to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. We invest in teams with bold ideas that create lasting global impact.

NASDAQ Educational Foundation

The Nasdaq Educational Foundation, Inc., was established in 1994 and is supported entirely by contributions from Nasdaq. The mission of the Nasdaq Educational Foundation, Inc. is to support programs that further the Nasdaq vision and mission of connecting business, capital and innovative ideas to advance global economies.


Derived from classical Greek, our name refers to the supporting tissues that help transport water and nutrients from a plant's roots to its leaves. To the people of Xylem, our name stands for our promise to live our values while solving our customers' most challenging water problems, and to set industry standards for fluid technology applications and water solutions. a leading global water technology company with operations in more than 150 countries; a passionate, talented, and experienced workforce; well-known industry-leading brands and water solution products; 2014 revenues of $3.9 billion and a shared commitment to making a difference in communities around the world.

Carnegie Corporation of New York

Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919) established in 1911 “to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding,” is one of the oldest and most influential of American grantmaking foundations. The Corporation has devoted unremitting effort toward the two issues Andrew Carnegie considered of paramount importance: international peace and the advancement of education and knowledge. While these remain areas in need of great attention through our nation and the world, we have maintained a long tradition of striving to meet the challenges that are with us and responding to the constant ebb and flow of issues and ideas.


All in all I found NYSCI to be an effective space for experiencing and learning. Some of the exhibits were a bit old and tattered (funding issue?) but well done. I applaud the effort to create an exhibit like Connected Worlds as most young people (and many older as well) move very naturally and successfully through AR and VR environments. The potential as a learning tool is tremendous. Still, the old-school hands-on exhibits are engaging and fun and revelatory. Smell, touch and sound round out the experience in an important way.



Hall of Science Trip -- Narrative Report



I went into the New York Hall of Science thinking about how Dicks et al describes the challenges of multimodal ethnography (2006).  We have all these technological advances that enable us to capture data in the field, like “photographs, video film, audio-recordings, graphics and others besides” (77).  You would think this abundance of resources allows for an expansion of possibilities.  But Dicks et al point out how this can be limiting, stating, “Data, are the represented world as we know and experience it, rather than “world in itself” (78).  So this led me enter the museum wondering, what would I gain from recordings, photographs, interactions with the materials, museum staff, and of course the children?  In what ways would these different means of recording the activity inside the Hall of Science on President’s Day, give me data about the “interactive material exhibits” and the ways in which “children interact with these exhibits and to what extent do they learn ‘science’ from them (80)?  According to Dicks et al there’s an abundance of data, from “facial expressions” to all the material that contributes to create “a communicative environment” (81).  How do you approach this if you know you will not be able to capture completely what is going on here?

What I decided to do was to remove as much purpose from my visit as possible, but rather move organically around the exhibits, interact with them myself, and gently observe the things around me.  I used photo and video to capture some of what I observed, but just a bit. I also had the benefit of the company of three of my favorite young ladies, my daughters ages 11 and 10, and a close friend also age 11.  This allowed me to observe their interactions with the materials on an intimate level, because you can’t just go around recording other people’s children.  However, there were instances when children I didn’t know helped me understand what I was seeing!  Even though I used multiple modes for observing the activities within the Hall of Science, I believe that approaching the visit with the idea of observing, but not worrying about a complete picture, enabled me to have profound interactions with the people, materials, and space of the museum.  




First thing I saw when I walked into the Main Pavilion.  Kids and adults building three dimensional objects.



This "Touch the Spring" exhibit was one example of a time when a child came over to me and showed me how the materials worked.  It was really cool.

I also have a nice video of my daughter using the graphic presentation to explain how the exhibit works scientifically.