Challenging a Common Assumption of Hands-on Exhibits: How Counterintuitive Phenomena Can Undermine Inquiry
Some of the most intriguing science museum exhibits start with a counter-intuitive outcome, a result that runs counter to visitors' expectations. Although counter-intuitive events often succeed in captivating visitors, they rarely lead to visitor-driven inquiry. The author argues that this is primarily due to two factors: first, for the counter-intuitive effect to be presented reliably and repeatedly, the visitor's interaction must be limited to a narrow set of options. Without multiple options for visitors to explore, extended inquiry is nearly impossible. Second, counter-intuitive outcomes beg the question "why did the outcome occur?" Answering such a "why" question through experimentation alone is too challenging for most visitors; they either leave the exhibit or turn to an explanatory label. In either case, the potential for inquiry is unrealized. Three strategies that do motivate visitor inquiry at open-ended exhibits are presented: revealing beautiful aesthetics, supporting creativity and presenting remarkable devices.