Challenging a Common Assumption of Hands-on Exhibits: How Counterintuitive Phenomena Can Undermine Inquiry

Date: 
Monday, July 22, 2013
Resource Type:
Peer-reviewed article | Research Products
Environment Type: 
Exhibitions, Museum and Science Center Exhibits
Audience: 
Families | General Public | Museum/ISE Professionals | Evaluators
Discipline: 
Education and learning science | General STEM | Physics
Organization:
Exploratorium
Description: 

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.

Funder(s): 
NSF
Funding Program: 
ISE/AISL
Award Number: 
0087844
Funding Amount: 
1284590
Citation
ISSN:
1059-8650
Publication Name: 
Journal of Museum Education
Volume: 
33
Number: 
2
Page Number: 
187
Document:

Associated Projects

Team Members

Josh GutwillAuthor

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