A short visit to the Bayly Art Museum…

May 1, 2008

A short review.

After missing the class visit to the Bayly, I decided a couple of weeks ago to take my own tour of the University’s Art Museum. The signs outside direct one to the front door of the Bayly where one can enter the front hallway. A small alcove affords an opportunity to deposit personal items as well as view short films on various aspects of the exhibits. The gallery to the left is air controlled and contains the current exhibits of the Asian collection.

Even though the ticking of the clock seemed a bit out of place in an Asian exhibit, I did get the opportunity to view a very nice collection of artifacts from four areas: China, Japan, Korea, and the Indian area. On display were a collection of such items as small statues, wall hangings, and paintings on a variety of media. I especially enjoyed the Korean wall hanging of a tiger painted on silk that dated back to the eighteenth century. Since my in-laws are Korean, I found it especially compelling in both its design and cultural significance. I did not realize how integral the tiger image is to certain Korean artists. The set of accompanying study placards mounted on foam core boards were very helpful to take along and use while observing each piece of art in this section.

Upstairs is a small permanent exhibit on ancient art of the Mediterranean area. I enjoyed an up-close view of some Roman tile work by an unknown artist as well as a variety of Greek vases and Roman statuary. Some of the 500 B.C. era Greek vases were remarkable in their subjets and paintings and reminded me of work in several prior courses of study in archaeology and ancient civilizations.

The traveling exhibit displayed a variety of items about the landscape of slavery. The variety of perspectives on both the importance of artifacts as well as what they really tell us about the nature of the lives of slaves was very interesting. The whole idea of life on a plantation was presented from various artists’ perspectives and many of the works illustrated themes that inspired thoughtful contemplation about the true nature of this period of American history.

I had the opportunity to talk at length with one of the docents who had worked there for many years. The museum has an interesting history and UVA is one of only a few places that has had its own functioning art museum for such a long period of time. He described the plan to build the new art museum on the corner down the street. This new arts center will provide space for both visual and other forms of art and it will be quite an exciting project. However, when completed, it will mean that the Bayly will most likely become part of the school of Architecture. The new building will provide considerably more space for the display of the collection as this gentleman indicated that only a small fraction of the collection can currently be displayed at the Bayly.

The Bayly is an asset to the University of Virginia and provides a valuable space for contemplation of a diverse set of inspirational pieces of art. It will be sad to see it “retired”, but exciting to move its treasures to a more functional, modern facility in the near future.

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Museum of American Frontier Culture–additional review

April 27, 2008

Museum of American Frontier Culture

A short review:

Since I missed the field trip to this museum, I decided to visit it myself recently and evaluate its exhibitions and programs. I had a brochure about the museum given to me by a friend and I used it along with their web site to plan my visit. The museum is located in Staunton, Virginia one exit north of the intersection of I-64 and I-81. Signs provide ample directions to find the museum, although one has to be careful after exiting I-81 to get into the left lane quickly to make the turn at a stop light. After a short drive down a paved driveway, the museum complex materializes in the distance. During this drive I was intrigued when I noticed the “Perry Building” on the hill, whose similarity to my last name invoked a certain intrigue of its own.

After parking and walking up to the main building, I found the ticket office and then proceeded back to watch a short film about the museum and how it uses costumed interpreters to connect visitors to the cultural mission of the museum. The film provided a good overview of both the mission of the museum as well as background on the structures and design of the various frontier areas in the complex. Through a gate and out around the path, the first area is actually under development as an African farm. The museum is moving structures and re-building some of these on another section of the site.

The English cottage from 1690 was quite charming and I enjoyed wandering around inside and out imagining how life must have been for the families that lived in this type of pioneering house.

The interpreter inside was cooking over an open fire and explaining various aspects of the English frontier life to a small family group. The entire place provided an inspirational vignette of English farm life and seemed to be frozen in time. Across the path was a small fenced area containing sheep and lambs. One of the interpreters was explaining how the sheep were sheared and how some were used for “other purposes”. A school group was enjoying their personal time with one small lamb. As I moved along the path, a group of ducks and geese had managed to stake out territory on the path and many of the visitors were having to choose alternate routes to avoid their territorial displays.

The Irish farm was equally as charming as a fiddler and hammer dulcimer musician were entertaining a school group around one side of the farm. The thatch roof, stone fencing, and wonderful authentic music emanating from the corner lent a particular sense of nostalgia to the entire scene. The iron work and unusual front gate also induced some unique questions from some of the young visitors.

The next stop along the path was the German farm. I was fortunate to have the interpreter to myself and he obliged my questions about chickens, houses, and various furniture ideas by allowing me a bit of a behind-the-scenes tour of some parts of this farm. Most of the elements are reproductions, but one particular cupboard was a real antique. I was also quite taken with the design of the upstairs area and how it is similar and different from the English and Irish designs.

A short tram ride takes one out to the American farm area where I met up with an interpreter working on a new cabin. He was gracious enough to invite me to help, but I did not really have on work clothes, so I respectfully declined and explained that I would have to come back and help sometime later. He was patient with my questioning about his plans for the new cabin and how authentic of a representation it would be of a 1740’s cabin. He then directed me up the hill to the American farm areas.

This area is under re-construction as one particular building is in the process of being moved over from the future site of the African farm. The American farm is most familiar to me and I had a good conversation about other similar museums with one of the interpreters. We compared some of those that we had visited with what MAFC is currently doing and discussed the future of this museum and how its mission to preserve the frontier culture overlaps with that of some other historical preservation efforts.

Back on the tram to the main building, and I was able to make a short visit to their gift shop. Apparently, it has excellent fudge, but I don’t usually eat food with this much sugar in it, so I decided to forego the pleasure on this visit. The entire museum was charming and very interesting as a living historical interpretive area for this important period in American history. The addition of the African farm will enhance their efforts further and I look forward to this addition for a future visit.

 

 

Museum visit #4: NC Museum of Life and Science

April 27, 2008

NC Museum of Life and Science

Web Site Review:

Prior to my visit to the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, I decided to review their web site for information. The front page is very informative and visually appealing with many vignette buttons, images, and submenus easily accessible from this navigation page. Many of the more popular exhibits and programs are shown by icon at the top of the page for easy access. In addition, there are a set of tabs to navigate to various parts of the front page in layers. Each tab takes the visitor immediately to a page of the information needed such as visiting the museum, getting involved, or “how to” do many different things at the museum. The “about us” tab gives information on the mission of the museum, its commitment, and values.
The section on learning about the museum has extensive information on the main exhibits including background details, descriptions, and a context for why each exhibit is important at the museum. The sections on how to learn more and what to do on your own in relation to the exhibit are quite compelling and provide important directions for future inquiry. There is a section on science in the triangle area that relates the activities of the museum to the local scientific community and research.
Planning a visit is easily accomplished with a quick read through the “visiting the museum” tab, which includes the logistical information on location, hours, admission, and directions. Additional links provide maps and specific information on camps, exhibit events, and programs. The “get involved” section explains all of the methods through which one could make a difference working along with the museum as a volunteer, member, or camp presenter.
The site is easy to navigate and provides a wealth of information on both the museum and its broader educational mission beyond the museum door. There is a special section just for teachers on focused field trips, school programs, and professional development opportunities. Similarly, the “families” section lists the variety of ways that families can take full advantage of all of the programs and offerings from the museum. Additional materials for evaluation of museum field trips and follow-up lessons are available from the web site to extend the learning experiences for special groups. The museum has put considerable thought into both the content and organization of this site and it shows. Information, connectivity, organization, and visual appeal all work together quite well to provide a high quality site.
Museum Visit:
On March 6th, 2008, I visited the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, North Carolina. The museum lies inside the city of Durham not far from the intersection of US 501 and interstate 85. Signs direct visitors toward the museum, but the route could be better marked for the new visitor. The web site has excellent maps that help to direct eager visitors.
 
The museum has a large, well-designed parking lot and evident landmarks including a Redstone rocket outside its largest building. The Life and Science Museum actually encompasses an entire campus of buildings and an outdoor science park. Tickets to the entire complex are obtained just inside the main building where a gift shop lies directly to the right for easy access to the entrance. The staff is very welcoming and desk attendants provide ample information about daily programming as well as ticket and admission details. Restrooms are easily accessible upon direct entrance and most of the largest building is accessed off the main transverse hallway directly behind the front desk. One end of this hall begins the indoor exhibit tour with a large space for traveling exhibits, while the other provides access to other exhibit areas and the exit out to the outdoor science park area.

My tour had scarcely began, when an unexpected power outage plunged the entire facility into darkness right after I had entered the traveling exhibit. The staff quickly worked to effect a solution and the rest of the visitors remained calm as the staff assured us that this was only a temporary problem probably due to the new construction going on inside their park. Indeed, they were correct, when a minute or so later, the power returned and the staff made the rounds in the museum to insure that every exhibit was operating properly. Their dedication to the visitors, the museum, and their re-assurance was quite admirable in this circumstance. Their professionalism and calm reaction in what was obviously an unusual happening demonstrated the degree to which they valued their role as museum educators.

The traveling exhibit featured the nature of certain structures in architecture and buildings. The variety of kid-friendly interactive building activities had enticed several groups of young engineers to try their hands at constructive creativity. This exhibit was fairly simple in its conception and design, but very effective in several areas, producing a context for growth in architectural knowledge through experimentation and design. All of the visitors were enjoying their opportunity to explore new vistas through their buildings and several young visitors even continued their work in the relative darkness during the short power outage.

Turning the corner, one enters the weather exhibit sponsored partly by the local television station and weather service. A large tornado simulator dominates the room illustrating the conditions under which air vortices may form. A mist pool shows how a cloud forms along side a large globe of spinning sediments and varying vortices. A sand-blowing chamber complete with visitor-controlled fan allows for interactive experimentation of winds on small particles. Next to this, a thoroughly modern, automated, computer-controlled weather station displays data on local weather conditions along with informative signs to explain what much of it means. A large rotating disc exhibit illustrates the complex nature of varying vortex rotations on fluids such as water vapor. The cloud-like features that it creates can be directly compared to those often viewed in the real sky. However, the highlight of this exhibit is definitely the large tornado simulator.

The simulator exhibit rises twelve feet above the floor with a large grate approximately two feet high from which the mist emanates to start the tornado. Four large poles support the illuminated top portion that houses a large fan to create an updraft and rotation to create the air vortex. Several signs surround this simulator to explain its operation and what it simulates. Smaller children are welcome to climb up onto the platform and interact directly with the resulting simulated tornadoes. During its operation, I observed several groups of patrons, many ranging greatly in age and experience, interact with this exhibit. It produces a very realistic simulation of a tornado and attracts a great deal of attention from all visitors. This exhibit will be one focus for my own project on tornadoes and how to best illustrate what they are to public patrons.

The next exhibit section focuses on geology, rocks and minerals. Many rock specimens in various cases illustrate rocks in each stage of the rock cycle. A sedimentation tube, which was broken on my visit, is intended to show how settling of sediments produces sedimentary rocks. A seismograph rounds out this exhibit where visitors are encouraged to jump around and create their own quake on the scale. However, the relation of much of the intended content from this set of exhibits seems to need additional consideration. Both the method of exhibition along with the ineffective guidance from signs should be corrected to insure that visitors are more motivated to interact as well as learn from these displays.

A short exhibit on surface tension offers a bit more interaction, although just raising and lowering a basket is rather a dull method for interactivity. A few of the other areas of displays offer varying levels of interactivity, with the usual buttons to push, levers to pull, and cranks to turn. A large lunar lander module is a highlight of their collection of space artifacts. It is quite well displayed, but again, the only interactivity seems to be a small laser pen dot to illuminate various portions for demonstrations. Some of the insect displays have magnifying lenses and other tools to encourage visitors to “act like scientists” during the investigations. However, I did not observe as much enthusiasm for this type of interaction from the young patrons during my visit.

One highlight of this indoor building is the young people’s play area, which is designed specifically for younger visitors. Small tables, chairs, and kid-sized areas for investigation are interspersed with bright colored interactive activities. Play houses, a variety of manipulatives, and a large maze for rolling balls around provide many opportunities for younger patrons to investigate simple science principles.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A new exhibit was still under construction on the second floor and I had an opportunity to view part of the unfinished product. “Investigate Health” is the latest exhibit under development at the museum and focuses on how everyday health is affected by such activities as wearing sunscreen, hand washing, and being under too much stress. The exhibits were almost complete and a new interactive area for monitoring heart rates had just opened up earlier the week of my visit. This exhibit also included a board for feedback on exercise, nutrition and society where patrons could express their thoughts about the exhibit and the content on which it focuses.
The second floor also houses several earth-related technological exhibits including one on simulating earthquakes and testing structures. This exhibit features the ability to build a structure using special blocks and then simulate an earthquake that may knock it down. By allowing visitors to construct their own models, it offers a large variety of options and potential variables to be investigated through this exhibit. However, the signs and accompanying instructions are very simple and do not take full advantage of the potential of this exhibit. With a few minor alterations, which could include a variable speed motor, different blocks with varying colors, or even some options to build on varying types of surfaces, this exhibit has many more possibilities for advanced interaction and development of deeper knowledge. The exhibit does not even mention P, S, and L waves, nor does it encourage any particular types of buildings or structural characteristics. It is a perfect example of a good exhibit idea that needs further development and cognitive scaffolding for maximum effectiveness.

Upon journeying outdoors into the science park, one is first struck by the clanging sounds of a myriad of musical percussion instruments dangling enticingly from kiosks. Of course this presents a perfect opportunity for many young visitors to not only expend excess energy, but also investigate the nature of varying sounds. However, the cacophony can be a bit overwhelming to those whose musical natures are more disposed towards Mozart than Metallica.
From the outdoor concert-fest, one proceeds along a causeway to the charming small animal park with the usual assortment of farm animals. Donkeys, pigs, goats, chickens, and other typical domesticated beasts inhabit standard fenced areas common for these creatures. Obviously, a large hit with some visitors, this contented crew of pets provides a welcome illustration of life on a farm.

 
 
 
 

 

 

The next large building is one of my favorite exhibits at this museum. The Magic Wings butterfly house is an indoor tropical environment that not only houses butterflies, but an entire miniature version of a tropical ecosystem. To enter the environment, one must venture through a special air lock system to insure that no animals get in or out of this habitat. Once inside, the temperature and humidity are carefully regulated and the onslaught of small winged creatures begins. A small artificial brook flows through this domed habitat and one experiences its ebb and flow while walking around a path through giant palms, broad-leafed plants, unusual flowers and feeding stations for both birds and butterflies. A great addition is the observation area for chrysalis formation and butterfly emergence. If lucky enough, one can watch a butterfly emerge from one of the many chrysali at one end of the habitat. This is truly a great exhibition of wildlife and a wonderful opportunity to interact with some smaller creatures with which we share our earth. An impressive variety of additional insect exhibits also showcase grasshoppers, butterflies of the world, and even some spiders.

Venturing farther down the path past Grayson’s Cafe, a great place for a snack in the park, one comes to the newest addition to the museum. A large boardwalk and path take one down to the most recent habitats constructed around a flooded rock quarry. The center is a wetland habitat and the exterior areas are used to house several of the museum’s unique animals. Black bears, red wolves, and lemurs are popular stops along the path. They inhabit state of the art enclosures with fairly ample space and diversity for their needs considering that they are in a suburban setting. The lemur exhibit also has a special interactive camera system for monitoring them up close in their unusual behaviors.

 
 
 

 

 

Farther along the path, a new exhibit on wind is under construction. “Catch the Wind” features a large sailboat pond and experimental area, an air ring shooting station, and a wonderful falling-seed experiment station. This seed station is unique in that it allows one to try out several types of seed shapes and sizes and see how long it takes them to fall to the ground. The shooting station allows visitors to experiment with varying amounts and directions of wind and visualize the effects on a special screen board. Additional exhibits involving large fans and other wind-related activities are still in the test phase.
Overall, this museum is very much a combination of a small hands-on science center and a small zoo. It provides a wide variety of science experiences in a delightfully family-oriented atmosphere. Although some of the exhibits could benefit from greater cognitive scaffolding for greater effectiveness, they do convey many scientific principles quite well on a basic level. This museum is a local favorite for many residents of the triangle area and continues to provide a wealth of science learning programs for visitors of all ages and styles. I look forward to its continued expansion and growth in the future.

 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 
 
 

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Museum Critique #3: NC History Museum

April 26, 2008

North Carolina Museum of History

Web site review:

Prior to my visit to the North Carolina Museum of History, I visited their web site at: http://www.ncmuseumofhistory.org/ for some background information. The site provides information on a variety of programs, activities, upcoming exhibits, as well as information for education. It has a vertical linear design, which seems a bit outdated. The left column has visual representations of current events and programs, while the right column lists the additional pages on the site such as planning a visit, exhibits, artifacts, and education. The listing is comprehensive, but could be better organized and explained.

The section on planning a visit contains general information such as hours of operation, admission, location, and parking information. However, it seems to be a bit tedious to move through several menus to get to some of this information. A direct link on the front page would be more effective. The teacher section contains resource guides and checklists for a field trip. The resource guide is a five-megabyte pdf file that takes too long to load. The checklist loads faster, but a printable version would be a bit more useful. The section on available tours is a grade level list that one has to scroll through to find details. It needs to be re-organized for ease of use as well as for teaching objectives and how various parts of a tour may meet state learning guidelines.

The exhibits sections lists current, upcoming, and previous exhibits. It gives a scrollable listing with a brief abstract and a link to learn more about each exhibit. Although comprehensive and organized by status of exhibit, the list could be better presented for ease of use online. The education section has an extensive listing of resources including teacher institutes, internship information, outreach programs, student information, and virtual field trips. Many of these links are cross-linked with programs on other sections of this site. The internship section gives details about general and project-based internships for students as well as deadlines and application information. One of the most interesting aspects of the museum is their sponsorship of the Tar Heel Junior Historian Association. It is a student organization dedicated to the study of local and state history in North Carolina. This section of the site contains detailed information about the organization, its programs, how to join, what they do with the museum and a variety of their publications. It is most likely the highlight of the museum’s programs.

The remaining sections of the site contain information on the artifacts and collections at the museum. There is also a section with information for how people can care for their own historical treasures in their local collections. A section on collections management and conservation provide unique insight into the methods used at the museum for display and exhibition. The site also contains background information timelines based on themes such as women’s history or native peoples as well as the traditional centennial timelines.

The site has a particular portion dedicated specifically to kids and their interests. This kid-friendly zone contains such age-appropriate activities in categories named history-hunters, time-travelers, and explorers. Each section also contains information for parents and teachers to support these historical explorations beyond the museum experience. There are also resources about careers for historians as well as online games and activities to support the museum exhibits and programs.

The site also has a section about utilizing some of the facilities as rental space for various types of events including receptions, exhibition openings, and historical events. There are a variety of links to other historical associations and museums in North Carolina as well as historical information related to many of the museums’ artifacts and exhibits. The site has significant depth to the information provided, but may need some additional organization to make all of their resources more accessible to the public. However, I was able to find enough information on the site to provide a reasonable plan for my visit.

Museum Review:

The museum is located in downtown Raleigh on a mall area that contains the state museums and government buildings. At the front entrance are several bronze statues of famous or typical North Carolinians in various poses welcoming visitors to the museum. Upon entering, there is a gift shop to right and a help desk straight ahead to direct visitors to various places within the museum. In addition to the gift shop, the lower floor also houses traveling exhibit space and an auditorium which allows for shows and visits to traveling exhibit without having to see rest of museum. The lower floor also houses classrooms for school group visits as well as some of the educational areas. Permanent exhibits on this floor focus on historical clothing and transportation from horses to horsepower. Historical vehicles are situated in a front alcove showcasing the evolution of transportation throughout North Carolina. Across the main floor is an exhibit that explains the wide diversity of textiles that have been produced in North Carolina history. Off to one side are some elevators that one can use to get to the roof gardens. The second floor is used for offices and one must bypass this in the elevator to get to third floor exhibits. This design has its drawbacks and can be a bit confusing for visitors unfamiliar with the museum arrangement.

The primary collection of permanent exhibits inhabits the third floor. Many focus on particular themes or significant events in North Carolina history. The exhibit, “A call to Arms”, celebrates North Carolina in the American Revolution. It houses fairly traditional exhibits in displays and viewing formats. Two exhibits on the USS North Carolina and the Weapons of War illustrate the variety of ways that North Carolina contributed to both the development and maintenance of important war related machinery. The main exhibit hall contains three parts: The first is dedicated to the decorative arts of NC including furniture, quilting, cabinetry, etc. The second focuses on the native peoples and their contributions with such items as pottery making and basket weaving. The third area is primarily dedicated to the Junior historical association with a variety of exhibits of how youth have contributed to history as well as displays designed by school age children on topics of historical interest to North Carolina. These student exhibits are quite informative and show such items as the first Putt-putt golf course in Fayetteville as well as the old Hopkins country store. There are also exhibits explaining the structure of the traditional log cabins in pioneer days of the state. One significant highlight is a room that is designed to represent a drug store. This exhibit included a large collection of artifacts found in a traditional old North Carolina drug store. The countertops, lighting, seating, and the ancient collection of apothecary items provide quite an authentic atmosphere to this exhibit. In addition, it includes a special dedication to the invention of Pepsi, first made in New Bern, North Carolina.

The sports hall of fame illustrates famous North Carolinians contributions in athletics and physical experience. Artifacts such as ancient balls, bats, and other sporting equipment reside along side such legendary items as basketball jerseys and NASCAR vehicles from celebrated victories of the past. Reminiscences of wonderful past athletic performances as well as how diversity throughout North Carolina athletics has altered the landscape show how sports have had an important cultural influence on the nature of our society today.

Overall, this museum preserves many of the most important types of historical artifacts in North Carolina’s past. It spans a wide variety from a small section dedicated to native peoples to a full-scale replica of the Wright brothers’ airplane flight at Kitty Hawk. The first successful gyro-copter is housed here in the main hall as well as some significant historical collections of civil-rights photographs and artifacts. The museum only exhibits a small portion of its collection, according to some of the docents, and strives to find new methods to connect visitors with their own history. However, this museum has several areas in which it may improve. Some of the types of displays are quite outdated given the potential of modern techniques. There is a significant lack of interactivity or inspirational engagement in many of the exhibits and much potential for making visitor connections goes unrealized. The lack of additional space for display of more of the collection would also aid in drawing more visitors, as well as options for creating more student displays and involvement. Many of the exhibit areas showcase important aspects of North Carolina history, while others seem to be focused on themes funded by particular organizations. The lack of an overall museum theme and direction for the entire collection and its impact on the visitor can be disconcerting for a new visitor. One may come away with an eclectic collective mental image of random important items, but not always make connections with the important themes present throughout North Carolina history.

I enjoyed my visit, and am proud of the accomplishments of my fellow North Carolinians, but I would be more inspired by a museum tone and theme that emphasizes a greater realm of future historical mandates for our youth today. The junior historical association is a great step in this direction along with the nature of many of their contests and displays. It is through energizing and empowering our youth to both understand history and feel a need to help shape the future based on our knowledge of the past, that we will reap the greatest rewards from our historical museum experiences in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Museum Site Visit: Eval #2: NC Museum of Nat.Sciences

April 7, 2008

Museum entranceMy visit to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences:

Prior to my visit to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, N.C., I reviewed their web site and found it very informative. Their web site is located at URL: http://www.naturalsciences.org/ . It is fairly easy to navigate and provides a comprehensive listing of exhibits, programs, school visit materials, and educational course offerings. A separate calendar of events lists daily, weekly, and annual events in many formats for planning a visit. Their research section lists and explains the museum’s involvement in a wide variety of collaborative research projects throughout North Carolina, Virginia, and the Southeast. They even have online publications such as checklists of North Carolina wildlife for field trips. One can also schedule a visit to use their extensive collections online through this part of the site. I also really enjoyed their online nature notebook of creatures and organisms found throughout North Carolina. This is a great way to extend museum visit education back into the classrooms and homes of the museum patrons. One can even subscribe to their nature notebook newsletter that highlights current events and updates on the wildlife and natural resources of North Carolina. NC Nat. Sci. Museumfrontdisplayfront2

To plan my visit, I used the visitor page that contained ample information on location, admission fees, parking, maps, and even an interactive floor plan of the entire museum. It also has special operating hours, current special exhibits and daily programs for the week, and the operation guidelines of the gift shop and cafeteria on site. Group registration information and outreach program offerings are also included as links to this part of the site. The “just for teachers” section has a diversity of field trip offerings and options along with recommendations for various ages or classes to visit the museum. The FAQ page was quite good and covered all of the typical questions that teachers and groups might ask prior to their visit to the museum, including group rules for conduct within the museum. The web site, itself, if arranged well, although could use a bit of an update for more interactivity in the web 2.0 styles. It was easy to navigate and had a variety of methods to find needed information.

NCrocksdisplaysI visited the museum on Tuesday, March 4th, 2008. The entrance had ample space and many signs marked where to go to find exhibits and information. One helpful design elements is that one can visit the gift shop on the first floor without visiting museum. Main exhibit hall area is to right of entrance on the first floor. Floor space is utilized for occasional museum exhibits. The theater/presentation space is towards rear of entrance on first floor, again insuring that one can visit this without having to go through entire museum. The museum had several exemplary design elements incorporated in the entrance, including an information desk at front and ticket area at the right section immediately visible upon entering the museum. The rest rooms were clearly marked and at same general locations on each floor. The museum has four levels of public exhibits.map A map is available at the front desk and visible at the same general locations on each floor, indicating a good standardized design for all visitors.

The first floor exhibits are mostly the permanent, dioramas and related to NC geology and wildlife in small displays.whales1 The main exhibit on North Carolina coasts includes huge dioramas, whale and other marine mammal skeletons, live animals in water habitats, and some basic interactive areas with exhibits. skel2beachbeach2These were mostly as expected, typical dioramas, but I would like to see more interactivity with the exhibit to help visitors understand more about the nature of all of these creatures. The tour continues by going up to the second floor. Transportation follows three options—escalator, elevator, or stairs. The elevator is ADA approved for easy access and is fast, quiet and efficient. There are two large elevators running all of the time between floors as well as two escalators and the stairs. diar1dia2

The second floor houses the geology and ground species of NC wildlife and plant life. It extends up into the upper floors through balcony spaces, and vaulted rooms. und1und3und2rks1Various North Carolina rocks, minerals, and fossils are displayed although in cases not conducive to the general nature of the rest of the exhibits. Many seem too boxy and unnatural in comparison with some of the better exhibits. Some displays are much better than others perhaps due to upgrades that are not yet complete. However, there was not enough interactivity with many exhibits other than the usual lifting of card or pushing of buttons. plasani1waterfallMany of the natural creatures in habitats were covered with plastic and inaccessible for those children who like to touch things. Some live animals and classrooms are available for interactivity, but apparently only under supervision of special program staff. The second floor also houses a discovery room and an earthquake seismograph display to show current locations of earthquakes. The discovery room is where the museum conducts many of its programs for younger children.

earthinsec2bugs1The third floor houses the upper atmosphere creatures and wildlife of North Carolina including some birds and insects as well as global connections to NC natural resources including tropical environments.museum oldmuseumdisplays1It also has an exhibit on the nature of museums and how exhibiting has evolved over time along with the museum fossil lab and a few dinosaur reproductions in dioramas. dino1The enclosed glass dinosaur exhibit is especially impressive on this floor and extends up to the top floor of the museum. dino2steg1dinos2There are moving dinosaurs, sound effects, foot prints for patrons to view and compare, and even a complete skull of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.heads1dinos55fossillab

cafeinsectsbeesThe fourth floor houses the museum’s insect zoo, Acro café, Naturalist center, and upper level view areas of dinosaurs and other areas. It also contains some offices and other museum space for exhibits, including a special study lab for many natural resources collections for student use.dinotraysclassroom classresourceOne popular exhibit in this area is the wildlife photography contest winners exhibit. The best photography of North Carolina wildlife by students and professionals is exhibited on this floor and many of the photographs are amazing. Another favorite on the fourth floor is the insect zoo and butterfly house. The museum houses a small collection of native North Carolina species of butterflies, some even are endangered. The Acro café provides a selection of sandwiches, snacks, and even a few hot items, and one can watch the butterflies or other exhibit areas from this popular roof-top style restaurant.

diaromasammoniteOverall positive impressions include that the dioramas and static displays were well done, but lack enough interactivity. Some may be due to problems with displays breaking. According to one museum official that I had a chance to talk with during my visit, the public does not treat the exhibits with enough respect any more. He was working on the invertebrate exhibits and discussing improvements to this exhibit in the next few months with an exhibit designer. He was concerned about how disrespectful the public may be on some exhibits especially with live animals. They have to take special care to keep the animals safe from the public in this museum and to insure that their interactive exhibits will not break. He was explaining that this is very difficult because people are less respectful of many exhibits now than they used to be, making exhibit design an even greater challenge.

displaysThe museum is well designed in terms of use of space, but does not have enough of an organic flow dimension to it. It exhibits a good set of displays and utilizes classroom spaces well for special programs. The demonstration areas presumably are used for the more interactive programs. There were several of these on each floor both within the exhibits and separated into areas clearly marked for specific programs. I had the chance to observe one for a few minutes and it seemed to go very well. The theater space on the first floor is very impressive and is used for a large variety of excellent films and some interactive programs on the natural resources of planet Earth. beeThe museum is clean, well-designed for visitors, and provides a variety of exhibits. However, this museum does need to consider how to bring more interactivity to its exhibits and how to encourage daily museum visitors to learn more about their collections and resources. fishThe resources of North Carolina are obviously cherished and valued here in this museum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Museum Site Visit/Evaluation 1: Monticello

March 2, 2008

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Monticello

A visit and evaluation

Feb. 29th, 2008

By Tim Perry

I decided to visit Monticello as one of my museums for EDLF 586 both because of its close proximity and my great interest and admiration of Thomas Jefferson. The web site had a wealth of information including schedules, teacher lessons, plans for visitors, research information and many other items of interest. Their Monticello classroom site has both a kids and teachers section detailing lesson plans and other kid-friendly information of note for visitors and school groups. They even have image galleries and online activities. Both an adult visitor guide and a young people’s visitor guide are available online as well as at the ticket counter upon arrival.

The education department and visitors center is in a building right off of US Interstate 64, but from there you take a winding Thomas Jefferson Highway (53) up the mountain to the entrance. The arch at the top of the hill between Montalto and Monticello is quite striking. Monticello is fairly easy to find, even though the gate sign does not explain that you are entering the “estate” part of the museum grounds.

visitorramp.jpgParking was abundant, but I was there on February 29th, 2008 at 2:30 p.m. so not many visitors were around. There were a couple of college and high school age groups there in the afternoon. The new visitors center is under construction, so I had to go to the “temporary” structure built next to the garden center to get a ticket–UVA students get in for only $10 instead of the usual adult admission price of $15. The parking lot area houses not only the garden center, but also the Little Mountain Luncheonette for dining during mid-day as well as a variety of vending machines and a restroom. There is also a slave graveyard in the parking area on exhibit. The parking area is not very well marked and has multiple “levels” so it can be a bit confusing to figure out where to go to get information and tickets. I assume that this is due to the construction and that many of the obviously temporary signs will be replaced with better ones in the near future.

bus1.jpgFrom the visitor center, you take a Monticello bus out of the grounds and back across the bridge into the house area. There is a walkway that requires a 3/10 mile climb up the hill, but I opted for the leisurely route. Once you purchase your ticket, you are assigned a time to see the house on a guided tour. The time is clearly printed on your ticket. The bus drops off visitors at the front walkway of Monticello where a friendly and helpful attendant directs visitors to tour the grounds and be back a few minutes prior to their scheduled house visit time.

I walked around the grounds for about 30 minutes while waiting for my time to go inside Monticello. There are many items of interest in the groundsmuseumshop.jpg including the museum shop, gardens, mulberry row, and the Jefferson family graveyard jeffersongate.jpg

where Thomas Jefferson is buried along with many of his descendants.jeffersongrave.jpg

Our house tour group was then directed up to the steps of Monticello where we were met by our docent and tour guide who explained the rules and reasoning for the house tour. This short orientation was done in front of the house on the steps, but I felt that it might have been supplemented by more information prior to reaching that point. docentintro.jpg

For those with cameras and other technologies are required to turn them off, which is not entirely a detriment. However, it may be a good idea to forewarn visitors that they will be stepping “back” in time and not able to take photographs mostly due to the interference this causes with the quality of the visit from other members of your tour group. Also, some people may need to know that they will be “out of touch” during the hour or so of the tour in case of emergencies.

sign1.jpgThe docent explains that all visitors must respect the artifacts and reproductions in the house and not to touch any of them. Monticello offers guided tours only and there are many officials around to insure that both visitors and artifacts are well looked-after. All personnel took great pride and care to work with both the visitors and the house. This level of respect and love for their mission enriched the experience for all.

threearches.jpgThe house is around 98% original due to efforts of the Levy family who bought and preserved the house prior to its purchase by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. It is preserved as it would have looked somewhere between 1809 and 1820 with a few interpretations along the way in terms of furniture and family items. The artifacts inside ranged from the sublime to the extreme as Thomas Jefferson was quite a collector of oddities. sundial.jpgHis genius shines through all, however, as does his deep sense of love for his newly created American republic. Monticello, in many ways, seems to emulate the man himself and it is quite enlightening to venture through its hallowed halls and imagine life back in Jeffersonian America.

ironwork1.jpgThe docent provided a very thorough and interesting account of the rooms and their artifacts and answered all questions with aplomb and sensitivity. She was very well informed and offered various insights and specific details about parts of the house that are not found in most literature. It was quite an enjoyable experience to be led around and shown this house by someone who obviously has such a love for both the structure and the man behind it. The only major issue is that with a group of 20 or so visitors, there just is not enough time to see everything in all of the rooms. I found myself wanting to linger around in the library and see what books had been collected to return to Jefferson’s collection. I wanted to have a closer look at his instruments and ponder on some of his paintings, but I will have to settle for the brief experience of being there for but a few minutes.

The second issue with the tour is that some of the house is not open to the public. Several of the bedrooms are currently used as offices and I wonder why or if there is a plan to change this. redsign.jpgThe docent indicated that Monticello offers “architectural” tours a few times during the year to see the rest of the house, but these sell out very quickly. I think it would be fascinating to go upstairs and see more of Jefferson’s wonderful structure from a different perspective.

One interesting aspect of the tour is that the dining room, which is currently a blue color, is being researched for repainting. A cross-section of the paint layers is shown in this room to indicate that the original color was a bright yellow! I asked the docent, and she said that sometime soon Monticello planned to repaint this room in a reproduction color similar to the original. I was also struck by how ingenious the conservators are in using the fireplace areas as modern “vents” for the heating/air conditioning system so as to provide virtually no impact on the historic nature of the structure.

Most of the artifacts in the house were not labeled and while this is how it would have been “originally”, it does make for a large number of potential questions for the docent to answer during the tour. I think that there were audio guides available, but none was offered to me when I purchased my ticket, so again, this overlooked aspect of the tour may be addressed to coincide with the opening of the new visitor center this fall.

underground.jpgI also enjoyed visiting the dependencies and “necessaries” on the lower level of Monticello. beercellar.jpgSuch areas as the cellars, warehouses, stables, and kitchen kitchenartifacts.jpghelp to provide an excellent overall picture of life in a early 1800’s farm estate. The long underground tunnel that runs the length of the house was recently renovated and provides for some interesting speculation on the daily operations of such a place.

monticello2.jpgThe sundial and pavilions, landscaping and overall impression of the house in relation to the grounds is exceptional.

Overall impressions are quite positive as that the structure is well maintained and loved. The docent staff is careful and caring and the experience can be quite moving for many visitors. The security personnel and bus drivers were also quite well informed and friendly, happily answering questions in great detail. giftshop.jpgI even witnessed one gift shop attendant run out in the cold to be sure that a particular family got their Monticello brochure back! This was quite above the call of duty and illustrated just how much some of the staff care about the visitors and their experience at Monticello.

sign2.jpgI look forward to the opening of the new visitor center and hope that there will be more educational offerings there for visitors. Many teachers may not realize that the educational portion of Monticello is at the “old” visitor center and thus not have access to materials or personnel for lesson planning. I also look forward to the future development of the grounds and other areas such as Mulberry row as re-creations continue in the Jeffersonian image. Overall, it was a very enjoyable experience that I would recommend to anyone interested in Jefferson and his marvelous estate.gazebo.jpg

Museum Project Preliminary Plan

March 2, 2008

Museum Project

Preliminary Description

By Tim Perry

For my museum project, I plan on preparing two programs for the Virginia Discovery Museum. The first will be to create an exhibit table for the KidVention event on March 29th where I will do an Earth Science related topic, most likely Severe Weather/Tornadoes. I have met and talked with Vicky Carter, the VDM outreach coordinator and we think this will be a good addition to the program offerings for that day. I have several ideas of exhibits and topics that will fit well into their theme of “Discover our Planet”. It should be a whirlwind of a good time.

For my second part to this project, I will be working with Vicky to lead a three-hour program during the Spring Break mini-camp, April 7th-9th. My topic will be land transportation and we will create a set of lessons for 6-9 year olds that entail the various modes of land transportation and how they benefit people. As a former elementary science teacher, I have an abundance of lessons, activities, and demonstrations from which to draw when compiling this camp experience. We will create and produce it as part of the three day mini-camp program: “How Things work: Transportation.” I will evaluate the program afterward and the museum will most likely keep the plans to implement again later.

Exhibit Design reflections–Schlenk and Schrock

March 2, 2008

Reflection Notes from Schlenk and Schrock

The principles of proximity and inclusion as well as the principles of perception of unity seem to be a unifying theme in the evaluation of this art exhibit. It is perhaps most important to perceive the relationship between the artifact and the contextual material, with the goal in mind to promote a greater understanding of the artifact.

The textual elements discussed were of great interest. They are typically used on placards in museum, and recommendations included using large typeface of solid black on a white background. It was especially interesting in that the evaluators noted that the change in size/font could draw attention away from the rest of the text and should have a MEANING to it, not just be for decoration.

Some recommendations about text used in museums included that it should be: organized, accurate, and convey the information needed to understand the exhibit. The text elements should lead the visitor through in a logical order to understand the story of the artifact or exhibit without assuming too much pre-requisite knowledge. The use of icons was interesting and the recommendations that icons should only be used to enhance understanding and not be used for “fun” or graphic design needs was especially relevant. Ultimately the icons used should be congruent with the passage used in the text and work as a whole to enhance the visitor experience.

I thought it very interesting that they mentioned that the effect of humor in an instructional message is inherently unpredictable. Humor can be useful, but by the nature in which in engages the visitor away from the focus of the exhibit, it may not be a good choice for inclusion in instructional exhibitions.

I was particularly struck by how they defined “framing”, in that the pre-concepts most people have seem to influence their views about an exhibit, presentation, or artifact. Similarly, the use of “games” must match the cognitive processes and objectives with game goals as well as assess the prerequisite knowledge set of a typical visitor to determine how successful the visitor may be when playing the game. Too much esoteric frivolity detracts from the experience?

Finally, the idea of learner analysis and understanding the learner prior to design seemed to be crucial in museum planning. I especially like how the authors explained the concept of “task analysis” as having a thorough understanding of the task prior to attempting it. The recognition of “perceptual capacity” to insure that information is spaced so that the visitor is not overwhelmed by too much information at once is also quite relevant in many of my previous museum experiences. This article really piqued my interest in both instructional design principles and instructional development processes.

New Exhibits: guidelines as given in the reading: (Great stuff!)

1. Broad general goals guide development

2. Specific detailed, precise behavioral objectives

3. Formative evaluation utilized in development process

4. Mock-up stage for evaluation first

5. Evaluation/problems corrected in mock-up stage

6. After exhibit is setup–evaluate again

7. Gather information on the EDUCATIONAL success of the exhibit

8. Compare information to research-based instructional design scheme

Also:

*Insure that artifacts are selected to convey the objectives of the exhibit

*Instructional message design used to facilitate communication

*Strategies should be employed to insure that exhibits are accessible to every visitor regardless of age/height/disability/language, etc.

*Instructional message design should be mastered by all exhibit designers

*Instructional design principles should be part of ALL facets of museum education, including materials, workshops, programs, etc.

Alexander Ch. 7 and Children’s Museums Responses

March 2, 2008

Museums Response 2: Alexander Ch. 7 and Children’s Museums

Children’s museums are not necessarily a new idea, however in the last few decades they have increased in number exponentially. They differ from the more “mainstream” museums in that they are primarily learner-centered environments that encourage interactivity between the visitor and the exhibits. They often seek to incorporate a wide variety of learning styles and strategies into their exhibits and programs including those of Howard Gardner and multiple intelligences. Due to this, many have created extremely innovative exhibits that provide unique and deep fascination for many children.

Many of the children’s museums have focused on areas that will excite children and provide a spark that will encourage learning. Science activities and unusual interactive exhibits have revolutionized the way museums are viewed by many children today. This new type of “edutainment” for children has transformed the museum from a preservative environment to more of a true educational institution focused on the needs of its visitors. Many seem to have goals that include making a museum a friendly place in order to encourage children to come back and visit again. In this way, children’s museums may not only be educating, but also seeking to create a new generation of museum attendees.

The context of exhibits in children’s museums is necessarily adjusted towards both the physical as well as developmental level of their most abundant visitors. Within this context, there have been recent strides towards inclusion of cultural and globally diverse perspectives as well as sensitivity in exhibit design in these same areas. In addition, the increasingly pervasive role of technology in our modern lives is being reflected much more in exhibits and programs in children’s museums. Often the “hook” for a new exhibit or program may involve technology to entice young minds to come visit and have a first unique experience in this area. Similarly, recent concerns over the environment and human impacts have also affected the themes of many children’s museums and their programs. Sensitivity to global environmental issues has moved to center stage in many museum programs to encourage stewardship and careful use of our precious resources.

However, the most recent reductionist trend towards accountability and educational standards may be causing a decline in some children’s museum visitation. It may perhaps be ironic that the very group that first encourage the creation of children’s museums, the school teachers, may now be the largest group contributing to their decline. With increasing pressure on serving a set of educational standards, the teachers may have more difficulty justifying visits to children’s museums. Research may be needed to properly assess the proper role of children’s museums not only within the museum profession, but also in serving the needs of the formal educational system as well.

Support and investment in children’s museums may also be an important future challenge. Many seem to rely on a combination of both local patrons as well as larger external grants that are targeted at improving the condition or opportunities of children. Due to an increasing need to land these resources, some museums have taken to a continual “re-invention” of themselves. Through pursuit of novel and innovative educational experiences these museums are not only responding to the financial picture, but also serving the shorter attention spans of some of their most numerous clients. By wearing as many hats as possible, they may also be more successful at attracting standard-laden school groups back to their hallowed halls in greater numbers.

Children’s museums are exciting places to learn and grow, both for the visitor and the museum educators. The pervasive youthful exuberance seems to drive both the programs and the staff to pursue ever more innovative programs and exhibitions. This spirit and enthusiasm may soon be the driving force behind a shift in museum roles as these children grow up and demand more and different exhibits and programs from their museums. The museum professionals need to be prepared for the future.

Alexander Chapters 1-6 Response

March 2, 2008

Museums Response 1: Alexander Chapters 1-6

Museums as an entity encompass a wide variety of institutions ranging from the traditional observation and appreciation of collections, to interactive areas for informal learning. There are many different types of museums that specialize based on content, subject, collections, type of visitors, or just eclectic informal public interactivity areas. Some museums seem to be curative and preservative as well as to be exhibitory, while others focus on the interactivity between the visitor and the museum collection or exhibits. Some maintain collections or aspire to serve as places for serious academic research or discourse, while others exist primarily to serve local community needs or to encourage society to enrich itself in a particular area of specialization.

The advent of “edutainment” and need for interactivity along with the entrance of the information age and the internet have profoundly affected the manner in which many types of museums organize and maintain their focus for the public. The role of the museum seems to be shifting towards not only preservation and exhibition, but also as a springboard cheerleader for focusing public attention on topics related to their unique mission.

The historical context presented for each of the major types of museums shows the similarities and differences in style, development, mission and public interest in creating and maintaining these types of museums.

Born out of a seemingly innate human need to organize our own world in order to comprehend it more detail, the early history of most museums involved wealthy patrons with the resources to collect and preserve items of value to human society. Often these would offer glimpses into our history through natural, artistic, or anthropological perspectives. Others may have shown the history of our world in terms of nature, science, or interaction and development of various types of organisms. These varied museum collections evolved into public trust institutions in order to garner more support and to disseminate their message and goals. Thus, by necessity, many became essentially educational institutions. This seems to have elicited a need for experts who not only collected and cataloged items, but who also could provide modern methods and techniques of interpretation for the average visitor. From this group of interpreters, a shift seems to have occurred in which museums aspired to be more “user friendly” and then capable of attracting more visitors and ultimately more financial support.

Thus, the concept of a museum was widened to encompass areas for public informal learning and exploration including such institutions as interactive science “centers” and living-history re-enactment areas. These “immersive” environments were offered to public patrons to enhance their experience ultimately leading to more educational value and greater understanding of the underlying principles and focus of the particular museum. The Franklin Institute and the Exploratorium were some of the first U.S. pioneers of scientific interactivity, and such places as Colonial Williamsburg provide entire park-like settings allowing visitors to experience and take part in all aspects of the era of history being portrayed.

Similarly, a shift in natural history museums has provided more concern about living specimens and a need to view organisms as part of an entire ecosystem rather than oddities pulled out for human study and amusement. Botanical gardens, natural history museums, zoos, and other museums that depict living relationships now strive to show the connectivity and elicit greater understanding through interpretive displays.

In short, the museum field is both wide and deep, today encompassing a large variety of institutions serving the public with a full plate of choices. Although the focus of some may have shifted, these museums continue to serve the needs of a population hungry for novel and educational