Monday, January 11, 2016

Museum Maker Spaces

How to help kids explore the mechanical world within the parameters of our museum? Here's the issue: We have NO HEAT except for our small lobby. Would it be possible to steal some space from our lobby for a classroom? How would the space work in the summer when the museum is open for visitors? Could we create a flexible space that would serve local students in the winter, school groups in the spring and fall, and the general public in the summer?

It seemed appropriate to visit some other museums and check out their maker spaces. My first visit was to the Idea Hub at the MIT Museum. On the day we visited this small room was hosted by college students, and museum visitors were invited to drop in to try out a new technology. Around 8 kids and their parents were grouped around a table making paper circuits. The room had cubbies for completed projects and desks at the edge of the room with a 3D printer and other technology. This was my first visit to a Maker Space and I wanted to engage as a drop-in visitor would, since this would be a need at our museum as well. We learned about FAT: their Friday after Thanksgiving Rube Goldberg Challenge.

The Tinkering Lab at the Montshire Musuem of Science, Norwich, VT:
Next up was a trip to the Montshire Museum's new Tinkering Lab. This tinkering lab is located in a more central place than MIT's lab. On the day we visited, there were large numbers of families making Scribblebots and the space was hosted by a volunteer. They had display spaces to show prototypes of various projects and a video-screen that projected steps for making the current project. Again, having a host available seemed important to both engaging visitors and keeping the space organized.  The Montshire also has a Rube Goldberg challenge and we spent some time with their educator getting tips on how we might design ours.

The final visit was to the Peabody Essex Museum's Maker Lounge. Like the other museum maker spaces I visited, PEM offers a combination of workshops and drop-in activities. Unlike the other museums, PEMs Maker Lounge did not have a host and it was empty. Clearly kids had been working in the space as there were all sorts of examples of what they had made.

I think the lack of a host had a big part to do with the lack of drop-in visitors as Maker Spaces often feature technologies that aren't readily accessible to the general public. This was something to reflect on for our museum as we do not have the staffing to host a Learning Lab full-time. We met with the Maker Lounge coordinator and some of our observations were confirmed.  

I got excited about creating our own hands-on zone!

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