Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Brooklyn Interactives

I've long admired the Brooklyn Children's Museum so I was thrilled to have a couple extra hours in Brooklyn over the weekend so I could see their re-newed and re-opened building and exhibits. My visit happened to coincide with my new book club's reading of Paul Tough's book about Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children's Zone, Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America. The book's a good non-academic read, but it takes a look at a number of studies that examine the possible reasons for gaps in achievement between rich (or even middle-class) and poor students in America. And one of the biggest reasons, say many educators, is the lack of resources, time and knowledge for low-income parents to stimulate their children in terms of language. Talking about things, learning the names of things, learning to say and recognize different words, being read to--all of them really seem to matter.

So within that frame, I was really intrigued by many of the interactives in the new exhibit World Brooklyn. The exhibit is a series of places within Brooklyn, based on real stores and businesses, that highlight the borough's diversity. The exhibit uses stories of real people and their lives, contextualized into a broader life in Brooklyn. The interactives engaged many different learning styles and at the same time, promoted both language and math skills, and went far beyond the simple approach sometimes found at children's museums.

Some examples:

An interactive for those kinesthetic learners. Along with a large dragon puppet at the opening of the exhibit, this cleverly mounted and engineered interactive lets the visitor become a participant, costume and all, in Brooklyn's annual West Indian parade.

Yes, your average grocery store space--but made deeper, with more use of vocabulary and a sense of community differences and similarities by the bottom installation--where you pick up a shopping list for a specific family celebration--from Shabbos to Kwanzaa and fill your basket with the appropriate items. I'd love to know if this encouraged picky eaters to be a little more adventurous as well!

Two activities in a bakery. They use simple language but also some simple math skills. I also loved the feel of the fabric pan de muerto pieces. Much nicer, and more like dough, than any sort of plastic.

Looking from the outside in to the window of a Chinese bookstore. The hook at the bottom are just laminated sheets that identify the objects in the window by name. And in the bookstore--of course, books to read.

I liked the video installations. They were relatively inobstrusive--and were installed in ways that I felt they were directed more towards adults than children. This exhibit wasn't about having kids watch videos or interact with screens. Role play (see the photo at the top of the post) is always one of the greatest things to watch kids to. Again, nice fabric "ingredients" and a place that felt like the real deal, inspired the imagination.

Two things I didn't love: I found a number of interactives missing supplies (see below) and I wished for more floor staff to engage visitors. But overall, incredible examples of creating a meaningful exhibit filled with meaningful interactives. No whiz-bang holograms, no giant media installations, and very little that couldn't be maintained by staff with a few simple tools.

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