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Teaching What You Can’t See: Museum Exhibits as a Bridge to Learning Materials Science

Abstract

The use of exhibits in informal science education venues such as science centers and museums is an integral part of engaging students in science, encouraging them to take science courses in school, and motivating them to pursue science and engineering careers. Through an Internships in Public Science Education Program funded by the National Science Foundation and in partnership with the education efforts of the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) and the Discovery World Museum of Science, Economics and Technology, we have built and tested interactive components for museum exhibits on advanced materials science and nanotechnology concepts. Our front-end assessment revealed a gap in scientific understanding about objects smaller than can be seen by the naked eye. Facts learned through standard teaching methods were easily recalled, but in-depth, conceptual knowledge and application of those facts are lacking in both children and adults. We designed interactive exhibits to specifically address this disconnect in comprehension. By inviting the learner to actively participate in an interactive exhibit activity, he or she is able to develop a deeper understanding of advanced materials concepts that are difficult to teach with textbooks alone. Formative assessment of our exhibit prototypes show that students and adults not only participate in the interactive exhibit activity, but are able to learn and apply the concepts contained within them.

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Teaching What You Can’t See: Museum Exhibits as a Bridge to Learning Materials Science

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