P is for Presentation

| February 18, 2014

I spent this weekend researching different ways of learning science in informal settings. In order to achieve this, I visited the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Hall of Science (a hands-on science and technology center). My aim was to explore different ways in which scientific content can be presented outside the classroom environment and these structures provided me with two entirely different approaches. On one had, the Hall of Science offered a more active experience, where the audience could directly interact with the content, presented as a series of stations. Although this is often a successful approach, this experience didn’t quite succeed in evoking the awe and wonder which I experienced when I visited the AMNH. I believe the attention to detail and importance placed upon aesthetic value resulted in a much more powerful experience. In particular, “The power of Poison”, an exhibition which illustrates the role of poison throughout history, beautifully exemplifies how the learning process is enhanced by the effective presentation of scientific content. (It’s on until August, you should go check it out http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/current-exhibitions/the-power-of-poison/about-the-exhibition)

Although the stations at the Hall of Science (which gave the public a chance to discover first hand a variety of scientific phenomena ranging from the properties of light to the nature of optical illusions) provided a valid didactic approach, I noticed that they failed to hold the audience’s attention as successfully as the works displayed at the AMNH. As an educator, this observation made me reflect upon the importance of aesthetics when presenting content. Overall, I had the feeling the public was more engaged in the learning process when stimulated by information which was presented in an aesthetically appealing way, leading to an enhanced experience.