MAKESHOP at Pittsburgh’s Children’s Museum

During my visit this week to the Serious Play conference, I took a brief detour and got a fantastic trip to the MAKESHOP at the Pittsburgh’s Children’s Museum, lead by my colleague Lisa Brahms, their Director of Learning and Research. (Long-time Mooshme fans might recall I interviewed Lisa back in 2013 about the space). It is an amazing space, scaffolding self-directed learning for children of all ages, through an amazing investment in staff capacity, prototyping, and research.

Sorry there’s no audio, but enjoy the tour:

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Creating the GLS Museum of Natural History

At this year’s Games, Learning and Society Conference (GLS), I worked with Nick Fortugno, Debra Everett-Lane, and Hannah Jaris to create a unique conference experience to explore what it means for contemporary museums to bring games to the public (Nick had to step out at the last minute and we very much appreciate Christine Walsh for stepping in).

Rather than just TALK TALK TALK about it (which we did for the second half), we designed an interactive, project-based activity for the first half – not just for the participants but also for others to check-out over the course of the conference. The project was to build a pop-up museum, not just an exercise at the conceptual level, but a real one, with real donated objects. Before we explored games as constructed public experiences we aimed to situate that process within museums as designed experiences, and then explore what happens when the two are combined. Continue reading

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The GLS (Games, Learning and Society) Museum of Natural History opens next week in Madison, Wisconsin

The pop-up GLS Museum of Natural History will be opening next week, on July 8th, at 2:30 – 3:30. Everyone is invited to help build the museum and explore the relationship between museum design and game play.


Donations are still being accepted. Please drop them off at the office of Amanda Ochsner. We are currently filing GLS socks, badges, t-shirts, posters, laptop stickers, and more. We are looking for anything related to GLS over it’s 11 yea history that has meaning to you. If you intend to submit an object into the collection, please fill out the submission form here, once per object.

If you would like to help curate the Museum, arrive a few minutes early.

The official information about the event from the GLS program is below:

The GLS Museum of Natural History: Gaming Square Pegs into Dinosaur-shaped Holes
Barry Joseph, Nick Fortugno, Debra Everett-Lane
Wednesday July 8, 2015 2:30pm – 3:30pm
Main Lounge

The American Museum of Natural History was founded in 1869 and soon became a world leader in presenting artifacts from nature and culture to the public. From magic lantern slides to immersive dioramas, it has innovated new pathways for visitors to connect with science and their place in the universe. In recent years, the Museum has explored a new cutting-edge dimension in the museum experience: game design. This panel will challenge participants to travel with us to the GLS Museum of Natural History. Led by our tour guides – a museum educator, a game designer, and an experience designer – participants will question and reinvent the idea of what a museum is by creating, interpreting, and playing with exhibits themselves. This experience leads into a larger discussion of game design at museums as reflected in three recent and diverse projects: MicroRangers, Playing With Dinos, and Killer Snails.

A close-up of one object in the collection.

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G4C15: Reclaiming Culture Through Game Design

I just found the video of the panel I was thrilled to moderate at Games For Change last April, on “Reclaiming Culture Through Game Design”. Please check out the fascinating conversation below:

Meg Jayanth, writer of 80 Days (Time magazine’s game of the year), and Amy Fredeen, a leader on Never Alone’s development as CFO at E-Line Media and EVP of Cook Inlet Tribal Council, speak with Barry Joseph from the American Museum of Natural History about amplifying the voices and stories of indigenous and marginalized peoples through games.

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How long does it take a Neanderthal detective to crack the case?

Imagine you are staring at a spreadsheet with 99 rows of data. You have been interacting with weekend visitors at the American Museum of Natural History for several months facilitating a new interactive experience. This is the first time you see the collective work of your internship translated into numbers. Where would you begin? What question would you want to test first?

When faced with these rows upon rows of data some of the Crime Scene Neanderthal (CSN) interns, students from Millennium Brooklyn High School, focused their analysis on the number of visitors that completed the CSN:Crime Scene Neanderthal experience, age group of visitors (adult vs. child), and dwell time (how much time visitors were spending as Neanderthal detectives).

It turns out that a total of 238 visitors completed the CSN experience from April to June. A closer look at the breakdown of visitors by age showed that 108 of the visitors were children and 130 were adults. Of these 130 adults, only 17 completed the experience without children (Figure 1).


Figure 1. What age group (adults vs. children) completed the CSN experience?

The interns were interested in more than the number of people that completed the CSN experience–while facilitating the experience they also observed strikingly different kinds of interactions between Museum visitors.

In the groups comprised of children and adults the interns observed the following:

  • Adults tried to help the child learn
  • Adults continually checked in to make sure that the child was understanding what was going on.
  • Active involvement of adults provided extra support to the child.
  • In some cases, an adult feeding information to a child led to lower levels of child engagement.

In groups without any adults the interns observed:

  • Children freely asking questions.
  • Children had more opportunity to follow their own curiosity.
  • In some cases the child seemed uncomfortable being alone (without an adult they knew), which led to lower levels of engagement.

The interns also wanted to understand how visitors were engaging with the experience by taking a closer look at how many activities visitors completed, and how long it took to complete those activities. Initially CSN was designed so that a visitor would spend 20 to 30 minutes completing 3 of the 8 activities; we thought that would be enough for them to fulfill the obligations of a Neanderthal detective, close their case, and earn their 3D printed prize. However, it turns out visitors were completing an average of 4 activities, with many visitors completing as many as 8. Even more surprising, visitors were spending anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour with their teen facilitators.


Figure 2. How much time do Museum visitors spend as Neanderthal detectives?

It was not a surprise to see that dwell time increased with the number of activities completed. What did stand out was the range of time that people spent with the experience. If we just look at the time it took to complete three activities it is striking that some people spent under 20 minutes while others spent over 50.

Two CSN interns walk a visitor through "An Unknown Bone" activity in the Hall of Human Origins.

Two CSN interns walk a visitor through “An Unknown Bone” activity in the Hall of Human Origins.

Asking the interns to participate in this internal assessment and analyze the data they helped collect was an important complement to the learning and iterative design skills they had been developing before interacting with Museum visitors. In turn, their work and analysis helps the Museum to iterate the CSN prototype.

After working with the data, the interns took time to reflect on their experience. They admitted being “surprised at how many people went through the experience. In the beginning I didn’t think many people would go through it.” However, after looking at the 99 rows of data from the experience, they noted that “people are more patient than we think” — something to remember when testing a new visitor experience, as well as analyzing it.


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Morphing a Digital Classroom into a Museum Hangout: An Interview with Eve Gaus of the Field Museum

Last March, when I was in Chicago for the Museums and the Web conference,  I ran around the city to meet with my colleagues in museums and libraries who were willing to share their youth spaces and how they’ve been designed to support digital learning. My first post offered a rapid tour of your spaces around the city. This is my first of three related posts that highlight interviews with staff from those locations. Our first stop: The Field Museum!

Hi Eve. Welcome to Mooshme. Please introduce yourself.

My name is Eve Gaus.  I work at the Field Museum, and I am the Digital Learning Manager here. I have been here a little over 2 years, about 2.5 years now. I started in November 2012.

We are sitting in the Grainger Digital Media Studio which is a place where we hold all of our teens programming.

Please tell me what programming looked like when you first started?

The programming that used to exist here was highly structured programming that was very classroom based.  It was phenomenal program where we had teens come to the museum once a week for the academic year to learn about how museums work and then actually build their own museum exhibit. They got academic credit to be there and  it was great.

The issue however was that there was a very small group of students that could be a part of that particular cohort. That was the only programming that we offered during the course of the year; during the summer we offered programs which focused on using different areas of digital media to explore the collections and research of the museum. We did a movie making program on Antarctic Dinosaurs; we did movies on Mummies; we have done an exploration of cultural anthropology through sound and, made games with the ARIS mobile gaming platform.

What are some of the challenges you faced in developing and delivering those programs that you have now been implementing changes to address?

The biggest change that we have been working on is Continue reading

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Video teaser of two upcoming museum-based science games: Flora and MicroRangers

There are two games we’ve been developing through our youth programs in association with an exhibit opening in the Museum this fall. Flora is a card game and MicroRangers is an augmented mobile game. At last week’s internal professional development for the Education department, we were given an opportunity to share about the two.

Susan Perkins, curator of the exhibit and collaborator on both of the games, introduced us. Then we played Flora, to give a sense of the experience, and then spoke about MicroRangers. Below is a video of the presentation and I share it below as a teaser of what’s to come later this fall.


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