Instagramming Dinosaurs: Clive Thompson on Public Thinking (2 of 4)

This is the second of my four part interview with Clive Thompson, as we sat between our T-Rex and Apatosaurus. This segment focuses on public thinking.

As we are sitting here on a Thursday morning, the initial school groups that we saw have moved on, and now the tourists are coming in, the adults. And they are not only taking photos, they are doing something else on their phones. We can’t see what they are doing, but we can make some guesses.

They are probably posting publicly what they are doing, right? This is one of the great shifts in our behavior. We are now engaging in a lot of what I call public thinking: when something interesting occurs, you now have the ability to broadcast that to the world, to interested friends, to interesting strangers, and to share what you are thinking or seeing.

I actually did see, as I was walking in here, someone making a Facebook posting. Just as I was approaching the museum. There was a group of college students, and two of them were taking a picture of the other ones in front of the Teddy Roosevelt statue upfront. And one of them was writing a little note about it. I couldn’t read the note (I wasn’t being that naughty) but they were writing some notes about it.

And so this shift is very interesting because, for a long time, the average person didn’t really do much expression at all, and almost no public expression. You basically went through high school, you finished college if you went to college, where you sort of wrote papers where you tried to formalize your knowledge or share that knowledge with someone else, but once you finished college or high school that was basically it. You didn’t really write anything down, you didn’t express your ideas because there was no venue for it. There was no way to publish what you were thinking about. And this is always something very hard for journalists and academics to understanding, because we spend our lives constantly writing and writing and writing and putting things before audiences, but for the average person this was simply not a common experience at all.

So we have in the last 15 years this sudden vertiginous shift to where people routinely are writing down their experiences, their thoughts, and putting them out for other people. If you talk to psychologists about what happens inside your head as you do this, as you are here in the museum and you are looking at the dinosaur and you are taking a picture and you are writing a note about it, a couple of interesting things happen.

One is what’s called the audience effect, Continue reading

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Instagramming Dinosaurs: Clive Thompson on Digital Memory (1 of 4)

I recently had the pleasure of talking with Clive Thompson, seated between our T-Rex and Apatosaurus. Clive is a longtime contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired. As we watched visitors take photos and post them online, we spoke about his new book — “Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing our Minds for the Better” — and explored how it can help us understand how digital media can support museum-based learning. This is the first of the four part interview, one per day (an additional part was prepared for my column on DML central on Connected Learning and can be read here).

Clive, Please describe where we are we right now? Paint us a picture.

We’re in the American Museum of Natural History, sitting in front of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. There’s a bunch of kids, and the parents and teachers have their cameras out. You’ll see them hold up a camera and take a picture of the kids with the dinosaurs.

We can see a bunch of things happening here. One of them is that they’re capturing these moments so that they can relive it later on. And, this is a remarkably new thing…

Now, we’re seeing kids going by right in front of us, with their own smartphones, and they’re taking pictures of stuff and they’re looking at the pictures.

This is sort of an amazingly new thing. We often don’t reflect on how difficult it was to record things in the past, and not even that far back in the past. Look at the records of the revolutionary war: George Washington and his staff and the surgeons would routinely complain about not being able to get their hands on a clean piece of paper. There’s this letter that says, “Please excuse my use of these scraps, I have nothing better to write on.” That’s all they had. All these things we take for granted, even at the paper level, were not very common until recently.

But, with the digital era, you have this explosion of like things like photography, video, document scans of things… everyday life can be recorded in much more minute detail. This is delightful, on one hand, because science has shown that we’re terrible at remembering things. We forget the bulk of what happens to us. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone back and looked through my photos of places I’ve been with my kids and wife at the Museum here, and I’ll be reminded of parts of that day that are completely gone from my memory. There’s this thing known as Hermann Ebbinghaus’ Curve of Forgetting. He did this famous study where he tried to memorize a bunch of words and then tested himself. He found out that after a few days you lose a half of the stuff, and after a week, 80%. In one sense, that’s perfectly fine because our brains function by making meaning of the world. We pull wisdom from all that knowledge and don’t need to remember every single detail. But, it is quite cool to have the details around in case we want to go back.

Look at that woman, getting an absolutely fantastic shot of the head of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Continue reading

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Tooting Our Own Horn: Nice Words About This Blog

The Future of Museums recently posted an update to their blog roll (the blogs they follow) and I am honored they chose to add this one. Since they are one of my fantastic resources for cutting-edge thinking about museums – through their Tweets, blog, and TrendWatch reports – to be included as one of their go-to sources is a real thrill.

Here’s what they had to say about little-old Mooshme:

The last two additions to the list report from the front lines of museum practice. Barry Joseph, Associate Director for Digital Learning uses Moosha Moosha Mooshme to share his latest projects at the American Museum of Natural History. Games design, augmented reality, 3D scanning and printing—Barry has the kids in the AMNH Youth Initiatives mastering skills many museum staff will envy. Thanks to Barry, I understand how Minecraft is more than just a video game. It’s a whole virtual world in which you can grow trees. And dinosaurs. When I’m populating the “Museum Examples” sections of TrendsWatch for technology trends, I often peek at Mooshme to see what Barry is up to.


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The Augmented Activity Guide Program Culminating Event

The second week of the Augmented Activity Guide Program flew by in a blur as the GK Leaders worked hard to develop and design their activity pages. Early in the week they had the opportunity to meet, via Skype, Nadine Kocanjer, Manager of the Wilderness Explorer program at Disney’s Animal Kingdom to learn about how activities in family activity guides are designed. Here two of the teens show off their own ideas and get feedback from Nadine.


Brea and Shyann describe for Nadine their button blanket activity.

A second Skype highlight of the week was getting to meet, Nika Collison, Museum Curator at the Haida Gwaii Museum and collaborator on writing the story within our guide. Here two more teens practice presenting their activity pages and get valuable feedback from Nika.


Louis and Jerron share with Nika their ideas for an activity for the Puffin mask.

Before we knew it, Friday, August 15th had arrived and the youth were taking the stage to present the first prototype of the Augmented Family Activity Guide.

Next, the six pairs of youth leaders from Global Kids took turns reading each chapter of the prototype out loud to the audience before walking everyone through the activities they had designed. Activities designed by the youth ranged from coloring and drawing, to connect-the-dots and word searches.

MS_140815_9285 MS_140815_9270

Fun facts at the end of each chapter, selected by the youth, and a result of their independent research, provide additional information about the cultural treasures included in the guide and highlight some of the objects’ contemporary uses.

After presenting all of their hard work the MCs of the event transitioned to a Q&A session with the audience:

The GK leaders then headed to the Hall of Northwest Coast Indians to show off their hard work to their captivated audience who had copies of the family activity guide prototype and color pencils in hand.


Milton and Jevaughn answer questions and discuss the activities they designed for the berry picking hat and halibut hooks and floats.


Darweshi and Kendal help visitors locate spoons in the Haida alcove.


Christian and Karishma answer questions about formline on the Great Canoe in the Grand Gallery.

We asked the youth to reflect on their experience in the program and they described it as “informative” and “educational” as well as “interactive” and “fun.” They were amazed at how much they had learned in two weeks about a culture they “didn’t even know existed” when the program began.

Youth also expressed pride knowing that their ideas will enhance the experience of young visitors acknowledging that “my ideas came to life” and “[museum staff] wouldn’t have the right outlook on it; it would be an adult point of view. …We have younger siblings so we know what they like.” They also described feeling very inspired “to be a part of something, because some people never get to do this once in a lifetime opportunity” and “very happy that I have the opportunity to design the activity guide pages. I am looking forward to seeing my work being displayed in the museum.”

When asked what they would remember 5 years from now about the program youth said:

  • “I will remember something on paper coming to life. I will also remember the crests used by the Haida.”
  • “I gained experience as an anthropologist.”
  • “I have learned many new things, but the thing that stands out to me as really interesting is the Haida crests. The reason why is because the Haida people put so much importance to the crests I want to know what other crests they have have and what do they represent and the story behind them.”
  • “It’s been cool to learn more about different ways of life and cultures. It seems to me as if there can be hundreds perhaps thousands of Totem Pole designs that can be original and unique. What attracts me most are they are a rare and physical beauty to “get lost in.” What I mean by that is, looking at the unique beauty of one of these Totem Poles can attract you for almost as long as it wants.”
  • “Five years from now I’ll remember being with my friends and having fun.”

The GK Leaders on stage at the culminating event.




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My interview on EduTalk Radio – “Digital Learning For Your Students and the American Museum of Natural History”

This was a blast! My good buddy Elizabeth Merritt from AAM passed my name onto Larry Jacobs, who runs EduTalk Radio. It was fun to speak with Larry about the latest in greatest in digital learning at AMNH. Check it out below (or the original here):

Check Out Education Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with EduTalk on BlogTalkRadio
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The MicroRangers Final Presentation

In June, the MicroMuseum program ended with a successful culminating event, with over 70 people in attendance!

Once the audience arrived and got settled, the MicroRanger MCs started their presentation, they introduced the other MicroRangers, some of the topics covered over the course of the program and, of course, the MicroRangers game. The room was then divided in half.

One group stayed put to hear about all of the work the students did over the course of the program, including swabbing different locations across the museum for bacteria, and all of the work that went into designing the game itself. The other group went out into the Hall to test the prototype with several MicroRangers to serve as guides. The groups switched to make sure everyone had the chance to experience the prototype, and then the critique and Q&A sessions took place.

You can watch the students’ presentation of all of the work they did in addition to the critique and Q&A sessions in the video below.

This second video captures the testing of the prototype in the Halls.

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“Making History in a Place of History” – More on Youth Geeking Out on Northwest Coast Content

Last week my post on the Museum’s collaboration with Global Kids to produce a prototype for a new family activity guide for our Hall of Northwest Coast Indians tended to focus on the getting-up & running-around activities, like this one:

But actually, much of the time has also been spent observing the cultural treasures in the hall and researching them. This is an example of the GK Leaders using the 1905 report by John Swanton (Contributions to the ethnology of the Haida. Memoirs of the AMNH ; [v. 8, pt. 1]) to research the objects they selected within the Hall. These two teens love this one particular hat, so much so they are always talking about how they can get a print on a shirt, and this video shows how they learn, for the first time, which crest is represented on it:

Here are some GK Leaders using photos they took in the Hall to research more about it with Swanton:


Finally, here is a GK Leader using our Anthro Database to look at the original handwritten entry within the Manuscript Catalog to learn more about her object:


Another highlight for the teens at the end of last week was getting to meet, via Skype, Shoshanna Greene. Shoshanna is a resident of Haida Gwaii, a college student, and an aspiring artist. She will also be creating much of the original art within the Activity Guide. In the image below, you can see how the teens approached the screen to ask Shoshanna questions as she presented to the whole group:

Skype meeting with Shoshanna and GK Youth Leaders

At the end of the week, we asked the teens to reflect on what they had been learning so far. Jevougn said something so profound I asked him to repeat it, but this time on camera:

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