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GIVE: Group Inquiry by Visitors at Exhibits
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Questions about the research study

What is meant by deep inquiry?

For us, deep inquiry is a sustained, intentional investigation of exhibit phenomena as visitors pursue their own questions. Our best measure in the study of deep inquiry was Linked Investigations.

When you taught people to do inquiry, they did it. What’s the big deal?

First, researchers working in schools will tell you that it’s difficult to get kids to engage in inquiry, even after 13 weeks of instruction (White, personal communication, 2006). So getting groups to do what we taught them in 20 minutes is a real achievement. Second, in GIVE we assessed more inquiry behaviors than just the two skills we taught, and families/field trip groups improved on those other inquiry behaviors. So while part of the big deal is that visitors can learn the skills we teach, an even bigger part is that they also engaged in other good inquiry behaviors. Our skills acted as gateways to other skills.

Is this approach too structured to fit within an informal learning context?

This is a real concern. It’s true that we are looking to create a short, structured program that Explainers/docents would be able to use on the floor. Still, this program does not have to feel like a “flash card” exercise. We’re working now on adapting the Juicy Question program to give it a bit more flexibility. But it’s important not to confuse structure with rote or didactic learning. For example, virtually all Exploratorium exhibit labels have the same structure – Try This, What’s Going On, and So What – but there is wide variety within that structure. Similarly, the Juicy Question activity provides some structure, but that structure encourages groups to collaborate in asking and answering their own questions at exhibits. As for empowerment, we believe that helping visitors build and practice scientific thinking skills is more empowering to their future learning than teaching them science facts.  

How does this fit into the different kinds of pedagogy one might find on a museum floor – e.g., from unmediated exhibits to highly mediated programs?  

At the Exploratorium, we imagine a continuum of mediation for engaging visitors, ranging from unmediated (e.g., exhibits designed to stand alone) to highly mediated (e.g., inquiry workshops). In between those extremes lie Explainer activities such as demonstrations and casual conversations. We believe that an Explainer-led Juicy Question activity would also fall into this middle-ground, offering Explainers yet another tool for engaging visitors more deeply with science.

Using Juicy Question in the Museum

How can Juicy Question be adapted for use on the museum floor?

It’s more difficult to teach and play the games on the distracting museum floor than it was in lab. We’ve found a couple of approaches that seem to work well. The approaches differ a bit for families and field trips:

Families:

  • Pose an initial question. Rather than first outlining the steps of the activity and then asking families to generate their own juicy questions (as we had done in the lab), get the family started quickly by posing or suggesting an initial juicy question that the family could answer through experimentation. For example, at the Unstable Table exhibit, groups build structures on a gimbaled platform to learn about counterweights and torque. To teach Juicy Question, our Explainer on the floor began with a question like, “What’s the tallest tower that you can build without holding on to the platform?”
  • Offer question starters. If a family needs help generating juicy questions, you can offer helpful question starters, such as, “What would happen if…?” or “What if we tried…?” or “Is it possible to…?” that guide families towards the kinds of questions that might turn out to be “juicy”—questions that can actually be answered at an exhibit. For example, the why questions many people initially generate might seem interesting, but are too difficult to answer without prior knowledge or additional tools. In contrast, what if questions often suggest obvious actions to take and experiments to carry out.

Field trip groups:

  • Introduce the activity in a quiet space. Rather than teach groups Juicy Question on the museum floor, try first introducing it in a classroom or other quiet space, using a portable exhibit or even a card trick as an investigable prop. Once students have a sense of the game, bring them onto the floor and play it again at an exhibit.
  • Introduce the activity later in the field trip. Rather than teach a class full of students Juicy Question when they first arrive at the museum, try offering the game later in the visit, perhaps to smaller groups of students. This gives students a chance to work out their initial burst of excitement at visiting the museum, allows chaperones to become more comfortable in their role before asking them to become Juicy Question facilitators, and provides a more intimate experience with fewer students.

Can Juicy Question be used with a large class of students?

Yes, but it’s important to ensure that the exhibits used in teaching and playing Juicy Question can accommodate a large group. The activity works best when all students can interact with the exhibit. One approach is to introduce Juicy Question to the whole group in a quiet space, and then break into subgroups on the museum floor. Teaching Juicy Question through a simple card trick works well for a large group in a quiet space. A sequence we’ve tried that works well goes like this:

  1. An Explainer performs a simple card trick, asking for “juicy” questions from the audience — questions that require the Explainer to repeat the performance in a different way that could shed light on the trick.
  2. Students shout out questions such as, “What if you do the trick more slowly?” or “What if you hold the deck upside down”.
  3. The Explainer repeats the card trick.
  4. The Explainer asks for “discoveries” — did anyone figure anything out about the trick during the last performance?
  5. The process repeats until a student in the audience figures out the trick.
  6. The Explainers summarizes the three steps in the game: Asking juicy questions, trying an experiment, and sharing discoveries.

Do Explainers/Docents already do this on the floor?

Not exactly. While Explainers do occasionally model inquiry for visitors, we believe they mostly engage visitors in three types of activity: (a) helping visitors see how to use an exhibit (again, usually by modeling for them), (b) demonstrating or explaining content, usually at a demonstration station, and (c) engaging visitors in an inquiry process that remains implicit. Explainers do not always explicitly teach visitors inquiry skills. Even if they did, we have never studied the impact of that teaching on visitors’ subsequent exhibit interactions.

What are some of other challenges with bringing this to the museum floor?

The main obstacles are that, compared to the lab, the museum floor is:

  • Noisy
  • Full of distractions (other people, other exhibits)
  • Unbounded (larger spaces)

Another important challenge we had was inviting families to learn to play Juicy Question. We weren’t sure how to “advertise” the opportunity to them: Should we offer to help families “learn to play together,” or “learn to do inquiry” or “get more out of exhibits?”  We tried a variety of approaches, but in the end, what worked best was not actually telling them anything. Instead, we simply put cordons partway around an exhibit, and had an Explainer play with the exhibit inside. Curious visitors drew near and asked what the Explainer was doing. The Explainer answered by inviting them to do “something fun” with the exhibit. Once the family had gathered inside the cordons, the Explainer posed an initial question (see FAQ #5) and Juicy Question had begun.


 
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