Minnesota Children’s Museum of Rochester is now Spark!

Unpacking Best Practices

By Eric Anderson

Earlier this month, a group of thirteen community and industry leaders toured six children’s, health and innovation themed museums over four days. The group was brought together by the Minnesota Children’s Museum Rochester Director and Community Board to help inform the Discovery Phase as the Museum embarks on its Strategic Impact Planning Process. The group visited the Thinkery (Austin, TX), The Health Museum (Houston, TX), the Children’s Museum of Houston (Houston, TX), the Tech Museum of Innovation (San Jose, CA), the Exploratorium (San Francisco, CA) and the Children’s Creativity Museum (San Francisco, CA).

Fresh off of the trip, it’s time to begin unpacking the group’s observations and key takeaway’s. Over the next few months we’ll share our findings as they are synthesized and translated into guiding principles and actionable items. We hope that these insights do not only benefit the Minnesota Children’s Museum Rochester’s future growth, but may offer other institutions additional perspectives and resources to build upon.

Here are a few highlights we’ll be exploring in greater detail as our group reconvenes in the coming weeks.

Get flexible first

A number of the museums we toured were designed to allow exhibit content to define the space, not the other way around. Movable walls, collapsible classrooms and open floor plans offer models to consider as our museum and community continue to grow.

Compliment and expand on existing educational opportunities

All but one of the museums we visited had spaces dedicated solely to educational programming. By facilitating a broad range of educational opportunities outside of the traditional classroom setting, museums can foster regional partnerships and new programming opportunities. Providing a space that facilitates the exchange of knowledge combats the traditional view that museums perpetuate didactic, one-way conversations.

Immersion is in

Research in the field of experiential learning has found that to ensure the retention of critical and creative skills an experience must be immersive, not simply a passive engagement. So how can this be integrated this into museum experiences?

Maker Spaces, tinkering labs and experimental kitchens offer immersive experiences that expose participants to skills, career paths and technologies not regularly available in the classroom setting.

Immersive experiences can also be created outside of a themed curriculum. The Thinkery’s Our Backyard consisted of a massive outdoor play structure surrounded by small, offshoot spaces designed to allow children the freedom to explore how their engagement effected their environment. Exploratorium’s abundance of tabletop exhibits offered self-guided explorations, taken in and reflected upon at the visitor’s own pace. These self-guided, self-reflective experiences are cornerstones of experiential learning.

Interested in being part of the conversation? We are seeking members for two January focus groups to inform our museum’s evolution. Please email Kristina Dose at kdose@mcm.org if you are interested in participating.

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