JMM Insights: Learning By Doing

Posted on April 21st, 2017 by

Want to listen to a pumping heart? Save the day at Ft. McHenry by removing ammunition from a stockade? Turn a pickle into a light bulb?

If you’ve visited JMM in the last few years, you might have done all of the above.  The opportunities to “learn by doing” continue this summer with our next exhibit, Just Married!: Wedding Stories from Jewish Maryland now under development.

As you might expect, this exhibit features wedding gowns, accessories, invitations, and even ketubahs that are more than 150 years old.  But in making this experience accessible to people of all ages and all learning styles it will also contain “interactive” experiences.  Despite the 21st century jargon in the name, interactives in museums date back more than a century.

In 1911, Jewish businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald took his 8 year-old son William to the Deutsches Museum in Munich.  There he saw something new in the museum world – instead of halls exclusively devoted to objects in cases, some of the exhibits had cranks and levers and pulleys.  These devices invited visitors not just to observe the scientific world but to understand it through participation. Rosenwald was so impressed with the impact of this new style of museum experience that he became determined to bring it back to America, to his hometown of Chicago – and so began the story of the Museum of Science and Industry, the nation’s largest science museum.

Over the course of the 20th century, interactives migrated from science museums to children’s museums and by the 1980s to natural history and history museums as well.  These exhibit units are sometimes characterized as “activities for kids,” but it is the experience of museum professionals that interactives receive as much of a workout from adults as children, if only vicariously (i.e. “Johnny, try pulling the crank first and then flipping the lever”).

In approaching the interactives for Just Married!: Wedding Stories from Jewish Maryland, we began, as always, with educational objectives…how do we transform the topic into a vehicle for inspiring in-depth exploration and critical reasoning?  What concepts and activities would fit our exhibit themes, while attracting visitors both young and old?  We came up with a mix of puzzles, tactile experiences, and audio rewards to engage the brain as well as the senses.

The meeple family tree

An important part of interactive planning is beta testing. Over the winter, we tested two of our activities, one on the public and one on the JMM staff.
Our seating chart puzzle, designed by our in-house game maven, involves a set of adorable but in-law challenged meeples [wondering what meeples are? (and no, the singular of “meeples” is not “merson”)].  Our meeple families: the color-coded Pinkerts and Greensteins, Silvermans and Goldbergs needs to be strategically seated to achieve a set of goals for the bride and groom.  In this way we hoped to transform a common problem into a 3-D logic puzzle – both entertaining and thought provoking.

A seating challenge!

We set a simple prototype in the JMM lobby and invited visitors to give it a try.  This gave us insight into what visitors found confusing – such as the fact that unlabeled meeples are indistinguishable (so who could say if cousin Steve was sitting where he should be?) We experimented with affixing tiny labels to the meeples, simplifying the game’s rules and clarifying how to reset the game board for the next player.  All of these small adjustments will contribute to successful interactive – a tool that promotes learning (and fun).

Curator Karen takes a crack at matching photos

Joanna’s match-the-photo puzzle was tested out on the staff in a slightly less formal manner (but with scorekeeping, which always adds to the fun). In this activity, players are asked to match the wedding and anniversary photos of several Maryland couples from various eras.  Our collections include some great images, thanks to generations of Marylanders celebrating the milestone anniversaries of parents and grandparents.  Eleven of our staff and volunteers gave the game a try; there were mixed results, score-wise (and yes, one person did successfully match all eight couples), but everyone found themselves engrossed in the challenge.

Marketing and Development Manager Rachel had a tough time as the inaugural tester

These trial games were invaluable.  In the case of the photos, Joanna learned that the original version – a scattering of sixteen photos from eight couples, with no indication as to which images were wedding and which were anniversary – was much too difficult for anyone who hadn’t been staring at the pictures for three days like she had.  A few tweaks to the set-up improved things considerably. Our goal is to make interactives challenging – but not frustrating, often a difficult “sweet spot” to find.Interactives are just one component in turning a space into an experience.  A strong interactive complements, but does not replace, memorable images or artifacts – but the right tools can transport the visitor from “watcher” to “doer” and give them a sense of personal ownership of an exhibit.

MarvinBlog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert (with assistance from Collections Manager Joanna Church). To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Unobtrusive Observations: Evaluating Beyond Chicken Soup

Posted on August 29th, 2016 by

For the past month, we have begun doing evaluations of our Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America exhibit. We have been tracking, or completing “unobtrusive observations” of visitors, where data is collected about what attracts and holds the attention of our guests in the exhibition. We have also been completing short interviews where we ask visitors questions about their experience after leaving the exhibit. We hope to conduct between 70-100 evaluations before the exhibit closes in mid-January and have already completed about 25, due in large part to the work of our fabulous summer interns and volunteers.

"Its All Greek to Me" interactive.

“Its All Greek to Me” interactive.

I received a sneak peek at the data we have collected. I learned that the average stay was 30 minutes. The audience type was a mix between seniors, adults and young adults and many seemed to deeply engage with the exhibit content. When visitors were asked to sum up one “take away” message from the exhibit, one mentioned the long historical contribution of Jews to the progression of medical knowledge and practice. While some listed discrimination and stereotyping of Jewish doctors as a prominent theme, others remarked how so many Jewish immigrants were able to succeed, despite all the obstacles, in medicine. Still others were struck by eugenics or how modern medicine has come a long way since the early 1900s.

The Doctor's Office

The Doctor’s Office

Visitors seemed to enjoy the doctor’s office and the old medical instruments. They also enjoyed learning about local Baltimore history, including the spotlight on Sinai Hospital, and seeing the 15th century medical books collected by Harry Friedenwald and on loan to the JMM from the National Museum of Israel. Almost all visitors exclaim “eww!” when they read in our Pharmacy window that a dead mouse was once considered medicine for the treatment of diabetes.

Check out all those post-it notes!

Check out all those post-it notes!

Visitors have also been continuing to add post-it notes to the comment board. One visitor commented that the exhibit is amazing for kinesthetic learners because of all the interactive parts. We got another slightly humorous comment from a Dr. Berman who explored the exhibit and got slightly panicked each time the “paging Dr. Berman” sound clip went off in the hospital section.

GrahamA blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Calling all JMM visitors – we need your help!

Posted on November 13th, 2015 by

As you probably know by now, our staff is gearing up to open a new original exhibition, Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America. The exhibit, scheduled to open March 13, 2016, explores the intersection of religion and science through the lens of Jewish involvement in medicine.

Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in AMerica logo, shades of green with a stethoscope as the ampersand.

Exhibit logo

JMM staff members are hard at work reviewing design schematics from our designers at Steve Feldman, Inc, writing text panels and developing a companion website and educational curriculum as well as editing chapters for the accompanying catalog. After much discussion about how to make the exhibit relevant for audiences of diverse backgrounds in addition to our interest in tackling contemporary topics, we decided to integrate a media component that will provide an extra element of interactivity. The resulting activity, developed by Amuze Interactives (for examples of similar project that they have developed for museums, check out, consists of three touch screen kiosks that will be stationed in the exhibit and will provide opportunities for visitors to give feedback to questions relating to medical ethics on such topics as genetic screening and medical authority. Each question is followed by a series of multiple choice responses; some answers result in a follow up questions. After questions are answered, visitors will see a results page where they can see how their response compares to others who have answered the same question.

Here’s where you come in. In a similar fashion to how we conducted visitor surveys in our initial phase of exhibit development to determine what specifically about Jews and medicine resonated with you, our visitors, we are now asking you to help test this interactive media feature and let us know how/if you think it can be improved. We have installed a touch screen monitor in our lobby where we plan on displaying questions similar to what will be asked on monitors in the exhibit. By taking a few minutes to answer questions and complete a brief survey about whether or not you think the questions are clear of if they need additional clarification, you will help us develop a dynamic tool that will engage visitors in thinking about important issues related to health.

Visitor Services Coordinator, Graham Humphrey, tests the new computer activity.

Visitor Services Coordinator, Graham Humphrey, tests the new computer activity.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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