Saturday, October 17, 2009

Are Museums Creating Enough Risks For Visitors?

Since I'm part of a session called "Are Science Centers Missing The Science?" at the upcoming ASTC Conference in Fort Worth, I've been pondering the roles that "danger" and "risk" play in science education and science museums.

As you can see from the video at the top of this posting, starring my pal Ian Simmons from the UK, even a discussion of the calories in food can become interesting if an element of danger (like pure oxygen and metal-cutting flames!) is introduced.

There seems to be a wonderfully subversive undercurrent of "controlled danger" in the work of William Gurstelle (through his books like Backyard Ballistics) and groups like the Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories.  (Of course the fine folks at United Nuclear can provide supplies for your tinkering ...)

In addition, folks like Gever Tulley (and his Tinkering School) and Lenore Skenazy (of the Free-Range Kids blog)  argue that what kids (and adults!) need to learn is MORE risk and independence, not less.

In these troubled times, when many museums seem to be "hunkering down" and waiting for the economy to improve, should we also be thinking of ways to take more risks in the programs and exhibits we develop, not less?

Before you argue that building places for open-ended, messy activities and physical risks aren't possible with a phalanx of lawyers or nervous board members around every corner, I hope you'll visit the websites of The City Museum or PATH (PlayAssociation Tower Hamlets) to get a little "risky" inspiration!

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