Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Things are changing – no bones about it!

It’s been a flurry of activity here over the past week as we get closer to the opening of ThinkSpace. Work has been underway for quite a while in our exhibit shop, offices and offsite, but now it has moved into the exhibit space.

Of course anytime we open a new exhibit, it means we need to let something go – that’s one of the challenges we face in trying to keep things fresh for our visitors. To create ThinkSpace, we chose to take out Bone Zone and Shape Space on the second floor because they were most in need of updates, although you’ll see some block building favorites incorporated into ThinkSpace (more on that later).

Deinstallation of those exhibits took place last week, as activity tables were moved out and ceiling shapes taken down.

Exhibit Designer Chris took apart the skeleton puzzle.

Crew member Zach and Exhibit Technician Hillel deconstructed the body systems and x-ray activities.
The final step was disassembling Fred, our bicycle-riding skeleton! In thinking about the thousands of children who have pedaled alongside him over the years, we really wish we'd had an odometer on the bike to track the miles traveled!
Exhibits Director Robin bids Fred farewell!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why Spatial Thinking?

Spatial thinking is integral to everyday life and is necessary to navigate, explore and survive in the world. People think spatially all the time – when tying shoes, reading maps, finding the way to school or work, packing suitcases, building snowmen, doing jigsaw puzzles, designing costumes, climbing trees or slicing pizza. Spatial thinkers are engineers planning bridges, pilots flying airplanes, doctors reading x-rays, electricians wiring houses, meteorologists predicting weather, bakers decorating cakes, geologists studying fossils and trapeze artists flying through the air. Kids are spatial thinkers, too!

Put simply, spatial thinking is about developing an intuitive understanding – a sense – of shapes and space. It’s about the location and shape of objects, their relations to each other and the paths they take as they move. It’s about the ways we can change, manipulate, represent, reason and communicate about shapes and spaces.

Spatial thinking is an important problem-solving tool and – as research shows – a key to kids’ interest and success in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines. The connection to the arts and design is pretty clear, too. Research also suggests that, while everyone (at any age) can become a better spatial thinker with practice, spatial thinking skills may be most malleable early in life and, for young children, hands-on experiences are especially significant. However, while kids learn the basics of shape and space, spatial thinking isn’t systematically taught in schools.

In order to build strong spatial sense and become proficient at spatial thinking, kids need to opportunities to...
  • Actively explore shapes and spaces in unusual and playful ways
  • Practice imaginative abilities (e.g., rotating objects in their minds)
  • Experiment with the interaction between space and body by, for example, inhabiting spaces and or changing perspectives
  • Investigate shapes and spaces through fine and gross motor activities
  • Explore shapes and spaces through sound and touch in addition to visual methods
  • Hear and use spatial language and gestures
  • Experience and play with tools of representation for spatial thinking (diagrams, maps, etc.)

Spatial thinking is powerful and fun – and the more time and opportunities kids have for this kind of play, the better their spatial sense will become. That’s exactly what Museum visitors will discover when ThinkSpace opens next week!

 – Contributed by Exhibits Director Robin Meisner 

Much of our understanding about the development of spatial thinking in young children has been influenced by the research of Dr. Nora Newcombe and her colleagues at the Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center.

More about the importance of spatial thinking:
Spatial thinking, the way we navigate the world and manipulate the space around us, is crucial to problem solving.

Spatial Intelligence in Children (Parenting Science)
Spatial intelligence is an essential tool in many fields, yet it's relatively neglected at school.  Experiments suggest that we can improve a child's spatial thinking skills by a substantial margin.

Why Don't We Value Spatial Intelligence? (Psychology Today)
For students who are not talented with words and numbers but who are talented with mentally rotating figures and shapes, there is often very little to recognize and challenge them in the regular school system.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Coming Soon: ThinkSpace!

ThinkSpace, a major new exhibit exploring spatial thinking, opens on Saturday, November 10! This dynamic environment will invite visitors to explore, imagine, create and experiment with shape and space through hands-on play and learning experiences:
  • Navigate mystery maze boxes using the senses to guide a ball through hidden twists and turns, and map the path it traveled. 
  • Create intricate kaleidoscopic designs by layering, ordering and rotating colorful cutout shapes in countless combinations. 
  • Experiment with shadows and scale, transforming 3-D objects into 2-D representations and creating imaginative shadow scenes. 
  • Solve the soma cube, a giant 3-D puzzle, by fitting together seven pieces to form a cube. Find one or more of 240 separate solutions! 
  • Construct domino chain reactions, negotiating spacing and alignment to topple series of spirals and zigzags. 
  • Explore a nook stocked with books about shape, navigation, and visual and spatial challenges. 
  • And try other vibrant puzzles, challenges, building activities, and more! 
Learn more about ThinkSpace and spatial thinking in the Museum’s fall newsletter, and check back to see photos of the process of prototyping, fabricating and installing the exhibit!

And join us for the ThinkSpace opening celebration, Saturday, November 10 - Monday, November 12 from 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM; free with Museum admission.

ThinkSpace is supported by lead sponsor National Grid,
with additional support from June Rockwell Levy Foundation.