Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Interactive Museum Exhibits | Cancer Biology

You probably would find it as no surprise that we here in the Bourn Idea Lab are big fans of the Exploratorium and other similar museums that focus on designing highly interactive, hands-on exhibits to engage museum visitors. So when we got the opportunity to ask students to play the role of museum exhibit designers in the senior-level science elective, Biology and Economics of Cancer, we thought it would only be appropriate to put in a design constraint that the exhibits be interactive.

Along with teacher Elaine Middleman, we developed a very open-ended design prompt: "Design an interactive museum exhibit to educate visitors about some aspect of cancer biology." After the initial kickoff for the project, which involved a guest presentation by exhibit designers at the Franklin Institute held via Skype, students had approximately six weeks to work on building prototypes of their exhibits. We noticed that the first few days were frustrating and anxiety-inducing for many students because the project was so open-ended and everyone struggled to figure out exactly what they wanted to work on. But every group eventually settled on a topic and as they began working on building their prototypes, excitement began to build.

Due to open-ended nature of this project, there really was no way for us to anticipate what students needed for their various projects and to scaffold/prep them ahead of time. So instead, Elaine, Diego, and I naturally took on the role of mentors, checking in with each group periodically, advising them on things to think about, giving tips on potential solution, and teaching them skills and techniques in a just-in-time manner. And in fact, more often than not, we acted more as collaborators because none of us had any idea how to do something and we ended up working alongside students to figure it out as best as we could. Along the way, depending on the project, students got the chance to use the laser cutter, 3D printer, vacuum former, and Arduinos. Some learned how to solder. One student taught herself Processing to write a game and threw in a Makey Makey at the end just for the fun of it. 

Sure, this is a more chaotic way to run a class but this is exactly the type of controlled chaos we love. Because it is a surefire way to get to an amazing breadth of projects:
  • A computer game controlled by a banana to illustratoe how the length of telomeres affect  human aging and cancer
  • A virtual colonoscopy station built with a vacuum formed mold, creative use of red patterned fabric, a fake "endoscope", and a YouTube video of an actual colonoscopy
  • An exhibit demonstrating the different effects and side-effects of cancer treatments (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy) using an Arduino
  • An exhibit illustrating the various aspects of liver cancer using an Arduino
  • An exhibit on lung cancer built using the vacuum former and the laser cutter
  • A station for testing your skills as a histopathologist built using laser cutter and simple circuits
  • A 3D printed heart hooked up to tubes and strings of pulsing LED lights controlled by an Arduino to represent blood flow 
A mere six weeks ago, many of these students have never stepped foot inside the Bourn Lab and here they are as makers of these incredible projects. What will this project look like in a few years, when students who have had more consistent exposure to the lab rise in the grades and we get a class of seniors who are already comfortable with the resources of the lab? We can't wait to find out!

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