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Interactive Computer Exhibits For Ages 3-8?

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the gotta-be-tough dept.

Education 122

Johnny Mnemonic writes "My company has the opportunity to contribute to a children's museum in our area. We are a technology company, so I'd like the exhibit to be computer/networking related, and to raise the awareness and understanding of how the Internet, networking, and computers work. However, children's museums cater to a pretty young age group, 3-8 years old, so the the exhibit needs to be highly interactive, durable, tactile, and yet instructive of the concepts. Google fails to turn up any turn-key options, and, although the concepts are computer related, a computer-based exhibit tends to be too fragile and susceptible to withstand the rigors of 250 preschoolers/day. How would you design a display that meets these requirements and is still fun and educational?"

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122 comments

Exhibit idea (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374194)

I assume that the exhibit will be American, so:
  • Put an Xbox360 or PS3 with two controllers connected to a plasma tv in the middle of a pen, then release groups into it and watch them all fight each other over who gets to play.
  • Let them try to operate a PC with Linux installed. The first three who don't cry win ribbons.
  • Let them sit in a 3ftx3ft cubicle while their parents say within earshot, "The Indian kids are so much cheaper than our kids...maybe we should trade!"
  • Leashing their necks to the rear bumper of a car 5 at a time and then driving the car around the block a few times at 3 MpH, for a little exercise.
  • Bust the kids for child porn when it's discovered that there are pics of them nude in the bathtub.

Re:Exhibit idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30375480)

Wow, too much Jameson. Thought this was a reply to the imeem post, and the OP was deep, very deep. Instead it's a reply to the silly topic. Silly OP, silly Slashdot.

Re:Exhibit idea (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 4 years ago | (#30375762)

I assume that the exhibit will be American, so:

...so, just have a TV? :-p

More seriously, why not visit a couple of existing museums with good exhibits for children and see what they do? I visited Universeum in Gothenburg [universeum.se] a few weeks ago, and that had excellent interactive things for children (click "Exhibitions"). I saw kids really enjoying the interactive music stuff. Closer to (my) home, the London Transport Museum [ltmuseum.co.uk] 's train simulator was good for slightly older children. I can't remember anything directly involving a computer that was suitable for really young children, although one room had about 8 under-fives chasing animations (of a train) that were projected onto the floor.

With a bit of imagination you can get something interactive and technical without any risk to the computer. Use heat/light sensors to detect where people are, projected sound and/or light.

However, designing this stuff is a profession in itself so you might be better off getting some advice that way.

iPhone/iTouch (5, Interesting)

^switch (65845) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374224)

Stick a bunch of tied-down iTouch there. I say this only half jokingly, because my two year old finds them extremely intuitive and interactive. She unlocks it, watches videos, plays her games just by recognising the icons and the buttons with their visible gestures. Because of these features, this is the first phone I've owned that hasn't been thrown, drowned or buried by her.

Physical logic gates? (5, Interesting)

TimTucker (982832) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374228)

Going to more fundamental principles, could you have a display centered around boolean logic with mechanical gates? I recall having seen Lego-based logic gates in the past that could probably be scaled up in size and built out of more durable materials.

Re:Physical logic gates? (4, Interesting)

FlyByPC (841016) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374284)

This sounds like a good idea -- show them how computer fundamentals work. Use some nice, durable switches and pretty lights to make some demo AND, OR, NOT gates etc. Maybe even an XOR, a flip-flop, etc. Show them how all the pieces come together -- maybe put a Z80 or something under a fixed microscope to show them how complex they are.

Re:Physical logic gates? (1)

Kneuts (1629285) | more than 4 years ago | (#30376658)

Agreed. And perhaps work it up towards more advanced digital logic applications, such as a Memory circuit. What're they called... JK-switches? D-Switch? something about an OR gate with a feedback to the input of another OR gate.

Re:Physical logic gates? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374384)

I totally agree. If they can't understand Boolean logic at the age of 3, they clearly should attend "slow baby" school instead of going to exhibitions.

I hope you're joking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374476)

"Slow baby" school? Really? It'd be a better use of resources to turn them into food.

Re:I hope you're joking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30375004)

Such a modest proposal, sir. You could probably make a whole new business out of this new delicacy, and you'd solve the overpopulation problem at the same time!

Re:I hope you're joking (1)

attonitus (533238) | more than 4 years ago | (#30376918)

Three years is a bit late, though. I hear that a child at a year old is most delicious, nourishing and wholesome.

Re:I hope you're joking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30377558)

You can have them at up to five years old, but the secret is that you can't have them up running around. It toughens them up.

Re:Physical logic gates? (4, Interesting)

kpesler (982707) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374438)

Along these lines, I recall an earlier Slashdot story [slashdot.org] about using water to create logic gates [blikstein.com] . If these were scaled up to make them more visible to the kids, and made interactive, it could make for an engaging exhibit. As a father of two little boys, I know that kids love to play with water.

Toughbooks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374232)

This most certainly would be durable enough for some tikes, wouldn't it?

this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374252)

computer, in a much larger pexiglass box, with buttons that light up a componet of the computer based on what they press.
*press motherboard button, mobo lights up.. etc..*

Re:this (2, Funny)

seifried (12921) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374278)

Considering these kids will mostly grow up with laptops and cell phones this strikes me as a definite museum appropriate exhibit =).

Re:this (1)

supernova_hq (1014429) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374720)

Very cool idea. Even better would be to actually have that machine running a multi-touch display of and/or gates or something. Then not only are they seeing the inside of a computer, but the inside of the computer they are actually using as another part of the exibit.

Packet Data (5, Insightful)

TrippTDF (513419) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374262)

Here's one that would work on kids that young: Turn them into "packets" and have them travel through an open-ended maze in their effort to get to their desination.

Create an inter-connected maze that has no single entrence and exit, but a bunch of ways in and out. Each point is marked as a different city across the world. Let's say a kid enters in "Japan" and a computer screen tells him he needs to get to "New York". He then walks through the maze, where there are a series of hubs where he has to ask another terminal what direction he has to go in next.

It would be highly physical and an easy way to introduce kids to the simplest building blocks of the internet... you could even build it as a "series of tubes" :)

I really hope you see this one to the end- please submit the end results to slashdot. Good luck!

Re:Packet Data (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374280)

Good luck explaining packets loss to the parents.

Re:Packet Data (1)

Provocateur (133110) | more than 4 years ago | (#30376208)

Honey, let's go. I gave that curator teen $20 to make sure that packet loss lasts for hours till we finish the movie...think he's going to explain ISPs and technical difficulties later...

Re:Packet Data (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#30376420)

Good luck explaining packets loss to the parents.

Let alone deep packet inspection, or packet mangling...

Re:Packet Data (2, Interesting)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374288)

If you've got the space for it, I second this wonderful idea!

Apart from the sheer size of something like this, technically it's fairly easy... push a button at each hub to light up what path to go through. It could be wired really simply, with just parallel buttons for each route. It might require a bit more thought than a 3-year-old would put into it, but I think older kids would get it without much problem.

If there's enough space and budget, you could even use stairs or inclines to go up to a satellite relay, or down to an undersea cable.

Re:Packet Data (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374842)

If they don't have the size for something that large I bet an interactive Flash video, maybe controlled by some large simple buttons would do nearly as well and entertain the kiddies while hopefully stirring their little imaginations.

Thinking about it, you could easily do two displays. One, an interactive "how your computer works" with a little animated CPU (think of the animated DNA in Jurassic Park) that when the kids are asked to push the "start" button by "Chippy" they are then treated to a cool animation of how all this data (little animated ones and zeroes on little highways through the circuits) come together to show what you see on the screen. You could show Chippy being like a little traffic cop for interrupts, etc. It would be cute and the tykes would love it.

For the Internet you could have them "send a letter" where they have their picture taken and have their picture digitized and send "through the Internet" to the destination. Again you could have a nice little animation where the kids can watch as their face on the letter flows through all these different devices, like routers, switches, networks, etc until it gets to their friends house. You could also have two screen set up with cameras showing one group of kids to another, along with a little animation showing how their pictures are broken down to ones and zeroes and sent through wires to be reassembled on the other side.

There are probably a good dozen different ways you could show off technology with a combination of simple button presses and animation that would thrill the kiddies. You might even be able to contact AMD or Intel and get them to cook up a little fancier character driven animation. It is good publicity to "help the kiddies" after all.

Re:Packet Data (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30377426)

I used simple text-based animation to demonstrate various data structures such as stacks, linked lists, etc.

Re:Packet Data (4, Informative)

rainmaestro (996549) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374408)

I like this idea.

Where I grew up, we had a children's science museum (Great Explorations: http://www.greatex.org/index.php [greatex.org] ) that I used to visit during summers (they did 1-2 week summer camps). The most popular exhibit (most of them were rotated in and out) was always the Touch Tunnel. Totally dark inside, with corridors, ramps, etc. You had to feel your way through to the end. Kids loved it, even when the lights were on. The idea was really simple: giving kids the experience of relying on something other than their sight, and it was really effective.

It is great to see the author's company contributing to a kid's museum. I still remember some of the things I learned at those summer camps (like the letters of the alphabet in ASL). I always loved learning, but it was those camps that really sparked my interest in the sciences.

I took my adopted sisters there once a few years ago (they were adopted at 5/6 years of age when I was 19). I think I had more fun with the exhibits than they did *grin*

Re:Packet Data (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374440)

The key is not to force them to learn if they don't want to. Rather, just make it easy for them to do the learning stuff if they want to.

If they just want to wander aimlessly through the "internet," that's fine. But if they want to play the game and learn about packet routing, make that easy. The wanderers can be "traffic congestion."

Re:Packet Data (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30376804)

They have this very concept at the Canada Science and technology museum

http://www.sciencetech.technomuses.ca/english/whatson/connexions.cfm

8yr olds are taller (3, Informative)

Whiteox (919863) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374264)

I did some exhibitions a few decades ago, but I think the principles would be the same.
Anything that shows 'cause and effect' for the 3 year olds: Press this and this happens.
Don't forget that 8 year olds already use computers in the classroom
You should have an interactive centerpiece - mine was a 'Robot' built on an stand covered with old cards with a speaker as a mouth, based on an Apple ][ with a speech card. The space bar was programmed to cycle through different progs - like math tables, songs (Daisy Daisy from 2001) etc
We had some old hubs and switches with different colored network cables. Not powered at all so they could just plug them in random order.
A continuum of old to new tech as a display - a big daisy-wheel was a real hit. Also any old tech that still works like LCD typewriters, dot matrix printers, coupled modems.
Web Cams with screens out of the way.
Some LAN net talk for the older ones. I had a messaging guest-book system set up.
Fractal displays and interesting screen savers. Set up a SETI for public view.
There's a lot you can do, but don't forget that whatever you set up, it will take maintenance.

Re:8yr olds are taller (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374748)

The space bar was programmed to cycle through different progs - like math tables, songs (Daisy Daisy from 2001) etc

Was this meant to scare the shit out of them, ingrain deep rooted fear at early age so they'll never pursue computer-related carrier? Job security?

Re:8yr olds are taller (1)

Whiteox (919863) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374916)

Most of these kids wouldn't have seen the movie. Some of the adults would've gotten the reference though - this was in the late 80's and 2001 Space Odyssey wasn't in the cheap VHS rental shelves. I don't think it was for sale at the time anyway.

You could program the Apple ][ & sound card with simple BASIC to alter the pitch and I got it to sound different for different programs.

electrons and gates (balls and wooden toggles (4, Interesting)

seifried (12921) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374266)

Imagine a vertical board with channels in it, these channels go to wooden gates (think mini teeter-totter), a ball might close a gate and rest there until another ball hits that gate and opens it (or possibly sends the ball in a different direction/etc.). Kids can experiment with setting the gates (positioning them A/B) and then hitting a button to engage the engine which drops balls through 9screw drive/bucket belt, whatever). An Example of an adding machine:

Binary marble adding machine - http://woodgears.ca/marbleadd/ [woodgears.ca]

Unfortunately I can't find an example online but I think you get the gist of it

Kids want to explore (2, Interesting)

equalwings (1373601) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374272)

Go for something with simple, well illustrated logic. Remember that kids of that age aren't supposed to be good at abstract thinking. Use clear boxes so they can see what's inside. Make it strong but not so it looks strong (clear is good for that). Have multiple terminals that can interact but do not need to for a good experience.

Anonymous Coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374292)

There is an exhibit in the Australian Museum in Sydney that uses a projector on a table and uses touch to start animations of different creatures.
Quite cool and totally unbreakable.

packet routing (5, Interesting)

MagicM (85041) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374294)

A local children's museum has an exhibit that shows how "email is sent through the internet". It uses a pneumatic tube system to shoot wooden balls from a sender through a series of clear tubes to a receiver. The balls go through various T-junctions, which makes the actual route taken "random", and these junctions are labeled with city names. Balls are released at such an interval that regardless of the route, they still arrive in the same order they were sent. A combination of black and white balls allows the recipient to verify the sender's message. There's even a little ascii-type chart to map color combinations to characters.

When my 4-year old saw and heard balls being shot around the wall-o-tubes, she said it was "the coolest thing she'd ever seen." We spent a good half hour feeding the machine.

(I don't know if copying someone else's museum exhibit would be legal, IANAL.)

Re:packet routing (1)

Michael Woodhams (112247) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374630)

I had a somewhat similar idea, but with more computer hardware.

We conceptually have a bunch of computers pretending to be the internet. Perhaps each computer might be represented by a single display showing a little island with postmen on it, and connected to other computers/islands by bridges. (We could put everything on one great big display, but I like the individual displays better.) In this system, we will attempt to send 'web pages' (a picture which gets broken down into jigsaw puzzle pieces) from servers to home computers. For arguments sake, there will be 6 web pages available.

A few are 'home computers' from which you can request web pages. The controls for these will be six buttons, one for each available web page. When a child pushes one of these buttons, a message travels from home computer to the ISP computer (mailman carries a letter to the bridge and shoves it across.) The letter is colour coded to match the server it is trying to reach. The ISP forwards it to a computer nearer the server, etc. When the server gets the message, they take a copy of their web page, break it into puzzle pieces, and start sending the bits back over bridges. Eventually, it assembles on the child's 'home computer' screen.

The final complication is that there are also 'failure' buttons: the kids can temporarily take out a bridge, or an island (something non-violent: the postmen take a tea break, or they can't pay attention to the mail because the sparklebunnies have escaped and need to be rounded up and recaged.) Then they get to see how the packets are rerouted and still make it to the destination.

Maybe there is a 'fail' button for each bridge and each computer, so kids can control exactly what failures happen, or maybe there is just a 'make three random things fail' button. If you allow full control over failures, some kids may upset other kids by preventing their web pages from ever arriving.

There will be more details I haven't described (indeed, by knowledge of networking is insufficient.) Packets need labels to show where they are going, bridges possibly need labels to say what other computers you can reach from them etc. Postmen need to keep copies of packets for resending until they get confirmation that the next island has received it. Lots of cute animations can be put in, for example packets falling off broken bridges and getting carried away by the flooding river.

You'd need a fair development budget for this one, with graphic design and user interface testing probably being bigger costs than the programming. However, as most of the cost is software, you can then try to sell it elsewhere.

Although I'd prefer it without, you can also put advertising in: the Google web page packets go through the AT&T ISP island etc.

For what it is worth, I place this idea in the public domain.

Re:packet routing (5, Informative)

holeinone (750622) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374946)

There is a very nice exhibit like this at The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo. White and black billiard balls are used. The first 8 balls are the address (to different stations around the room), the next 8 balls are the character you want to send. A kid arranges the balls in one of the sending stations and then releases them into the internet. The balls flow through several 'routers' (contraptions that look like they are based on old telephone technology). The balls flow to the destination (to which the kid has run over to and is waiting for his balls to arrive) and then the character is displayed. My 6 year old played this for a long time and would have played it all day.

There is a picture here [jst.go.jp] at the bottom of the page. There is also contact information. I'm sure you could get a detailed description of its construction if you wrote them an email.

Good luck!

Re:packet routing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30376004)

I saw this exhibit earlier this year and it's awesome. There were kids, 5-6 yo that "got it".

Re:packet routing (1)

Jeremy Lee (9313) | more than 4 years ago | (#30376100)

Ha! I was actually just about to suggest something very, very similar, although with a twist.

I think it wouldn't be too hard to have some junctions which switch based on the ball colour. Effectively being able to sort a whole series of random coloured balls and send all the red ones, for example, to the red ball output slot. That's the clearest demonstration of the primary action of networking: ie, 'routing', I can think of. Not just random paths, but deliberate sorting.

I suppose Ted Stevens was right. It IS a series of tubes!

Re:packet routing (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 4 years ago | (#30377568)

(I don't know if copying someone else's museum exhibit would be legal, IANAL.)

Ted Stevens can be cited as prior art.

A child progamming language (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374300)

You can do a computer display with a washable screen and projection or a flat screen behind lexan.

How about a simplified version of Alice (Alice.org) where the commands are plate size tiles that are stacked on a table and then executed?tt
You can do simple commands or loops and if statements.

Robots for kids (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374306)

Use LEGO WeDo Robotics kit.

Big colorful cat5 cables (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374326)

How about a happy computer on one side of the room/world wants to send a nice message to a sad computer on the other side. I order to do so, they must have some connection. Children could take patch cables (dressed up in thick, soft, colorful rope or something... not an actual cable, or it could be a safety hazard, as well as wear out easily) and connect them from one computer to the other (perhaps through some other computers in the middle). After connected, the kids could select the message they want to send, then watch it show up on the other end. Alternatively, you could set up a webcam thing at each computer and the kids could see the other kids on the other side.

wallthing (1)

cellurl (906920) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374340)

Heres a wall projector/camera idea my son and I built.
Its going in our church after Christmas.
It shows shapes on the wall that dance around if you smack them.
So its good for non-readers.
It was designed for "take away" messages at the exit of a science center. Eg, a quiz with A-B multiple choice, scoring, takes your picture if you win and keeps it on the wall.
But for 3 graders, I had an app that shows animals. If you smack the wall over the animal, it moved to a different square. Its all written in Hornetseye which you can find on the web. Let me know if I can help. Source code, whatever, you are welcomed to it.
how to build a wallthing [webs.com]

Hey, help us out at 10 seconds can save a life [wikispeedia.org] -jim

industrial design competition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374356)

You should open it up to a competition for a few starving industrial design students. You would be your best results and options.

Learn from arcade consoles (1)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374382)

Take apart an old arcade console and pay attention to the design details.

You will learn a lot about how to make a robust system that will withstand physical abuse.

If you build it, they will come... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374390)

5-foot multi-touch goatse!

Read up on (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374396)

monkey labs and other critter computer tests.
Simple covered interface and a screen.
Plastic sheet, tamper proof switches and a computer safe from hands.

CSUnplugged (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374404)

Have a look at the Computer Science Unplugged site csunplugged.org. It is mainly classroom activities but it should give some ideas.

digital music loop (1)

dr_leviathan (653441) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374428)

How about a large array of colored button-lights with a moving "cursor" light along the bottom. When a column of buttons is activated in time with the cursor's arrival any activated button (lit) will play a specific sound. The kids can toggle the various sounds by pressing the corresponding buttons in the array. Add sliders or mode control buttons for each column (or maybe just global for the entire array) that changes the sounds with distortion or tone. Add a mic with a sampler that they can yell into and store sound into some of the buttons in the array. Put a super-sized stomp-able keyboard on the floor at the bottom that makes sounds when they step on them. Include a real-time sweeping feedback display of the total sound amplitude and/or frequency distribution.

Drawing screens (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374454)

If you can afford it and bother,

Have four terminals pointing inwards towards the middle, with a different color scheme for each terminal/sitting area. Close together so they can see each other and talk, but not each other's screen. For each terminal have a touch/magnetic pen screen, and a second screen with three colored buttons next to it. The idea is that pushing a button changes which of the drawings of the others you see on the second screen. Add Autowipe after some minutes, a wipe button for your own screen, which wipes your drawing for yourself and others, and a wipe button for the other screen, which just wipes what you can see. In case a concerned mom is worried that the kid a meter away is drawing something naughty.

Cost: more than nothing.

What are your goals??? (2, Informative)

ksdemaria (237771) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374466)

And do they match up with the mission of the museum? I used to manage many of the technology exhibits at Pacific Science Center in Seattle, and I think the first thing to ask is what are you trying to teach to 3-8 year olds? Is your focus on teaching the wonder of technology or is it using technology to teach something else? Robots, logic games, enhanced reality... whatever it is, are you showing the tech or teaching a concept?

As for exhibit design, stability, and usability these are all tried and true in other museums through out the country. Hap controls makes great switches, track balls are more stable than touch screens, and assume the children will taste your entire exhibit, even the parts that don't move.

Basically, encase all your computer works in hand built cases, embed trackballs into cabinetry, and solder in external switches. Some of the best exhibits, especially for young kids don't necessarily need to be hands on. They could be things where computers, video cameras, create an imaginary physical environment the children can play in. A virtual video studio where they can act out a play and then watch themselves is very experiential and gets to use technology they might not have a chance to play with on a large scale.

So, think creatively about what you're trying to showcase and teach, then the design comes after.

Re:What are your goals??? (1)

story645 (1278106) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374592)

A virtual video studio where they can act out a play and then watch themselves is very experiential and gets to use technology they might not have a chance to play with on a large scale.

Sony did something similar with Sony Wonder [sony.com] in New York when I was younger. I went as a kid and thought it was the coolest thing that I could make my own tv show and I kept the certificate they gave out for years. There were lots of buttons and options for older kids and a big green screen and heat sensitive cameras for everyone. In the years since, it looks like they've modernized the tech but kept to the same concept.

Age 3 to 8? (2, Insightful)

Korbeau (913903) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374578)

Sorry but ... at age 3 you can show pretty much any shining things and they will laugh ...

At age 8 you can tell them a concept and they'll want to learn more ...

What kind of age-range is that?

Re:Age 3 to 8? (1)

arkenian (1560563) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374902)

Sounds about the ages I used to visit the children's museum. I mean, you're right, you can't really do something that will really span that age range, but with some work, you can do something that would (for example in the maze thing above) be interesting for mixed-age-groups. 3 is probably a bit young, but 4 is kindergarten age in some places. The trick is to lure them in with the shiny and then as they grow older make the shiny actually teach them something. I can remember more than a few exhibits that I revisited many times over the years as I grew older, going back to them because I remembered how much fun they were, and then again (towards the end of my children's museum years) because of how cool the concepts that made them work were.

Rugged material (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374618)

Having worked in a children's museum I have seen what kids do to sensitive instruments and equipment. You're lucky if it lasts for 10 minutes without total destruction. Embedded touch plates and proximity sensitive controls are your best bet.

Self-Promoting, Sorry (1)

holophrastic (221104) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374674)

I hate to do this, because it seems wildly unprofessional, but I just finished engineering/inventing a touch-screen computer "baby" kiosk (baby in terms of table-top form factor, and easily transportable) designed specifically to be a powerful computer, very durable, attractive, and interactive. I'm just starting to bring it to market now. I don't want to advertise it here because, well, it seems cheesy and self-serving to do so. But if you're interested, reply here and I'll help you out.

Standard Ask Slashdot Response (1)

mypalmike (454265) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374682)

I'm surprised we're up to almost 40 responses without:

"Obviously you have no idea what you are doing, so hire someone who does."

hydrolic logic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30374714)

A pump, some colored water, some machined Plexiglas ogic elements and you have a great teaching tool. Also works well to demo electric theory: voltage=pressure, current, resistance, a balloon for capacitance, etc. Not sure how to do inductance, flywheel??

Specialised hardware (2, Informative)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#30374928)

a computer-based exhibit tends to be too fragile and susceptible to withstand the rigors of 250 preschoolers/day

There are computers exposed to the general public in places like airports and railway stations. These use specialised hardware referred to as cabinets.

Sanitizeable... (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 4 years ago | (#30375090)

Note that this kind of thing has to be water proof so that it can be sanitized and should not have small pieces that can be swallowed and definitely no lead paint...

Why Us? (4, Interesting)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 4 years ago | (#30375184)

Johnny Mnemonic (176043) writes: "My company has the opportunity to contribute to a children's museum in our area."

Well there Just Johnny, why Ask Slashdot when you've got experts at making kid-proof displays right there? They're the same people to ask just what kind of exhibit they'd like to have. What's the point of a computer/network oriented display? At the ages stated, there's not much to interest them. If it's not an outright concrete example, it's not going to do anything for them because it'll be an abstraction and kids that age don't cross levels of abstraction well if at all. They only reason to have a display based on what your company does is the PR for donating a display. The kids aren't the target for the PR so this is lost on them, and the parents or teachers could get the same PR input from a sign with your company's name. Go that way, and you can give the museum any sort of display they need. Might as well let the museum have the say. After all, at 3 to 8, how are you even going to get the instructions into their heads?

Re:Why Us? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30375682)

I build museum exhibits for a living and have made many of them for the younger crowd. Computers are not all that uncommon in toddler exhibits, one simply needs to make sure they are bombproof. Dump the keyboard and mouse and use Happ buttons, joysticks, or trackballs. They are far more robust and easier for little hands to manipulate. Make the display bright with large shapes and simple concepts. Kids enjoy using computers at all ages and there is no reason why you could not create something that would appeal to children of such an age. If it is simple yet fun, kids will "get it" in short order and wont even realize they are being educated.

Re:Why Us? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30376284)

You must have looked at the Preschool computers offerred by Leapfrog and Vtech?

Re:Why Us? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30376620)

Yup ... designing *good* exhibitions for children is something of an artform in its own right & offering to provide tech for something they design will probably work out doing best by the museum & its patrons.

OTOH if you're set on doing it yourself and providing the museum a complete exhibition...
1. Have a clear idea of the base concepts you'd like to impart on the little darlings (go talk to the museum)
2. Get a good designer & someone with a background in experiential learning. Or some kind of children's exhibit specialist.
4. Sit down with 1 & 2. Come up with concepts.
5. Trial your concepts with real children before finalizing anything (go talk to some schools)

CS Unplugged (4, Informative)

gregbaker (22648) | more than 4 years ago | (#30375212)

I'm a big fan of CS Unplugged [csunplugged.org] . It's generally aimed at a slightly older age range, I think, but you can probably adapt some of their demos quite easily.

Re:CS Unplugged (1)

ideonexus (1257332) | more than 4 years ago | (#30376196)

I second this! CS Unplugged has got some fantastic demos online. Check out their videos where they teach kids about network security, sorting algorithms, and binary. I've incorporated some of their activities into my own classes.

Contact Intech in the UK (1)

richard.cs (1062366) | more than 4 years ago | (#30375406)

http://www.intech-uk.com/folders/frontpage_welcome/ [intech-uk.com]

I haven't been there for a number of years but last time I was there they had a large number of technology related exhibits plus a lot of general science related ones, all aimed at children. They build (or at least used to build) most of it in a workshop on site and seem to have a reasonable turnover of exhibits - as a child I would often go there and find new things that had been added since my last visit.

Offhand I can't remember many specific examples but I believe they had a “network” based on routing coloured balls representing the data, an exhibit on batteries where the children could compare the outputs from cells made with different metals (copper, steel, aluminium, zinc) and electrolytes (vinegar, cola, etc). There was also a pile of parts that if assembled according to the diagram would create a steam engine which could be run on compressed air, a demonstration of Pythagoras' theorem using volumes of liquid and so many more which I have forgotten.

"Die Maus" - German Children's TV (1)

hoover (3292) | more than 4 years ago | (#30375814)

If you have a video display section, check out this youtube video titled "Die Maus erklärt das Internet" [youtube.com] . Sponsoring a translation into English might be a good idea, the vid is highly entertaining and funny at the same time (even for my age group). "Die Maus" ("The Mouse") is a character from German children's TV and has developed a cult following in the decades since its inception.

Damage Control by Preventative Means (1)

InfiniteLoopCounter (1355173) | more than 4 years ago | (#30375886)

Show something colorful/educational about computing on computer display terminals. However, make sure that when the kid get too close or touches the screen, he/she gets a good zap. That'll make them think twice about damaging the equipment.

(In case you are a moderator, I am of course joking, and not trying to give informative advice here).

Google Scholar (1)

wembley fraggle (78346) | more than 4 years ago | (#30375900)

I went to google scholar, typed in "museum technology children" and this link:

http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=503376.503430&type=series [acm.org]

was on the first page. The second and third pages have more interesting potential as well. There's a whole area of research on museum education as well as journals both practical and theoretical. I'm sure there's stuff out there that can help.

Posts on slashdot are all exciting and interesting and stuff, but journal articles and other sources are peer-reviewed and typically written by people with real expertise in the field (e.g., Ph.Ds)

idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30375980)

How about showing a cartoon picture of a different location on different terminals (maybe 6-8 screens/locations) and then have one or more animals on the "network" and the kids can tell the animal to move to another location. Maybe even "go to the orchard screen, pick an apple, and come back here."? Networks for 3 year olds!
Arrange the terminals in a physical arrangement that reflects the paths followed to get from location A to location B.

Unity3D? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30376172)

Sounds like a job for Unity3D, which is now free. I know it's been used for several installation type things as well as for games.

Seriously? (1)

kenh (9056) | more than 4 years ago | (#30376176)

From the post:

"I'd like the exhibit to be computer/networking related, and to raise the awareness and understanding of how the Internet, networking, and computers work. However, children's museums cater to a pretty young age group, 3-8 years old"

Exactly what do you want 3-8 yeaq-olds to pick up from this installation:

1) Binary numbers
2) Boolean Logic gates (AND, OR, etc)
3) Network operation
4) Programming Languages
5) Concept of stored program computers
6) Electricity

Your zeal to provide a display has caused you to overlook the fact that your audience is between 3-8 years-old, likely can't read, and if they can read, most likely won't want to.

Go to the children's museum in your area and see how they have striped their displays down to the very basic concepts, avoid long text (that has to be read to the kids), and rely on 'obvious' interactions (turn the wheel, the light bulb glows).

I used to work for a company that did this (1)

zarkill (1100367) | more than 4 years ago | (#30376248)

Years back I worked for a company who did a very successful display at the Louisiana Children's Museum in New Orleans: http://www.bentmedia.com/case_studies/teamturtle.php [bentmedia.com]

The computers were all touchscreen enabled and put into cabinets like kiosks, and they were scheduled to automatically restart if a crash was detected and relaunch the multimedia presentations. The exhibit itself was bright, colorful, and interactive.

I wasn't directly involved with the implementation of this project so I don't know all the details, but maybe from the photos in the case study you can get a sense of how it was set up. I remember it being a pretty big hit - and while I don't know the extent of any "unpleasant surprises" that are sure to occur with a project like this, when I visited the exhibit I recall everything working very smoothly.

Hands-On Items I've incorporated into my class (4, Interesting)

ideonexus (1257332) | more than 4 years ago | (#30376304)

  1. An 11 centimeter strip of phone or Ethernet wire, which represents one nanosecond of network travel time. RDM Grace Hopper used to use this to explain to the Generals why transmissions around the world took so long. Put a thousand of these together to create a microsecond.
  2. History of computers: Put out an abacus, slide ruler, and scientific calculator for the kids to play with. Show them a photo of ENIAC and explain how their cell phone now has more computing power.
  3. Don't be afraid to put computers out for the kids to play with. I maintain the computers at our local science center, and they do take some abuse, but we haven't lost one in three years of being in use. These are desktops though, with the CPU out of reach. My experience with laptops is that the kids will pull the keys off the keyboard or stick paperclips into the ports (We had an OLPC that got trashed quick when one child ripped the rubber keys off the keyboard). Don't put too much filtering on the computer, you want to keep the kids from looking at porn and installing malware, but you also don't want to keep them from exploring.
  4. With computers out, you can have all sorts of activities, such as an Internet scavenger hunt. We did this last night and the kids absolutely loved it. There's also websites where you can perform visual traceroutes. I had our kids run a tracert to fbi.gov, which they got a kick out of.
  5. There's the classic "bubblesort" game. Have the kids line up, assign them random numbers. Then have one child be the pointer, another the compare function, etc, etc, and sort the kids into order. It's nice to have psuedocode up on a projector to walk through as they perform the steps.

This is all I can think of right now, but I'll check my notes tonight to remember what else we've done. Good Luck!

Rotating Resource Room(s) (1)

_armChairAthelete_ (1696682) | more than 4 years ago | (#30376634)

If your budget allows, why don't you have duplicate rooms that have the same exhibits and rotate as some need "maintenance." You won't have downtimes and allows for future consideration of better equipment for handling physical stress(es).

Arcade equipment (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 4 years ago | (#30376656)

Put your computer in an arcade cabinet, and use arcade style buttons and controllers. They're expensive, but designed to handle the load.

IP Over Children (1)

mmmmbeer (107215) | more than 4 years ago | (#30376972)

Arrange the children in groups ("buses") of nine. Each child in the group has a designated bit, 1-8 and Chk(the team captain). Come up with a secret message for each team, but all the same length. Have them run back and forth across the room between two computers (for each team) carrying data. First group to successfully transmit their message wins. Maybe they'll learn something, and even if not, at least it'll wear them out.

Dance mat? (1)

sambaynham (955636) | more than 4 years ago | (#30376974)

Instead of a touch screen, how about letting them control a computer with a projecter and a modded dance mat? With a little ingenuity, the dancemat could be anything you like; Big colourful pictures of icons to explain how a desktop works, or even just directional buttons to control any interactive display you like. Dance mats, by their nature, are designed to be hardwearing, and the little tykes will probably enjoy jumping around like nutters. Of course, you'll probably need to do a risk assessment on them. Heaven forfend they should be subject to the laws of gravity, precious little angels that they are.

kids are smart (1)

Traa (158207) | more than 4 years ago | (#30376996)

Do not underestimate the interest in computer stuff of young kids. They recognize modern electronic toys (computers, phones, handheld gaming devices) from the other toys. My 4 year old is very good at playing his Nintendo DS (Kirby or anything Mario) and our Nintendo Wii (Zelda, Mario). He correctly uses a computer. Turns it ON, logs in to his account, launches Firefox (knows not to launch Explorer ;-) and watches Thomas the Train movies on Youtube.

My 1 year old knows how to operate a computer mouse. Moving it, clicking the buttons while looking at the screen for results (mixed ;-)

Both have little kids computers that teach them letters, numbers and soon easy words and arithmetic.

The biggest thing for them different from my generation is that computers aren't special.

KISS: Large Letter Buttons -- Letter+Color+Sound (1)

StatFiend (78320) | more than 4 years ago | (#30377050)

Years ago I wrote a little program for my (then) 3-year old sister on a TRS-80 Color Computer (it was kinda old even then). She loved it, it entertained her for hours, taught her about interacting with the computer via the keyboard, and about the order of the alphabet and numeric digits.

The program was really simple:

When the child pressed a letter or number key, the *entire* screen background changed to a bright color, the letter was displayed at the maximum font size that would fit, and an audible tone was played. Each letter/number was mapped to a specific color and tone, in case-insensitive alphabetic + numeric order (A-Z,0-9), so that colors and tones spanned both the spectrum and audible range (e.g. A= Red + low tone, 9=Blue + high tone).

I think that two simple additions would make it appropriate for an interactive kiosk for 3-8 year olds:

1) Create an over-sized keyboard for the the letters and numbers that use large 'industrial-strength' buttons
2) Provide a 'record', 'erase', and 'play' button and equivalent functionality in the software: Child can press record, then press several buttons, then press play and the letter/color/tones will be played back.

My 2c

get our lab to make you one of these :) (1)

patjhal (1423249) | more than 4 years ago | (#30377090)

Re:get our lab to make you one of these :) (1)

six11 (579) | more than 4 years ago | (#30377578)

Where is your lab? I saw a talk by some academic German guys who were building multitouch tables (the frustrated total refraction index things, or whatever the term is). The cost of the hardware was really quite cheap, so if you're willing to do a bunch of soldering and carpentry these are actually fairly easy to build.

Ann Arbor's Hands-On Museum (1)

chriswaco (37809) | more than 4 years ago | (#30377332)

Ann Arbor's Hands-On Museum has at least two interesting computer displays:

1. Colorful visual effects via a computer projection system which the kids can control by moving in front of a video camera. You really have to see it. Found a photo at: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/57/175283594_e5a67d0221.jpg [flickr.com]

2. Green screen chroma key area where kids can fly, swim, deliver the news, etc, while other kids act as TV news directors at a control panel

Linked Etch-a-Sketches (1)

drjohnretired (1345973) | more than 4 years ago | (#30377676)

The two knob etch-a-sketch has a very long history. Connect two or more of them together via a network link. Then see if pairs of participants cooperate on a design.
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