Content - A Science Centre
A Science Centre
What is it …?
Science centres are essentially experiment-based, usually in an exhibition form. They are science orientated but also generally give an introduction to the technology it underlies.
Technorama is such a science centre – it is hands-on and interactive. Virtually all of the exhibits invite participation – rather than “don’t touch”, they say “touch me”! In other words: Nothing will happen unless you make it happen!
Interaction also implies dealing with actual things. Struggling to understand is rendered much easier through hands-on activity, through individual participation. Above all, it requires time and leisure – and with more than 500 experiment stations, there is plenty available in Technorama for all visitors!
The hands-on, individual working with experiments, watching things happen, leads to the development of a real fascination with natural phenomena. Again and again, one will experience the joy of a real “Eureka!”- moment!
Trial and error working – Welcome!
Whether you prefer to see the world with the eye of a scientist or as an artist is neither here nor there – in fact the two attitudes complement one another in a remarkable way in most things. One’s experiences of the world are very likely to be seen in both lights anyway.
Technorama’s style of exhibits will probably be new to everyone, in that they allow free, untrammelled exploration of phenomena. There are no right (or wrong) methods of procedure. If something doesn’t work, or if what happens is not what you expected to happen, this “cognitive dissonance” encourages you to press on further. Who knows, you may achieve a new perspective on something, or have a cherished belief overturned!
You have the choice in Technorama to spend your time on a particular theme or, without any prior plan, allow yourself, as the whim takes you, to wander through the wonderland of phenomena presented here. You can consult the list of themes, if you wish, with the suggested highlights.
Interactivity in Technorama is much more than the sterile button pressing, with an inevitable “programmed” response.
The connection between the action and the phenomenon, which can generally be repeated as often as is wished, is gradually established and insight gained. This leads to a meaningful interaction between the individual and the experiment.
Learning through play
“Instruction is the Muses’ chief concern, they make us play and this is how we learn!” (after Chr.Wieland)
Many a great scientist has stressed that their great discoveries or insights were the result of an accidental, apparently aimless playing around. So an interest for scientific things can easily grow out of an initial “playing around”.
One of the most colourful personalities among the eminent scientists of the last century, Richard Feynman (1918 – 1988), again and again stressed that trial and error was what led to his discoveries and the Nobel prize they earned. Looking back on the beginnings of his interest in science, he once remarked, “ I did experiments myself in the lab and played about – no, I’m sorry, I never did the experiments, I just played about”.
The idea is well supported by the polymath, Leibnitz, who admitted to his playfulness, for after him, the human spirit has shone in play perhaps more than in all other things.
Curiosity and the urge to investigate are virtues, which should not be viewed with suspicion, nor suppressed. On the contrary, they must be cultivated as being psychologically liberating. This attitude is implicit in Technorama’s culture, that it is at least as important to nurture and preserve it as to preserve the so-called cultural assets in the form of the cast off, obsolete machinery and apparatus, as in many a technical museum.
They leave you in peace … but not alone
In Technorama you can spend as much time as you like on your own experimenting at an exhibit.
However, if you find that you’re not really getting anywhere, call our helper staff, who are happy to advise and give you a hand. You’ll recognise them from their turquoise shirts with the Technorama logo.
Spontaneous contact with other discoverers
In Technorama’s relaxed atmosphere everybody, young and old, can allow their curiosity and interest free rein. Exchanging opinions and even involvement in scientific discourse across the generations is the order of the day, You are quite likely to find yourself in conversation with people whom you would not expect to even greet if you saw them in the street!
Understanding is greatly assisted by social contact: sharing experiences and comparing other people’s interpretation of them with your own means you are deepening your own appreciation of the topic.
Phenomena and Concepts
Observing and experiencing natural phenomena form the essential background for developing scientific interest and questions, and constitute the basic building blocks on which understanding is based. This personal experience is an essential starting point for the learning process. As the éminence grise of science teaching, the German educationist, Martin Wagenschein (1896 – 1988) warns: “Teach phenomena first and last – without this, theory is empty”. Abstract concepts which have not grown out of actual sense experience are likely to be misunderstood and treated almost like magical notions.
For this reason, Technorama presents immediate contact with real natural phenomena – the prerequisite for any approach to scientific thinking. The visitor is not treated just as an onlooker, the phenomena are to be experienced with more (if not all) of the senses through participation. This is a deeper basis for developing scientific concepts than any other (e.g. verbal or multimedia) interpretation.
The experiencing of an unexpected effect often produces amazement. This can lead to directed experimenting, the changing of likely influencing variables, assessment and checking – all independent investigation. This wonder, together with sufficient leisure, really can lead to serious thinking …
Because science teaching these days does not lay much emphasis on experiencing the phenomena themselves, an out-of-school opportunity to do so, exactly what Technorama provides, is fundamentally indispensible. This, of course, is parallel to Technorama’s usage as a leisure time activity, which stimulates learning, making it so much easier and more permanent.
Redundancy – or multiplicity – of phenomena
There are good reasons on educational grounds for so-called redundancy in the provision of exhibits in any particular exhibition theme. Appropriately designed exhibits to present phenomena (“Phenobjects”) demonstrate the unity in the diversity of scientific phenomena. For this reason, the visitor will find examples – e.g. of refraction of light, wave effects, addition of colours, angular momentum or resonance – in a great variety of contexts.
What could be a better way of gaining access to a scientific concept than engagement in as varied a number of “embodiments” of this concept as possible? At the same time, we remain true to Wagenstein’s dictum, that understanding is paramount, and must not be stifled by an excess of content.
Perception – the overarching leitmotif
“Senses don’t betray – but judgement does” – J.W.Goethe
Technorama acknowledges the importance of “sensory thinking”. We do not have direct access to natural phenomena, but rely on impressions which are filtered through our senses.
Well conceived and well constructed exhibits (“Phenobjects”) permit a strengthening and an extending of concepts at first hand and can enrich the awareness and understanding of science for all classes of visitors, whatever their age or educational background. The hands-on approach leads to insight: our intuitive notions might possibly be in error and need to be replaced by better ones.
Practically all scientific investigations begin with perceptions, through which we get to know the facts that we want to explore.
The visitors can also become the experimental objects themselves in personal perception experiments. Consciously allowing them to operate on oneself, there are dozens of exhibits which become stimuli and observation tools. Visual, auditory and touch processes can be pursued or really analysed whilst they are occurring – the personal perception process becomes the experience itself.
Often it is the failure of our perception apparatus, generally when experimenting with challenging phenomena, which shows how our senses and brain work together.
And the fact that the sensory illusion does not disappear even when we understand what is happening shows that it really is a betrayal.
Science Centre – an ideal educational world?
“The experiment field (à la Technorama) , in comparison with the school, is the ideal world – all other motivation to learn is redundant” – an apposite remark by Prof. Kurt Reusser and Dr. Urs Aeschbacher of the Paedagogic Institute of the University of Zurich.
Whether the common view of learning in schools is quite accurate or not, ways of organising the learning to be more active and individual for the children are certainly in demand. The Technorama style of “Phenobject” offers an effective model for doing this.
“Learning must begin with real observation and not with verbal description of things. Only in this way can you develop a secure knowledge.” (Wagenschein, 1896 – 1988)
From an educational point of view, the opportunity to repeat observations freely is an accepted principle of scientific practice. There must be sufficient time for repetition so that the learning can take place.
The extensive range of interactive exhibits can assist children and adolescents in their thinking and meaningful activity. Learning does not exhaust itself in productive activity – the exhibits, which are designed for informal, hierarchy- free experimentation, have shown themselves to be splendid way of compensating for individual differences, which in the final analysis is what blocks learning for many in schools.
The outcomes of experiments here are not “right or wrong”, rather, they are:
Adjusted to the individual cognitive capacity and interests of the experimenter.
The process is not about transmitting a particular package of scientific knowledge. The involvement with real things simplifies understanding to a huge extent, provided, of course, that sufficient time is made available. Children learn by active discovery. This individual experience offers the chance to learn in a much more effective way than instruction and directed acquisition of facts.
You can scarcely do anything “wrong” with a Technorama exhibit. Moreover, success and reward show themselves almost always in an aesthetic dimension. Instruction in how to avoid errors in fact often hinders individual learning. Children learn better from one another and in co-operation, but also with adults, provided that they exercise the restraint needed for this kind of discovery learning!
Children’s Museums – for Phenomenon-based Science (and Technology) – Unnecessary?
Ernst Mach (1838 – 1916), the celebrated physicist and philosopher, remarked over a century ago: “When we look at children when they reach the first stage of independence, we have to say that the instinctive inclination to experimenting must be inborn”. Children in the pre-formal school years find an easier approach to the scientific subjects through free interest-led experimenting.
Children’s attention is centred on perception of the immediate surroundings. Their learning is mainly based on the behaviour and characteristics of things. They need and will even seek a close relation to the natural phenomena so that they can maintain and keep testing their mental images of them. Consistency in the occurrence of effects develops in the child’s mind a trust in his world and an expectation that the same effect will occur in the future.
It is crucial that a "phenobject" can permit an identifiable sensorimotor experience. The so-called child-friendly style of interactive exhibits – from the “Lego-ising”, colourful makeover trend to a child-scale redimensioning, is really not necessary.
Children are likely to perceive this as a descent to the frivolous, dolls-house level. There is no reason why children should not deal with the “real” phenomena and have the same quality of experience as that available to the adults. Of course, the careful restrained co-operation of an adult is helpful, but might this not reduce the child’s experience to one of only aesthetic sensation and wonderment? Discuss!
“Kids’ Science Centres” and similar varieties are not just educationally counterproductive, but also with regard to understanding in social contexts.