The “Impress with a Quill Pen” program was always popular with families, but facilitators at the USS Constitution Museum thought it had potential for more variety, deeper content, and greater intergenerational participation. With simple changes like relocating the program, introducing new elements, and adjusting the setup, they were able to design a better intergenerational family experience.
[See below for blog posts of examples and applicable strategies] In 2004, the USS Constitution Museum received a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to launch the Family Learning Project to explore techniques to encourage family learning in history museum exhibits. We built a prototype exhibit called A Sailor’s Life for Me? to test effective, low-cost exhibit […]
Sailors ate in set groups of 8 to 10 men, called messes. The messes ate on the deck without tables or chairs. Messmates grew very close since they spent off duty time together every day. The food was very basic: salted meat, ship’s biscuit, and rice or peas. Fellow messmates served it on tin plates. […]
For years the USS Constitution Museum classroom programs included getting kids to try on reproduction sailor’s clothing. It was always popular and helped to communicate the nature of the physical world sailors experienced. It is a tactile experience and opens the door to questions of how sailors dealt with weather, washing, and even social structure. […]
We hoped families would use the crew cards throughout the exhibit and become invested enough in their crew card sailor to reference it throughout the exhibit.
Listening to the visitors every step of the way is critical to exhibit development. Our success has convinced us to never do it any other way. Don’t assume you know what’s best for the visitors. Let them tell you.
There are multiple ways to convey a theme. Labels are a way to present information, but not the only way. Since our goal at the USS Constitution Museum was to encourage family learning through engagement, interaction and conversation, we tried to employ various techniques so that visitors with different learning styles could access information in different ways.
There’s a reason why reality shows are so popular! People care about other people and their experiences. Our exhibits, All Hands on Deck and A Sailor’s Life For Me?, set out to reinterpret Constitution by offering the human perspective. This interpretive strategy resonated with our family audience. By personalizing the story and telling it through […]
Interns Molly, Sarah, and Julia prototyped The Sands of Time – an interactive exhibit element incorporating an authentic ship’s bell and a modern clock to demonstrate how sailors kept time at sea – in the All Hands on Deck exhibit over the summer of 2011. Will families be able to keep time like a sailor? Read on […]
Why should I use this technique? Rather than limiting the flow of information from museum to visitor, comment boards or books offer visitors an opportunity to share their thoughts and state their opinions. It moves an exhibition closer to a discussion rather than simply a presentation from an all-knowing authority.
Why should I use this technique? An exhibit is more likely to be effective if a variety of exhibit techniques address of range of visitor learning styles. Smelling the pine tar in the ship’s rigging or the salted cod carried in barrels creates a more vivid experience than simply reading about life at sea.
Why should I use this technique? Lift flaps are inexpensive to fabricate and they can carry a wide range of messages. Sometimes a lift flap adds an additional layer of information, sometimes it highlights an interesting anecdote or makes visitors consider a different perspective.
Why should I use this technique? Discoveries can trigger conversation and encourage visitors to slow down and take a closer look. Shifting scale or including a surprise can stop visitors for a moment and prompt them to share their discovery with another family member.
Why should I use this technique? A flipbook or questioning interactive is simple, cheap, engaging and effective. Families sit, smile and converse, laughing and learning together. It can be used to foreshadow exhibit elements, and it invites the audience to pause for a moment and consider the experience ahead.
Why should I use this technique? This can be a good summary exercise to help visitors review what they have experienced in the exhibition. It is an opportunity to sit and reflect, while encouraging conversation about the experience the family just shared.
Why should I use this technique? Full-body kinesthetic experiences are both an outlet for energy and a moment to pause and reflect on the similarities or differences between the past and the present.
450 men lived aboard USS Constitution. Unlike officers who slept in beds built into their cabins, sailors slept in shifts in hammocks slung on the berth deck. The hammocks were very close together, just 18” from center to center. Now imagine hundreds of men in hammocks, very close together, that have not bathed for days. […]
Holystoning is the work of using a sandstone block or holystone to scrub the deck of a ship with sand and water to remove tar and dirt. Holystoning kept the ship clean and looking good. Sailors despised this hard and uncomfortable work, while officers valued a well-kept ship. Goals Visitors will try out a chore […]
In 1812, Pardon Mawney Whipple went to Boston to recruit a crew for USS Constitution and set up a “house of rendezvous” in a local establishment. Boston was a maritime community, and both green hands and experienced sailors signed up with Whipple for two years at sea aboard USS Constitution. We wanted families to experience the […]