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Making & Tinkering Spaces in Museums Hangout: Engaging Girls in Maker and Engineering Activities - Your Questions

By Mary Mathias posted 04-02-2014 14:39



Making & Tinkering Spaces in Museums Hangout -

Engaging Girls in Maker and Engineering Activities 


Your Questions from the Webinar


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These questions were asked by attendees of the Making & Tinkering Spaces in Museums Community of Practice hangout that took place on March 13, 2014. The panelists, Anna Lindgren-Streicher, Lydia Beall, Ryan Auster, and Adrian Melia from the Museum of Science, Boston, have provide the answers below. You can view the recording of the webinar here:

Q: How many facilitators do you have during your two hour sessions?
A: We have a minimum of two facilitators in the space at all times. On weekends when we can get volunteers a little more easily, we will have as many as 6 facilitators in the space. Some activities (those requiring more complicated equipment or water) really require 5 or 6 facilitators. Similarly, if we only have two staff available, we can only offer two or three of our challenges. A good number I try to have scheduled any time is 3 facilitators.
Q: Are there any places to learn more about your activities?
A: Take a look at Admittedly in need of an update! Please email us for more info at
Q: Can you describe your top 5 favorite challenges? 
A: 1.Echo Base Bobsleds: A perennial favorite and most requested by teachers. Very simple materials, but many different designs.
2. Ships Ahoy: Simple materials, great variation in the different designs, the two goals are very different from each other (fastest vs. boat that carries the most treasure).
3. Soaring Satellites: Our take on the classic wind tube activity. Great for young learners. A “failure” is fun (still get to watch something float in the tube).
4. Extreme Trampolines: Non-traditional, not building a vehicle or a structure. Similar to the soaring satellites in that even if your design doesn’t work perfectly, you still get to watch something cool happen (still get to watch a ball bounce).
5. Trophy Triathlon: Really simple materials, yet families get really engaged and stay for really long periods of time. Great for groups because the scale of the prototype quickly gets to the point that you need several hands to work on the project together.
Q: Are your facilitators in the tinkering studio volunteers, employees, or both?
A: Both. There is always at least one paid staff person in the space assisted by volunteers and interns.
Q: Although the percentage did not change pre/post what was the percentage of girls who were interested in participating in future engineering activities?
A: Six survey items asked variants of future interest in engineering on a 4-point Likert scale (Really Disagree, Sort of Disagree, Sort of Agree, and Really Agree). Girls were coded as being interested in participating in future engineering activities if they responded Sort of Agree or Really Agree to an item, with the percentages below:
Q: Do visitors come specifically for the 2 hour Design Challenge, and do you find that visitors that stumble upon the Design Challenge are as engaged as people that know what the design challenge is?
A: Both. Teachers and school groups can request a specific activity. The program is unreserved, but they can call ahead and request an activity that aligns with a specific content area they are studying at school – we try our best to accommodate these requests. These school groups we can plan on attending. Also, on weekends, there are families that we recognize that come over and over. These families are often the groups that will stay over an hour, but there are just as often new visitors who have just discovered Design Challenges who will stay and engage with an activity for 40+ minutes.
Q: What do you do when younger visitors (younger than 6) come into the space? Do you have any challenges specifically for younger visitors? 
A: We have some activities that we know work better for younger visitors (those with “fun failures” as mentioned above). We will let anyone of any age participate in the activities but we will mention to chaperones that some activities have small parts or tell parents places where we know young learners might have trouble.
Q: How long to you run activities? (per week? per month?) 
A: There is no schedule for the activities. We can bring out any activity on any day depending on the number of staff available (as mentioned previously, some activities need a few more staff people). We like to be able to rotate the challenges frequently so as to avoid staff burnout and to make activities available to teachers on special request.
Q: Are there any particular activities that you find work best with younger visitors? If so, which? 
A: Soaring Satellites, Bobsleds, and Extreme Trampolines are best for young learners.
Q: Does the space have a function outside of the 2 hour Design Challenge time? 
A: Design Challenges is open on weekdays from 10:30am -12:30pm. On weekends and school holidays Design Challenges is open from 10:30am -12:30pm, and from 1:30pm-3:30pm. In the summers Design Challenges is open from 10:30am -12:30pm, 1:30pm-3:30pm, and 4:30pm-6:30pm. The space does not have another function outside of the Design Challenges program. We did experiment with having it open with other activities, but it was confusing for guests. Visitors came expecting a certain sort of experience, and were disappointed when it wasn’t the Design Challenge they were expecting. We had our Exhibit Hall Interpreters in the space on weekday afternoons doing wet chemistry activities. They were constantly asked where the bobsleds were so they quickly gave up on using our workshop.