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Students Help Imagine Interactive Smithsonian Exhibit

Students Help Develop Hands-on Smithsonian Exhibiti
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December 17, 2013
American educators are struggling with how to get students interested in science. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is presenting one approach: a new, first-of-its-kind learning center for teens. Students from area schools helped develop this exhibit which fuses science and art. Teachers will be encouraged to bring their science students to the exhibit in the mornings, while the afternoons will be open to the public. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
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— At the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, some students are learning about human bones, while others are making "alien" microcreatures. Friends Ben and Nate are looking at an insect through a microscope.

These young volunteers are among the first students to test a new interactive exhibit at the museum that is especially designed for their age group.

The learning center, called Q?rius (pronounced “curious”), features hands-on and multimedia displays to encourage active participation. The 925-square-foot space combines the newest technologies and scientific equipment with more than 6,000 museum objects, both real and digital.

Students from area schools helped develop the exhibit, which fuses science and art. Teachers will be encouraged to bring their science students to the exhibit in the mornings, while the afternoons will be open to the public.

Please touch

Many of today's testers already have their favorites.

Nate Reistetter, 13, likes exploring the specimen drawers.

“There was a cast of a dinosaur bone and you can scan the QR code [computerized bar code] on the computers and it will tell you all about where it was found and all sorts of stuff about it,” he said.

Addie Alexander, 12, is fascinated by the bee display.

“The bumble bee and the yellow bumble bee when they’re not under the microscope they look pretty much the same except one’s bigger than the other,” she said, “and then once they go under the microscope they look completely different.”

Sensory Stimulation

Ben Werb likes how free and open the learning center space is, and enjoys the display that engages participants on a sensory level.

“I didn’t actually think you could smell a butterfly,” he said, “but a butterfly kind of smells like tea.”

Engaging the senses -- smelling, touching, hearing -- is one of the exhibit’s primary goals. At one display, students use special objects to duplicate cricket sounds, and in a glass-enclosed forensic anthropology lab, students handle human bones.

Trained guides are on hand to explain the science behind forensic testing.

Mixing it up

Olivia Persons, 18, one of seven teens who helped develop the space, said the lab was her favorite display area.

“This gives a chance for the teens to go hands-on,” she said. “There is a lot of digital stuff, there is a lot of computer screens and touch screens, but in here they are actually able to touch real human bones.”

Shari Werb is director of education and outreach at the museum, and Ben’s mother. She said interaction between the scientists and the students was one of the key elements of the exhibit.

“Science is dynamic, science keeps changing and we want kids to be exposed to that,” she said. “So we created a space that would allow our scientists to come into the space and talk to students as well as bring some of the behind-the-scenes collections to the forefront so that people could handle them and do the kinds of work that our scientists do behind the scenes.”

Q?rius is also accessible online, allowing visitors to continue their experiments after they leave the museum.

And the center’s 100-seat theater is designed to host real time satellite feeds to and from research around the globe, allowing young scientists to interact with experts in the field.

The Q?rius learning center is a permanent exhibit that will evolve and adapt to keep its audience interested and engaged throughout the year.

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