Chicago Children's Museum | Skyline

Skyline Exhibition

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Skyline, an exhibit about skyscraper engineering, translates Reggio design principles and instructional methods from preschool settings to the development of an interactive exhibition. The project also drew on Vygotsky's work in "scaffolding" children's learning, translating that approach into signage which modelled caregivers building with their children and  providing conversational statements such as "Lefty Loosey, Righty Tighty." The exhibition project achieved its goal of prompting conversations which support children's problem solving and mastery of tools.

SKYLINE: Design strategies

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The team introduced a number of design strategies to improve on an earlier exhibition called Under Construction. The new design  raised girls' participation to match the boys' and increased the percentage of visitors who built freestanding structures. Note the grommeted fabric in bright patterns and the triangular braces which simplified the process of stabilizing structures.

SKYLINE: Building forts - and swing sets!

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A family with two 5-year-old boys developed their building skills over the course of many visits to Skyline. When I captured this photograph they had just built a working swing set. To quote Mitch Resnick of the MIT Media Lab, a great learning activity is defined by "low thresholds, wide walls, and high ceiling." Skyline makes it easy to start building, makes it possible to achieve different outcomes, and continues to engage children as their skills, dexterity, and ideas grow. 

Skyline: Photo Narrative

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Skyline applies several design principles derived from the Reggio approach to teaching and learning in preschool classrooms. Typically, Reggio instructors snap photos of children as they work on projects and pair those photographs with verbatim statements from the children about their process. Children frequently work on displays which are shared with the school's extended community of students and families. This "documentation" is essential to the Reggio process and results in journals for each child. We distilled the essence of this Reggio methodology into a technology-supported skyscraper construction activity, setting it apart from the larger building area in order to capture photos of visitors with time-lapse photography. These build stations allowed visitors to spend 12 uninterrupted minutes building a multi-story structure to reach a cloud, and then use a dedicated computer station to document their experience in the form of   a downloadable multimedia book.  Unlike many personalized exhibit stations which send visitors home with a URL that is visited by 1-3% of visitors, this experience had a respectable 30% rate of downloaded books.

Skyline: DIY multimedia book prompts reflection

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A camera built into the station snaps photos once per minute during a 10-minute countdown. After visitors complete a building activity, photos taken automatically now show up in a multimedia kiosk. Both adults and children are prompted to add audio captions to a multimedia book which they can download from home. Capturing verbatim quotes from children places the emphasis on what the child is learning and expressing; this is a tenet of the Reggio approach; it .  

Skyscraper Display

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Displaying children's work is a fundamental part of the Reggio methodology. Here we created a display area for completed skyscrapers in front of an attractive mural, recognizing that the opportunity to display your work publicly can be very rewarding.  Rather than set up a situation in which one group's skycraper is immediately cannibalized for parts by the following group, the museum  produced enough parts to ensure that visitors' creations could be displayed until the end of the day

PROFESSIONAL ROLE

Chicago Children's Museum | Associate VP, Partnership of Playful Learners

Chicago Children’s Museum – Chicago, IL   –  August 2003 to July 2006

Associate Vice President, Partnership of Playful Learners – 2004 to 2006

Associate Vice President, Production & New Ventures – 2003 to 2004   

Developed cost projections, cash flow, and schedule for the museum’s $30-million renovation & expansion. Initiated successful $1.7-million proposal to the National Science Foundation for the Partnership of Playful Learners, featuring an exhibition on skyscraper engineering, Skyline, and a university research partnership. 

  • Introduced time-lapse photography and DIY multimedia stories to capture the building activity 
  • Experimented with colorful fabric and other design strategies which tripled girls’ participation 
  • Researched conversational design approaches to deepen family collaboration 
  • AAM award for Special Achievement in Cooperative Learning (2010)

Full Resume