wheeling visitors in…

I have a confession to make.  After 13 years in museum education, I have come to think of educational carts in the galleries as the Clydesdales of the field – the workhorses that are low-tech, straightforward, usually blue or made of sturdy metal.  I fully embrace them as an effective “vehicle” to engage visitors in the galleries… but certainly did not consider them a new frontier of innovation, especially in our world of iPad apps, videoconferencing, and Twitter.

Boy was I wrong.

Students at the Chicago History Museum track the history of the city's great fire of 1871.

Educators at the Smithsonian recently gathered for a brown bag lunch session to explore this idea of innovation in educational carts.  We were treated to a presentation by guest speakers Rich Faron of museum explorer and Heidi Moisan from the Chicago History Museum.  Through a slideshow of case studies and prototypes, it became clear that their examples did not represent the cart I had come to stereotype over the years.  Rather, they presented carts as an appealing, active launch pad for visitor team-building, collaboration, and a deeper engagement with exhibitions.  And they came in all different shapes and sizes.

For example, using an oversized map of the city and 3-D markers (disguised as a cart), students trace the route of the great Chicago fire of 1871 (try making THAT exciting for a 3rd grader otherwise!).  Other carts used oversized skyscrapers to explore the city’s iconic architecture, or ropes to measure the height of native plants on the prairie. 

In short, it was simultaneously humbling and inspirational to think of the workhorse cart in such inventive ways.  And, exciting to know that seasoned professionals can still have the “ah ha!” moments we try to create for our audiences.  That’s what it’s all about, right?

Affiliates, do you have any inspirational cart stories or examples to share?

Chicago History Museum's Skyscrapers cart


Students explore Chicago's skyline through improvisation and building activities

Thanks to our friends Susan Nichols at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Heather Paisley-Jones at the National Museum of American History, for organzing this session!

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