In March 2010, The Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum in Chicago, Illinois opened an 8,000 square foot immersive exhibit experience called Planet Explorers. The target audience for this exhibit is children ages 3-8 and their caregivers. Each child can become a space explorer and embark on an awe-inspiring journey through the Universe to the mysterious Planet X. Activities engage all of the senses as future space explorers and their caregivers climb, crawl, fly, land and discover their way through the exhibition. This exhibit invites families into a story of exploration with three main parts: Exploring Earth, Exploring Space and Exploring Planet X.
The primary research question for this study was:
What can we learn about how families explore and interact with The Planet Explorers environment that can help Adler staff make improvements that will enhance the visitor experience?
Because the Planet Explorers exhibition was designed for young children, Dr. Beaumont chose to include children as active participants in the research. Her methods were inspired by the “mosaic approach” developed by Alison Clark and Peter Moss (Clark, 2004). The “mosaic approach” project showed that children from a very young age were able to take on the roles of researcher and informant about their own lives and thoughts. When participation in the research activity is presented clearly to the children as a vital element to understanding the exhibition, children will rise to the challenge. They are anxious to be taken seriously as advocates of their own lives and relish the opportunity to tell about their experiences when they are listened to with respect and seriousness. This method of role-playing as described below can engage children in detailing the meanings they attach to their experiences.
For the Planet Explorers evaluation children in the target age range (3-8) were sampled for age, gender, and racial diversity. The first step was to look for families with children in the target age range. Once the child and their caregiver were nearing the end of their exploration of the exhibition, Dr. Beaumont approached the adult caregiver and explained the study and asked for their consent to participate and for their child to be videotaped. She then explained the study very simply to the child and asked for their verbal assent. If willing, the child put on one of the “oxygen backpacks” (an exhibition prop) that was fitted with a wireless microphone. The child was asked to wear the backpack during the entire tour, and to act in the role of an astronaut (to preserve their anonymity, children were only identified by their ‘astronaut names’ in the report). Next Dr. Beaumont asked the child to take her through the exhibition as if she or he was a tour guide giving the researcher a first look at the exhibition. She used prompts such as, “Where did you go first?” “What did you do here?” “Can you show me what you did?” “What else should I make sure to see during my visit?” A videographer accompanied Dr. Beaumont and the child through the exhibition. Along the way the child described the exhibition and possible experiences one could have. Sometimes when the child was moving too quickly or not talking very much Dr. Beaumont would ask the caregiver to prompt the child. This “mosaic method” revealed children’s constructed knowledge about the exhibition, their preferences, and the areas that most intrigued them. In order to thank the families for letting their child participate, once all the data was analyzed an edited copy of their child’s session was mailed to them on DVD.
Summative Project Evaluation Report