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By Helen Loft on

Reflecting on engagement in hands-on galleries

How can we help people feel that science is something that they can do? Helen Loft, a Science Museum Explainer, reflects on her work engaging visitors in Wonderlab: The Equinor Gallery.

The concept of science capital gives us an idea of why some people engage with science related experiences, and others do not. Being aware of this, I started looking at how I could make my engagement with visitors as welcoming and inclusive as possible.

Wonderlab: The Equinor Gallery offers visitors a chance to get hands-on and use their scientific skills and we encourage our visitors to use the 3 C’s – to be ‘creative’, pay ‘close attention’, and have ‘curiosity’.

The Explainer role on gallery is to help facilitate learning. We work directly with visitors and have the opportunity to inspire the next generation of scientific thinkers, change perceptions of scientists, and we can help visitors realise their own unique skills.

When I’ve asked children “what does a scientist look like?” they most often still have an image of an old man with crazy hair, surrounded by potions. When I’ve asked a child “do you need to be ‘clever’ to do science?” they’ve nearly always said yes. These are invisible preconceptions, that I want to help challenge in my role.

After attending one of the Science Museum Group’s science capital courses, which shared current science engagement research, I started to think about what the science capital research meant to me, and how I could use the science engagement reflection points to support my interactions with visitors.

The power of everyday examples

Everyday examples are extremely powerful and can completely change the nature of the interaction. I noticed this immediately in the body language of visitors. They became more relaxed, keen to open up about their personal experiences and had an increased ability to absorb new information. I found this was an important first step towards a deeper engagement.

Recognising science skills and the people who use science

Linking what they were doing on the gallery to real-world applications inspired confidence in the visitors and helped to broaden their perception of the people who use science in their lives/ work. It was great to see visitors recognise the skills that they have and that they used on the exhibit. They saw that they had science skills and started to feel that science was something they could do.

Extending the experience

One of the key differences between visitors with high science capital compared to those with low is the continuation of the experience at home.  By encouraging people and giving them ideas of activities to try out on their own, it can help consolidate their experience and encourage them to explore other parts of the museum they may not have previously considered. It can support them to make further connections with the content and share it with their families and peers.

I reflected on these points and, together with some colleagues, started thinking about examples that related to each of the exhibits in Wonderlab. I personally found they supported my interactions with visitors and gave me more confidence on gallery. They seemed to have a positive impact on the visitors’ experience and I hope, in some small way, helped impact their overall feelings towards science.

I feel that using the reflection points helped open the conversation and began to alter people’s opinions that “science is something that other people do”, to “science is something that I can do”. I know that this is only the beginning and that continuing to reflect on, and refine, my practice will only further support and enhance my engagement with visitors.

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