By Maggy Benson, Partnerships Manager, Office of Education & Outreach
The National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) recently served up an interesting challenge for local students—design mobile education “carts” for our new state-of-the-art Education Center, currently under construction here at NMNH.
The students, part of the National Building Museum’s Design Apprenticeship Program (DAP), are involved in a seven-week course in which students learn about design by designing and planning a product and then building it. For the last 11 years, the program has been giving middle and high school teens a chance to learn about designing, building, working as a team, and working for a client.
To be successful in their building design, the students learned about what kind of work is conducted at the National Museum of Natural History. DAP students met with scientists, educators, volunteers, and exhibits staff from the museum to learn about how and what NMNH scientists study, how science information is conveyed, and how the museum uses carts to give visitors an up-close view of objects and conduct demonstrations.
Supporting the program’s core values of teamwork, research, and peer communication, the DAP students met with NMNH’s Youth Advisory Board (YAB). YAB, a group of local teens working with NMNH to develop new ways to communicate science to their peers, provided the DAP students a perspective from other teens on what happens at NMNH and gave them an opportunity to exchange ideas.
Exposing the students to both museums has played a real role in helping students understand the intersection between design and science. “Design and science are interconnected. Design is all about how people perceive something, to the point that it really is a science…” said Vangie Hakes, a DAP teen.
“And in science, design is really apparent. Everything in the universe, whether it's natural or man-made, is designed in a certain way, to serve a certain purpose. The way a thing works is based on its design.”
Since NMNH is in the midst of building its new education center, the design project has been very timely. The new education center will be a 10,000-square-foot space designed for students, families, teachers, and life-long learners to get up-close to the science behind the science at the National Museum of Natural History. Visitors will be able to handle and learn about 20,000 collection objects, attend lectures and events in a new theatre, and participate in activities in the classroom.
The new space will house activities focused on thousands of collection objects, education programs, and public programs that are designed to be happening simultaneously. The complexity of the Education Center space and program design is an important project component for the students to better understand how their education cart design will fit into the bigger picture.
Stepping up to the design challenge, DAP students understood that integration of the Education Center design was critical in creating a successful product. “This program teaches us how to listen to other ideas, patience, and compromise. At DAP I learned more cooperation skills and mixing skills meaning taking my ideas and the ideas of others, mixing them together to make one big design,” observed DAP student Taylor Hicks.
The collaborative effort between the two museums and their youth programs not only taught the students about design and building, but it also helped the students understand the value of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.
“Working with the actual client and meeting their needs really helps see what would happen in the real world because you have certain specifications you need to meet and if you don’t, they won’t be satisfied,” says DAP student Sumaiyah Liggans.
The collaboration between the National Building Museum and the National Museum of Natural History has been a successful pilot project. The DAP students are continuing to learn about design and building, while serving real community needs. Students from each of the Museum’s teen programs are also learning how transferrable their new skills are between the building and science disciplines.
On Saturday, April 28, 2012, from 1-3 pm, the National Building Museum will host a reception where the teens will present their prototypes. The event is free and open to the public, with refreshments after the presentations are complete. Come out to the National Building Museum to help these students celebrate their accomplishments.
Editor’s Note: DAP is open to 12-18 year old students in the Washington, DC metro region. There are two, seven-week semesters of the program per year, held in the fall and spring. Registration information for the DAP program is available on the National Building Museum’s website.
Information about the Images: Design Apprenticeship Program students work as a team to design and build mobile education “carts” for the National Museum of Natural History’s new Education Center. The students worked closely with National Museum of Natural History staff to understand how the mobile education “carts” would be used, to better inform their design and prototype, seen here being built. All images courtesy of the National Building Museum.