Story 05: Memoirs of a Bubble Blower

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Written by Bernie Zubrowski

After working with science programs and curriculum development for ten years at the museum, I finally became involved in the design of exhibits. My first effort, the Tools exhibit, opened in 1980. It was rather simple but very interactive and successful. Essentially, it was a collection of tables on which were placed some primitive tools and lathes. (See video of traveling version of this exhibit on the Media page.) The visitor could operate a bow drill, a pump drill, a bow lathe or a pole lathe. The visitor could either make holes in a wood surface on the table or shape pieces of dowels using the two different lathes. Sometimes programs were scheduled in the exhibit in which visitors cut up pieces of dowel shaped on the lathes and made them into wood beads. This was an example of transplanting activities that had been done in afterschool programs to an exhibit context. The exhibit could have displayed some tool artifacts or included graphics that showed how these tools were used in the past, but the budget was very limited. Eventually, in a later version of the exhibit a case with tools was included.

I am not sure if this kind of exhibit could be done today. There was always an interpreter in the exhibit overseeing and assisting visitors. There were issues of safety—the tools had sharp points on them. Surprisingly, there were no accidents during the exhibit's run at the museum. In fact, it traveled for two years without any accidents. Why? I think Tools gave kids the opportunity to do something interesting and real, and it implied that we trusted them. Children knew that sharp tools could be harmful. They were not at home but in a public space. Therefore, they acted carefully and responsibly.

Next: The Bubbles Exhibit