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December 23, 2010 / helengraham

Trip to the National Air and Space Museum

Taken by Deion. Looking up at the National Air and Space Museum.

Last weekend, Deion and Michelle Hawkins went on their research visit to the National Air and Space Museum with Museums for Us co-researcher Helen Graham. The trip included a ride in one of the museum’s simulators.

Here are a few reflections:

Deion Hawkins:

I liked the rocket ship in the sky and the one we rode in where we tipped (motions backwards and forwards).

Michelle Hawkins:

We had our trip to the Air and Space Museum with Helen on Saturday. Deion enjoyed himself. Helen gave him a camera to take pictures and we rode on a ride that simulated various eras and types of planes. He really enjoyed that. Deion has autism and is very distractable. The space museum has a lot of visual and audio stimulation. I would like to see the pictures he took and how he responds to them at our meeting in January. He told me he wanted to tell his teacher about his trip to the museum when he gets back to school from his winter break.

Helen Graham:

What immediately struck me about the visit to Air and Space with Deion and Michelle was the way Michelle enabled Deion to take the lead. He explored the museum spaces, stopping when things caught his eye. When something did catch his eye Michelle often followed it up, asking questions or creating links to other things Deion has done or is currently studying. Occasionally, Michelle would more actively draw Deion’s attention to a particular exhibit – for example, an exhibit of astronaut clothes.

This really confirms the idea that as visitors we engage with museums through our already existing ‘meaning maps’ – what we already know about and are interested in. A word (from cultural theorist Lawrence Grossberg) that keeps coming to mind when I think about the way things ‘catch your eye’ is ‘intensity’. This ‘being caught’ by something in the display creates a moment where concentration becomes more focused, where all your body and mind is engaged and where there is some kind of an emotional pull.

No question the things which excited Deion most were the big impact objects/interactives – e.g. a rocket, opportunities to explore inside (in one of the shuttles or a plane cockpit) and the simulator ride. As above, he mentioned both the rocket and the ride as the best things about the visit immediately afterwards. Both were the moments when all of him seemed to be engaged and focused.

As Michelle says we’ll be meeting in January to look at the photographs taken by Deion – it will be really interesting to explore how the kinds of moments of engagement during and immediately after the visit relate to memories of the visit.

As Michelle has already suggested in an earlier post, this in-the-moment experience raises questions about the kinds of post-visit – and pre-visit – resources museums might make available to support anticipation, reflection and consolidation. I think the kind of visit Deion and Michelle made also suggests the value of the free museum – the sense that you can explore in your own time. That everything doesn’t need to be absorbed at once. That you can visit and then come back again another day.

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