The Ghost and the Invention Device – Developing a learning environment for technological education for small children

How museums can act as a vehicle for children’s creative learning and what kind of design principles can help us to develop museum exhibitions as places of interaction and play?

How museums can act as a vehicle for children’s creative learning and what kind of design principles can help us to develop museum exhibitions as places of interaction and play?

The Ghost and the Invention Device – what is it all about?

The Ghost and the Invention Device -exhibition (Nov 2019) will be an interactive and child-centered learning environment that includes versatile learning methods. The environment together with museum objects support children’s creative museum engagement and encourages them to observe, handle and understand technology as a part of their everyday life.

The exhibition tells a story about the Ghost of the Museum. The Ghost requests children to learn about technology via play, mysteries, hands-on tasks and inventing:

A hundred years I’ve been
roaming this museum alone.
Struggling with the machine,
trying to cope on my own.

Dear children, please come fast
and help me find the hidden facts!
Warm up your brain cells –
can you invent well? 

The exhibition includes different areas with different viewpoints into technology:  essence of technology, stages of invention, values and relevance of technology, collaboration, finnish inventions and changes that have taken place in technology in the long run. As a culmination of the museum tour children can switch on The Ghost’s Invention Device by using the new skills they have learned in the exhibition.

Kummituksen keksintökoje
Design sketch of the Ghost and the Invention Device -exhibition

A big number of versatile learning methods may be used in the exhibition and in museum activities; e.g. timelines, measuring, hands on, observing, classifying, inventing, arts and crafts, collaborate thinking, storytelling, tinkering, engineering, physical exercises…

Background of the Exhibition

Few years ago in Kids, museums and technology -project researchers (Learning Futures research group in Department of Teacher Education in University of Helsinki), museum staff  and early educators together designed, tested, evaluated and redesigned a learning environment called The Magic carpet of technology tales and its functions.

The Magic carpet of technology tales
The Magic carpet of technology tales

Carpet  worked as a a test platform for the Ghost and the Invention Device -exhibition. The project, which was funded by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, enabled the long-lasting development work and integrated not only the ideas of the developers, but the ideas and the knowledge of the children into the development of the museum as a learning environment.

From evaluation to learning environment

Developing technology education methods for early childhood education in a museum environment is not the most common job. There were hardly any examples, good practices or ways of doing this type of work. That is why we tried a number of different evaluation methods in the Kids, museums and technology -project:

  • questionnaires for workshop guides (self-evaluation and also peer review)
  • observations (during the workshops)
  • online feedback of the visit and the content from the participated teachers
  • video interviews about children’s thoughts and learning

The main points of view in the evaluation were

  • Learning (children’s thoughts and insights on museum, technology, history…)
  • Interaction (involvement, cooperation, participation, sharing, shared expertise…)
  • Content functionalities (methods, materials, instructions, self-direction/guidance…)
  • Practical functionalities (tools, technology, methods, facilities, use of time…)
  • Usability (What was good, what was bad? Something to improve?)

Especially the video interviews were used to survey children’s understanding of technology and the museum, and to see if these perceptions have changed during the project.

Development process required a great deal of testing of activities of different type, developing practices through trial and error, focusing and refining content and methods based on background work, practical experiences, feedback and evaluation. The evaluation results helped to understand viewpoints such as the diversity of methods, the rhythm of different types of activity, the creation of moods in the environment and the different ways of engaging the target group.

The developing project also followed the National Core Curriculum for early childhood education by the Finnish National Agency for Education and its aspects, methods and goals in early childhood technology education. As the most important thing, according to the principles of the curriculum, learning and thinking among children can be developed and supported through a variety of means such as experimentation, problem solving, exploration, play and diverse learning environments.

The developing project summarised in Design principles (and some other results)

As one of the main results of the Kids, museums and technology -project’s six design principles were launched to help in creating interactive and playful museum exhibitions in the pre-primary and early primary education stages. The principles were summarized in article Towards children’s creative museum engagement and collaborative sense-making. These principles are also applied in Ghost and the invention device -exhibition.

Principles in brief: 

  1. Building on interdisciplinarity

It is important to cross boundaries between sciences: make use of visual arts, play, literacy, science, maths, history, natural sciences, technology…

  1. Encouraging multimodality

Use versatile learning methods to keep up the interest: activities, various (learning) artifacts, demonstrations, media, problem solving, drawings, storytelling…

  1. Appreciating children’s own of knowledge

Always leave room for children’s own items, explanations, stories and experiences: they are the experts of childhood and they have their own, individual understanding of the past!

  1. Promoting personal and collective engagement

Leave opportunities both for personal thinking and co-operational interaction, sense-making & creativity. There are always different kind of learners and different kind of situations for learning.

  1. Facilitating the interplay between everyday and scientific thinking

Use everyday activities/situations/items as a way to highlight valuable points of science.

  1. Celebrating imagination and play

Room for imagination and play must see as essential elements of creative activities in the museum environment!

In the Ghost and the Invention Device -exhibition children practice finding themes connected to technology and its past and learn to discuss these themes from their own perspective and their own developmental phase. At the same time they get familiarized with technology and develop curiosity towards museums:

What is new and what is old?
The magic of the past is in stories told. 
Lights, sounds, connections, things passing by:
What has changed now – and can you guess why?

Through the exhibition we are trying to invoke curiosity towards technology, mathemathics and natural sciences; to support children’s positive self image as experts in technology; to encourage children’s creativity and create possibilities for abstract and scientific thinking; to popularise Finnish innovations and to give directions to multiliteracy through museum objects.Time will tell, how well this all is going to work out!

Already we have learned new ways to work together with researchers, early educators and exhibition designers. And what is the most important thing: we have already created a new way for making of child-centered exhibitions and activities in our museum settings.

Marianna Karttunen

Museum educator and former Project manager at Museum, kids and technology project