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Interactive Computer Exhibits For Ages 3-8? 122

Posted by kdawson
from the gotta-be-tough dept.
Johnny Mnemonic writes "My company has the opportunity to contribute to a children's museum in our area. We are a technology company, so I'd like the exhibit to be computer/networking related, and to raise the awareness and understanding of how the Internet, networking, and computers work. However, children's museums cater to a pretty young age group, 3-8 years old, so the the exhibit needs to be highly interactive, durable, tactile, and yet instructive of the concepts. Google fails to turn up any turn-key options, and, although the concepts are computer related, a computer-based exhibit tends to be too fragile and susceptible to withstand the rigors of 250 preschoolers/day. How would you design a display that meets these requirements and is still fun and educational?"
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Interactive Computer Exhibits For Ages 3-8?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @12:52AM (#30374194)
    I assume that the exhibit will be American, so:
    • Put an Xbox360 or PS3 with two controllers connected to a plasma tv in the middle of a pen, then release groups into it and watch them all fight each other over who gets to play.
    • Let them try to operate a PC with Linux installed. The first three who don't cry win ribbons.
    • Let them sit in a 3ftx3ft cubicle while their parents say within earshot, "The Indian kids are so much cheaper than our kids...maybe we should trade!"
    • Leashing their necks to the rear bumper of a car 5 at a time and then driving the car around the block a few times at 3 MpH, for a little exercise.
    • Bust the kids for child porn when it's discovered that there are pics of them nude in the bathtub.
    • by xaxa (988988)

      I assume that the exhibit will be American, so:

      ...so, just have a TV? :-p

      More seriously, why not visit a couple of existing museums with good exhibits for children and see what they do? I visited Universeum in Gothenburg [universeum.se] a few weeks ago, and that had excellent interactive things for children (click "Exhibitions"). I saw kids really enjoying the interactive music stuff. Closer to (my) home, the London Transport Museum [ltmuseum.co.uk]'s train simulator was good for slightly older children. I can't remember anything directly involving a computer that was suitable for real

    • by malloc (30902)

      • Let them try to operate a PC with Linux installed. The first three who don't cry win ribbons.

      I know, its a joke, etc. but for interest's sake: my 3-year-old uses Gnome desktop all the time (using since he was 2). He knows the menus, can launch his games, drawing programs, launch a web browser and watch youtube. If you were to put him in front of my work Windows 7 desktop he'd find the FireFox quickstart icon okay, but to launch games or other programs he'd be lost because the start menu morphs so much: click start, program I want isn't in "most recently used?", click tiny "All Programs" at bott

  • iPhone/iTouch (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ^switch (65845) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @01:00AM (#30374224)

    Stick a bunch of tied-down iTouch there. I say this only half jokingly, because my two year old finds them extremely intuitive and interactive. She unlocks it, watches videos, plays her games just by recognising the icons and the buttons with their visible gestures. Because of these features, this is the first phone I've owned that hasn't been thrown, drowned or buried by her.

    • by Kratisto (1080113)
      Proof that Apple makes software for toddlers!
    • Yeah - because of those features and also because she is 2 rather than 1!
    • I must agree. My 2 year old daughter loves to play games like Nintendogs and Hello Kitty because it is an intuitive interface. She also loves Punchout!!! for the Wii. But when it comes to games that require buttons (e.g. New Super Mario Bros.) she isn't able to grasp how to play.

  • by TimTucker (982832) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @01:01AM (#30374228) Homepage
    Going to more fundamental principles, could you have a display centered around boolean logic with mechanical gates? I recall having seen Lego-based logic gates in the past that could probably be scaled up in size and built out of more durable materials.
    • by FlyByPC (841016) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @01:14AM (#30374284) Homepage
      This sounds like a good idea -- show them how computer fundamentals work. Use some nice, durable switches and pretty lights to make some demo AND, OR, NOT gates etc. Maybe even an XOR, a flip-flop, etc. Show them how all the pieces come together -- maybe put a Z80 or something under a fixed microscope to show them how complex they are.
      • by Kneuts (1629285)
        Agreed. And perhaps work it up towards more advanced digital logic applications, such as a Memory circuit. What're they called... JK-switches? D-Switch? something about an OR gate with a feedback to the input of another OR gate.
        • by FlyByPC (841016)
          Essentially, a flip-flop circuit. The classic one is two NAND gates in a feedback loop, but there are other implementations, too. D flip-flops are modular one-bit memory components. Larger memories are pretty much just more of the same -- but you can do really cool things with a lot of really simple pieces.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I totally agree. If they can't understand Boolean logic at the age of 3, they clearly should attend "slow baby" school instead of going to exhibitions.

    • by kpesler (982707) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @01:48AM (#30374438)
      Along these lines, I recall an earlier Slashdot story [slashdot.org] about using water to create logic gates [blikstein.com]. If these were scaled up to make them more visible to the kids, and made interactive, it could make for an engaging exhibit. As a father of two little boys, I know that kids love to play with water.
    • Wood & marbles adding machine: http://woodgears.ca/marbleadd/index.html [woodgears.ca]

    • by dgriff (1263092)
      Just out of interest, is it possible to do this with train track and junctions? I.e. the kind of junction where if you come from the two-ended side it switches to that side. (See here [lego.com] for instance).
  • Packet Data (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TrippTDF (513419) <hiland @ g m a il.com> on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @01:09AM (#30374262)
    Here's one that would work on kids that young: Turn them into "packets" and have them travel through an open-ended maze in their effort to get to their desination.

    Create an inter-connected maze that has no single entrence and exit, but a bunch of ways in and out. Each point is marked as a different city across the world. Let's say a kid enters in "Japan" and a computer screen tells him he needs to get to "New York". He then walks through the maze, where there are a series of hubs where he has to ask another terminal what direction he has to go in next.

    It would be highly physical and an easy way to introduce kids to the simplest building blocks of the internet... you could even build it as a "series of tubes" :)

    I really hope you see this one to the end- please submit the end results to slashdot. Good luck!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @01:13AM (#30374280)

      Good luck explaining packets loss to the parents.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by TubeSteak (669689)

        Good luck explaining packets loss to the parents.

        That's what twins^H redundancy is for.

      • by Kratisto (1080113)
        An exhibit like that would a breeding ground for viruses!
      • Honey, let's go. I gave that curator teen $20 to make sure that packet loss lasts for hours till we finish the movie...think he's going to explain ISPs and technical difficulties later...

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Good luck explaining packets loss to the parents.

        Let alone deep packet inspection, or packet mangling...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Sarten-X (1102295)

      If you've got the space for it, I second this wonderful idea!

      Apart from the sheer size of something like this, technically it's fairly easy... push a button at each hub to light up what path to go through. It could be wired really simply, with just parallel buttons for each route. It might require a bit more thought than a 3-year-old would put into it, but I think older kids would get it without much problem.

      If there's enough space and budget, you could even use stairs or inclines to go up to a satellite re

      • by hairyfeet (841228)

        If they don't have the size for something that large I bet an interactive Flash video, maybe controlled by some large simple buttons would do nearly as well and entertain the kiddies while hopefully stirring their little imaginations.

        Thinking about it, you could easily do two displays. One, an interactive "how your computer works" with a little animated CPU (think of the animated DNA in Jurassic Park) that when the kids are asked to push the "start" button by "Chippy" they are then treated to a cool animati

    • Re:Packet Data (Score:5, Informative)

      by rainmaestro (996549) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @01:42AM (#30374408)

      I like this idea.

      Where I grew up, we had a children's science museum (Great Explorations: http://www.greatex.org/index.php [greatex.org] ) that I used to visit during summers (they did 1-2 week summer camps). The most popular exhibit (most of them were rotated in and out) was always the Touch Tunnel. Totally dark inside, with corridors, ramps, etc. You had to feel your way through to the end. Kids loved it, even when the lights were on. The idea was really simple: giving kids the experience of relying on something other than their sight, and it was really effective.

      It is great to see the author's company contributing to a kid's museum. I still remember some of the things I learned at those summer camps (like the letters of the alphabet in ASL). I always loved learning, but it was those camps that really sparked my interest in the sciences.

      I took my adopted sisters there once a few years ago (they were adopted at 5/6 years of age when I was 19). I think I had more fun with the exhibits than they did *grin*

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The key is not to force them to learn if they don't want to. Rather, just make it easy for them to do the learning stuff if they want to.

      If they just want to wander aimlessly through the "internet," that's fine. But if they want to play the game and learn about packet routing, make that easy. The wanderers can be "traffic congestion."

  • 8yr olds are taller (Score:4, Informative)

    by Whiteox (919863) <htcstechNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @01:11AM (#30374264) Journal

    I did some exhibitions a few decades ago, but I think the principles would be the same.
    Anything that shows 'cause and effect' for the 3 year olds: Press this and this happens.
    Don't forget that 8 year olds already use computers in the classroom
    You should have an interactive centerpiece - mine was a 'Robot' built on an stand covered with old cards with a speaker as a mouth, based on an Apple ][ with a speech card. The space bar was programmed to cycle through different progs - like math tables, songs (Daisy Daisy from 2001) etc
    We had some old hubs and switches with different colored network cables. Not powered at all so they could just plug them in random order.
    A continuum of old to new tech as a display - a big daisy-wheel was a real hit. Also any old tech that still works like LCD typewriters, dot matrix printers, coupled modems.
    Web Cams with screens out of the way.
    Some LAN net talk for the older ones. I had a messaging guest-book system set up.
    Fractal displays and interesting screen savers. Set up a SETI for public view.
    There's a lot you can do, but don't forget that whatever you set up, it will take maintenance.

    • by sznupi (719324)

      The space bar was programmed to cycle through different progs - like math tables, songs (Daisy Daisy from 2001) etc

      Was this meant to scare the shit out of them, ingrain deep rooted fear at early age so they'll never pursue computer-related carrier? Job security?

      • by Whiteox (919863)

        Most of these kids wouldn't have seen the movie. Some of the adults would've gotten the reference though - this was in the late 80's and 2001 Space Odyssey wasn't in the cheap VHS rental shelves. I don't think it was for sale at the time anyway.

        You could program the Apple ][ & sound card with simple BASIC to alter the pitch and I got it to sound different for different programs.

  • by seifried (12921) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @01:11AM (#30374266) Homepage

    Imagine a vertical board with channels in it, these channels go to wooden gates (think mini teeter-totter), a ball might close a gate and rest there until another ball hits that gate and opens it (or possibly sends the ball in a different direction/etc.). Kids can experiment with setting the gates (positioning them A/B) and then hitting a button to engage the engine which drops balls through 9screw drive/bucket belt, whatever). An Example of an adding machine:

    Binary marble adding machine - http://woodgears.ca/marbleadd/ [woodgears.ca]

    Unfortunately I can't find an example online but I think you get the gist of it

  • OLPC (Score:2, Interesting)

    by oldspewey (1303305)
    Chain a bunch of OLPCs down and simply turn the kids loose.
  • Kids want to explore (Score:2, Interesting)

    by equalwings (1373601)
    Go for something with simple, well illustrated logic. Remember that kids of that age aren't supposed to be good at abstract thinking. Use clear boxes so they can see what's inside. Make it strong but not so it looks strong (clear is good for that). Have multiple terminals that can interact but do not need to for a good experience.
  • packet routing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MagicM (85041) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @01:16AM (#30374294)

    A local children's museum has an exhibit that shows how "email is sent through the internet". It uses a pneumatic tube system to shoot wooden balls from a sender through a series of clear tubes to a receiver. The balls go through various T-junctions, which makes the actual route taken "random", and these junctions are labeled with city names. Balls are released at such an interval that regardless of the route, they still arrive in the same order they were sent. A combination of black and white balls allows the recipient to verify the sender's message. There's even a little ascii-type chart to map color combinations to characters.

    When my 4-year old saw and heard balls being shot around the wall-o-tubes, she said it was "the coolest thing she'd ever seen." We spent a good half hour feeding the machine.

    (I don't know if copying someone else's museum exhibit would be legal, IANAL.)

    • I had a somewhat similar idea, but with more computer hardware.

      We conceptually have a bunch of computers pretending to be the internet. Perhaps each computer might be represented by a single display showing a little island with postmen on it, and connected to other computers/islands by bridges. (We could put everything on one great big display, but I like the individual displays better.) In this system, we will attempt to send 'web pages' (a picture which gets broken down into jigsaw puzzle pieces) from ser

    • Re:packet routing (Score:5, Informative)

      by holeinone (750622) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @03:46AM (#30374946)
      There is a very nice exhibit like this at The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo. White and black billiard balls are used. The first 8 balls are the address (to different stations around the room), the next 8 balls are the character you want to send. A kid arranges the balls in one of the sending stations and then releases them into the internet. The balls flow through several 'routers' (contraptions that look like they are based on old telephone technology). The balls flow to the destination (to which the kid has run over to and is waiting for his balls to arrive) and then the character is displayed. My 6 year old played this for a long time and would have played it all day.

      There is a picture here [jst.go.jp] at the bottom of the page. There is also contact information. I'm sure you could get a detailed description of its construction if you wrote them an email.

      Good luck!
    • by Jeremy Lee (9313)

      Ha! I was actually just about to suggest something very, very similar, although with a twist.

      I think it wouldn't be too hard to have some junctions which switch based on the ball colour. Effectively being able to sort a whole series of random coloured balls and send all the red ones, for example, to the red ball output slot. That's the clearest demonstration of the primary action of networking: ie, 'routing', I can think of. Not just random paths, but deliberate sorting.

      I suppose Ted Stevens was right. It I

    • (I don't know if copying someone else's museum exhibit would be legal, IANAL.)

      Ted Stevens can be cited as prior art.

    • Having done a fair bit of Children's Museum work this sounds good. They will like this.
  • Heres a wall projector/camera idea my son and I built.
    Its going in our church after Christmas.
    It shows shapes on the wall that dance around if you smack them.
    So its good for non-readers.
    It was designed for "take away" messages at the exit of a science center. Eg, a quiz with A-B multiple choice, scoring, takes your picture if you win and keeps it on the wall.
    But for 3 graders, I had an app that shows animals. If you smack the wall over the animal, it moved to a different square. Its all written in Ho
  • Take apart an old arcade console and pay attention to the design details.

    You will learn a lot about how to make a robust system that will withstand physical abuse.

  • monkey labs and other critter computer tests.
    Simple covered interface and a screen.
    Plastic sheet, tamper proof switches and a computer safe from hands.
  • CSUnplugged (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Have a look at the Computer Science Unplugged site csunplugged.org. It is mainly classroom activities but it should give some ideas.

  • How about a large array of colored button-lights with a moving "cursor" light along the bottom. When a column of buttons is activated in time with the cursor's arrival any activated button (lit) will play a specific sound. The kids can toggle the various sounds by pressing the corresponding buttons in the array. Add sliders or mode control buttons for each column (or maybe just global for the entire array) that changes the sounds with distortion or tone. Add a mic with a sampler that they can yell into
    • by ArgoTango (114573)

      How about a large array of colored button-lights with a moving "cursor" light along the bottom. When a column of buttons is activated in time with the cursor's arrival any activated button (lit) will play a specific sound. The kids can toggle the various sounds by pressing the corresponding buttons in the array.

      I like this proposal and would modify it with a very robust interface I saw at a music exhibit at a children's museum (it might have been Exploris in Raleigh, NC), but I'm not sure). Instead of buttons or any moving part that kids are almost certain to break quickly, use beanbags with RFID chips. Different colored beanbags might represent different sounds, and you could distribute them along a long rubberized pad (representing a time axis). Little hands have no difficulty picking up and dropping soft bea

  • Drawing screens (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    If you can afford it and bother,

    Have four terminals pointing inwards towards the middle, with a different color scheme for each terminal/sitting area. Close together so they can see each other and talk, but not each other's screen. For each terminal have a touch/magnetic pen screen, and a second screen with three colored buttons next to it. The idea is that pushing a button changes which of the drawings of the others you see on the second screen. Add Autowipe after some minutes, a wipe button for your own s

  • by ksdemaria (237771)

    And do they match up with the mission of the museum? I used to manage many of the technology exhibits at Pacific Science Center in Seattle, and I think the first thing to ask is what are you trying to teach to 3-8 year olds? Is your focus on teaching the wonder of technology or is it using technology to teach something else? Robots, logic games, enhanced reality... whatever it is, are you showing the tech or teaching a concept?

    As for exhibit design, stability, and usability these are all tried and true i

    • by story645 (1278106)

      A virtual video studio where they can act out a play and then watch themselves is very experiential and gets to use technology they might not have a chance to play with on a large scale.

      Sony did something similar with Sony Wonder [sony.com] in New York when I was younger. I went as a kid and thought it was the coolest thing that I could make my own tv show and I kept the certificate they gave out for years. There were lots of buttons and options for older kids and a big green screen and heat sensitive cameras for everyone. In the years since, it looks like they've modernized the tech but kept to the same concept.

  • TCP-CP

    The carrier pigeons should be a hit

  • Age 3 to 8? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Korbeau (913903)

    Sorry but ... at age 3 you can show pretty much any shining things and they will laugh ...

    At age 8 you can tell them a concept and they'll want to learn more ...

    What kind of age-range is that?

    • by arkenian (1560563)
      Sounds about the ages I used to visit the children's museum. I mean, you're right, you can't really do something that will really span that age range, but with some work, you can do something that would (for example in the maze thing above) be interesting for mixed-age-groups. 3 is probably a bit young, but 4 is kindergarten age in some places. The trick is to lure them in with the shiny and then as they grow older make the shiny actually teach them something. I can remember more than a few exhibits t
  • I hate to do this, because it seems wildly unprofessional, but I just finished engineering/inventing a touch-screen computer "baby" kiosk (baby in terms of table-top form factor, and easily transportable) designed specifically to be a powerful computer, very durable, attractive, and interactive. I'm just starting to bring it to market now. I don't want to advertise it here because, well, it seems cheesy and self-serving to do so. But if you're interested, reply here and I'll help you out.

  • I'm surprised we're up to almost 40 responses without:

    "Obviously you have no idea what you are doing, so hire someone who does."

  • Specialised hardware (Score:2, Informative)

    by Hognoxious (631665)

    a computer-based exhibit tends to be too fragile and susceptible to withstand the rigors of 250 preschoolers/day

    There are computers exposed to the general public in places like airports and railway stations. These use specialised hardware referred to as cabinets.

  • Note that this kind of thing has to be water proof so that it can be sanitized and should not have small pieces that can be swallowed and definitely no lead paint...
  • Two sources which might help: http://www.exhibitfiles.org/ [exhibitfiles.org] http://informalscience.org/ [informalscience.org]
  • Why Us? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DynaSoar (714234) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @04:56AM (#30375184) Journal

    Johnny Mnemonic (176043) writes: "My company has the opportunity to contribute to a children's museum in our area."

    Well there Just Johnny, why Ask Slashdot when you've got experts at making kid-proof displays right there? They're the same people to ask just what kind of exhibit they'd like to have. What's the point of a computer/network oriented display? At the ages stated, there's not much to interest them. If it's not an outright concrete example, it's not going to do anything for them because it'll be an abstraction and kids that age don't cross levels of abstraction well if at all. They only reason to have a display based on what your company does is the PR for donating a display. The kids aren't the target for the PR so this is lost on them, and the parents or teachers could get the same PR input from a sign with your company's name. Go that way, and you can give the museum any sort of display they need. Might as well let the museum have the say. After all, at 3 to 8, how are you even going to get the instructions into their heads?

  • CS Unplugged (Score:5, Informative)

    by gregbaker (22648) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @05:03AM (#30375212) Homepage

    I'm a big fan of CS Unplugged [csunplugged.org]. It's generally aimed at a slightly older age range, I think, but you can probably adapt some of their demos quite easily.

    • I second this! CS Unplugged has got some fantastic demos online. Check out their videos where they teach kids about network security, sorting algorithms, and binary. I've incorporated some of their activities into my own classes.
  • http://www.intech-uk.com/folders/frontpage_welcome/ [intech-uk.com]

    I haven't been there for a number of years but last time I was there they had a large number of technology related exhibits plus a lot of general science related ones, all aimed at children. They build (or at least used to build) most of it in a workshop on site and seem to have a reasonable turnover of exhibits - as a child I would often go there and find new things that had been added since my last visit.

    Offhand I can't remember many specific examples b

  • If you have a video display section, check out this youtube video titled "Die Maus erklärt das Internet" [youtube.com]. Sponsoring a translation into English might be a good idea, the vid is highly entertaining and funny at the same time (even for my age group). "Die Maus" ("The Mouse") is a character from German children's TV and has developed a cult following in the decades since its inception.
  • Show something colorful/educational about computing on computer display terminals. However, make sure that when the kid get too close or touches the screen, he/she gets a good zap. That'll make them think twice about damaging the equipment.

    (In case you are a moderator, I am of course joking, and not trying to give informative advice here).

  • I went to google scholar, typed in "museum technology children" and this link:

    http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=503376.503430&type=series [acm.org]

    was on the first page. The second and third pages have more interesting potential as well. There's a whole area of research on museum education as well as journals both practical and theoretical. I'm sure there's stuff out there that can help.

    Posts on slashdot are all exciting and interesting and stuff, but journal articles and other sources are peer-reviewed and t

  • by kenh (9056)

    From the post:

    "I'd like the exhibit to be computer/networking related, and to raise the awareness and understanding of how the Internet, networking, and computers work. However, children's museums cater to a pretty young age group, 3-8 years old"

    Exactly what do you want 3-8 yeaq-olds to pick up from this installation:

    1) Binary numbers
    2) Boolean Logic gates (AND, OR, etc)
    3) Network operation
    4) Programming Languages
    5) Concept of stored program computers
    6) Electricity

    Your zeal to provide a display has caused y

  • Years back I worked for a company who did a very successful display at the Louisiana Children's Museum in New Orleans: http://www.bentmedia.com/case_studies/teamturtle.php [bentmedia.com]

    The computers were all touchscreen enabled and put into cabinets like kiosks, and they were scheduled to automatically restart if a crash was detected and relaunch the multimedia presentations. The exhibit itself was bright, colorful, and interactive.

    I wasn't directly involved with the implementation of this project so I don't know all

  • by ideonexus (1257332) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:33AM (#30376304) Homepage Journal
    1. An 11 centimeter strip of phone or Ethernet wire, which represents one nanosecond of network travel time. RDM Grace Hopper used to use this to explain to the Generals why transmissions around the world took so long. Put a thousand of these together to create a microsecond.
    2. History of computers: Put out an abacus, slide ruler, and scientific calculator for the kids to play with. Show them a photo of ENIAC and explain how their cell phone now has more computing power.
    3. Don't be afraid to put computers out for the kids to play with. I maintain the computers at our local science center, and they do take some abuse, but we haven't lost one in three years of being in use. These are desktops though, with the CPU out of reach. My experience with laptops is that the kids will pull the keys off the keyboard or stick paperclips into the ports (We had an OLPC that got trashed quick when one child ripped the rubber keys off the keyboard). Don't put too much filtering on the computer, you want to keep the kids from looking at porn and installing malware, but you also don't want to keep them from exploring.
    4. With computers out, you can have all sorts of activities, such as an Internet scavenger hunt. We did this last night and the kids absolutely loved it. There's also websites where you can perform visual traceroutes. I had our kids run a tracert to fbi.gov, which they got a kick out of.
    5. There's the classic "bubblesort" game. Have the kids line up, assign them random numbers. Then have one child be the pointer, another the compare function, etc, etc, and sort the kids into order. It's nice to have psuedocode up on a projector to walk through as they perform the steps.

    This is all I can think of right now, but I'll check my notes tonight to remember what else we've done. Good Luck!

  • Please tell me the food vendors will be offering an OSI seven layer cake.
  • If your budget allows, why don't you have duplicate rooms that have the same exhibits and rotate as some need "maintenance." You won't have downtimes and allows for future consideration of better equipment for handling physical stress(es).
  • Put your computer in an arcade cabinet, and use arcade style buttons and controllers. They're expensive, but designed to handle the load.
  • Arrange the children in groups ("buses") of nine. Each child in the group has a designated bit, 1-8 and Chk(the team captain). Come up with a secret message for each team, but all the same length. Have them run back and forth across the room between two computers (for each team) carrying data. First group to successfully transmit their message wins. Maybe they'll learn something, and even if not, at least it'll wear them out.

  • Instead of a touch screen, how about letting them control a computer with a projecter and a modded dance mat? With a little ingenuity, the dancemat could be anything you like; Big colourful pictures of icons to explain how a desktop works, or even just directional buttons to control any interactive display you like. Dance mats, by their nature, are designed to be hardwearing, and the little tykes will probably enjoy jumping around like nutters. Of course, you'll probably need to do a risk assessment on th
  • Do not underestimate the interest in computer stuff of young kids. They recognize modern electronic toys (computers, phones, handheld gaming devices) from the other toys. My 4 year old is very good at playing his Nintendo DS (Kirby or anything Mario) and our Nintendo Wii (Zelda, Mario). He correctly uses a computer. Turns it ON, logs in to his account, launches Firefox (knows not to launch Explorer ;-) and watches Thomas the Train movies on Youtube.

    My 1 year old knows how to operate a computer mouse. Moving

  • Get a touch screen Kiosk, and log GCompris http://gcompris.net/ [gcompris.net]. "GCompris is a high quality educational software suite comprising of numerous activities for children aged 2 to 10."
  • Years ago I wrote a little program for my (then) 3-year old sister on a TRS-80 Color Computer (it was kinda old even then). She loved it, it entertained her for hours, taught her about interacting with the computer via the keyboard, and about the order of the alphabet and numeric digits.

    The program was really simple:

    When the child pressed a letter or number key, the *entire* screen background changed to a bright color, the letter was displayed at the maximum font size that would fit, and an audible tone wa

    • by six11 (579)

      Where is your lab? I saw a talk by some academic German guys who were building multitouch tables (the frustrated total refraction index things, or whatever the term is). The cost of the hardware was really quite cheap, so if you're willing to do a bunch of soldering and carpentry these are actually fairly easy to build.

  • Ann Arbor's Hands-On Museum has at least two interesting computer displays:

    1. Colorful visual effects via a computer projection system which the kids can control by moving in front of a video camera. You really have to see it. Found a photo at: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/57/175283594_e5a67d0221.jpg [flickr.com]

    2. Green screen chroma key area where kids can fly, swim, deliver the news, etc, while other kids act as TV news directors at a control panel

  • The two knob etch-a-sketch has a very long history. Connect two or more of them together via a network link. Then see if pairs of participants cooperate on a design.
  • Smart phones have the richest sensory interfaces of any computer system in common use- (1) microphone, (2) speaker, (3) camera, (4) video display, (5) keyboard, (6) text, (7) touch-sensitive "skin", etc. You could have a giant exploded mockup of the different parts of a cellphone. You'd demonstrate the signal paths and conversions: analog(graph) -> digital(tesselation) -> RF signal and reverse. I'd also include the hidden guts of the cellphone- (8) CPU, (9) magnetic memory, (10) RF antenna, etc.
  • Although the question was not directed towards 3-5 year olds, the systems described in this thread would be similarly useful to you.

    http://ask.slashdot.org/story/09/11/04/2236220/On-Demand-Video--CMS--Interactive-Input-For-Museum [slashdot.org]

  • I think you could do a touch screen that takes them to a limited number of sites, kids like touch screens. You could take them to google, and wikipedia, and show them how wikipedia is bigger than X number of stacks of encyclopedias. Then you could talk about Tim Berners-Lee and html/http and how that revolutionized the internet. You should start out with the arpa and tcp/ip and gopher and fetch and telnet and all those things most people don't know about any more. Give them real information. Real history.

    Th

  • Shameless self promotion, but whatever you build, be sure to put Tux Paint on it. (Especially if you've got some cool art-friendly interface like a touch screen.) :)

  • And while you are at it, don't reinvent the wheel.

    Contact museums that have some experience with this sort of thing, such as the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Find out what they do. They would be more than happy to help.

  • year old boys. In designing exhibits it is important to be very cognizant of the age group you are playing to. Talk to an early education specialist. Second, it helps if this exhibit is in the context of the remainder of the museum. This exhibits "lesson" (don't use that word around the patrons) should tie to other lessons within the museum. KISS. Pick one idea to get across, don't get greedy. No matter how bulletproof the physical design is a 3 year old will break it at least once. Have spares. I

As the trials of life continue to take their toll, remember that there is always a future in Computer Maintenance. -- National Lampoon, "Deteriorata"

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