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Ask Slashdot: What Should a Children's Computer Museum Look Like? (yourobserver.com) 133

Long-time Slashdot reader theodp writes: If you're a wealthy techie looking for a way to establish your legacy, the City of Sarasota has a 117,000-square-foot children's science museum that's vacant and could use a little TLC. Housed on prime Bayfront property, the building that once housed the Gulf Coast Wonder and Imagination Zone might make a fine children's computer museum.

So in case any of those CEOs who stress the importance of getting children interested in CS are reading and want to put their money where their mouth is, any suggestions about what a kids' version of the Computer History Museum should look like? Something like an Apple Store? Microsoft Store? Something else?

There's often criticism about the ways computer science gets taught in schools -- so leave your suggestions in the comments. What would a good children's computer museum look like?
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Ask Slashdot: What Should a Children's Computer Museum Look Like?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    We have one in Cambridge, UK. It is pretty fun, my son loved it. Basically couples retro gaming with a suite of Raspberry Pis and other "learning" computers from the last few decades.


    • It's a shame that the AC post is currently scored at 0. I came to post the same thing. Look at what the museum in Cambridge does: it's very popular with children and is also educational.
  • by Mostly a lurker ( 634878 ) on Monday August 08, 2016 @03:53AM (#52663315)

    It should be designed in such a way that kids can actually make the exhibits work, not just tell them how it works. All other considerations are secondary. However, dramatic comparisons like an IBM 350 disk unit displayed alongside a modern mSATA drive will also make an impression.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      This. Get some programmable toys for them. Google has some great examples, like programmable fairy lights, and of course classics like turtle graphics (with a real turtle robot).

    • Just what I was going to say. I take my boys to a local children's museum (Museum of Innovation and Science in Schenectady NY) and they love working with all of the exhibits. Half the time, they don't even realize they are learning. They are just having fun and are picking up scientific concepts as a side effect. It works really well. If you just have a bunch of exhibits that kids need to look at but not touch, they'll learn something, but not as much as if they can interact with the exhibits.

    • Some old machines, some with playable games like the Centre for Computing History in Cambridgethis [youtube.com], plus some hands on exhibits that give you immediate feedback [youtube.com].?
  • by newsdee ( 629448 ) on Monday August 08, 2016 @03:53AM (#52663317) Homepage Journal

    Just take a few big strokes from other computer museums and make most displays as interactive as possible. Obviously talk about video games too. Throw in some robot programming workshops with mini robots doing stuff in an arena for a few minutes. Offer free apps for kids to take away some concepts and continue at home.

  • A what now? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    That sounds like a huge waste of money. And for a really stupid cause. So you want kids to be interested in computers? Why? So they'll do your job for minimum wage in 18 years?
    Computers aren't this magic thing that you have to be raised with or you'll "just never get it." You can learn at any age.
    I think they should put the money into the actual education system instead of trying to trick kids with a knockoff edu-tainment "museum."

    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

      Some of us enjoy programming and think somebody else (like kids) might enjoy programming too.

      Just because you hate your job, doesn't mean other people can't be good at it either.

      • by ruir ( 2709173 )
        I do not know about the original post, but I can relate. I do not hate my job, but the truth is the market is becoming more stupid and greedy as time goes by, and IT is being commoditised for worse or for the better. You got already a lot of monkeys in the market, and that is a nice excuse to drive down the salaries of the rest of the more competent professionals. In this market, either you are really specialised, or you maybe getting a pittance or be on the dole queue. The golden days of the guy that tinke
        • This is the golden age of the guy that comes in, after the monkey solidly wedged the cart into the shit pile, to pull it back out, and who gets good money for it.

      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        Some of us enjoy programming and think somebody else (like kids) might enjoy programming too.

        This is a about a computer museum, not programming museum. Don't think the two are the same.

        Since this is slashdot:
        A computer is like a car.
        A user is like a passenger.
        A sysadmin is like a mechanic, keeping your car in good shape, upgrading it as needed, and making sure that those faulty air bags are replaced, and the tires rotated.
        A programmer is like a cabbie.
        - Good programmers are like good cabbies, who can choose different routes depending on circumstances, and make the ride as pleasant as possible.
        - Ba

    • I took my son to an ore boat museum in Duluth, without any expectation that he'd work on an ore boat someday. (Ore boats are actually fairly large ships.)

  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Monday August 08, 2016 @04:11AM (#52663363) Homepage Journal

    To play devil's advocate here, the idea of children's computer museums and science museums is nice and all, but realistically there's a reason why these things close down, and it usually comes down to not making enough money to keep the lights on. Perhaps a nice interactive science website with VR would be a better way to spend the money, rather than restoring a building whose design results in high upkeep costs, plus the cost of staffing and renting exhibits and so on.

    I mean, the city of Sarasota was spending something like $150k+ in maintenance every year just to keep the building from deteriorating further. At ten bucks a head, it takes 15,000 visitors every year (almost 10% of their total during the final years) just to pay for the absolute minimum level of upkeep. I'd imagine the real numbers to keep the building in good shape were at least double that. A good target for a business is closer to 5%. Basically, that building is a money pit.

    • I agree. A good website will last a lot longer and be available to more children than a physical location. Youtube-based guided tours of the virtual collection would probably be a lot of fun to watch if the presenters are charismatic.

    • Must suck to live in a country where museums are run by companies that need to make a profit.

      Last Saturday we had the KAMUNA in my town "KArlsruher MUseums NAcht", Karlsruhe Museum Night.

      For 10 Euros (about $12) you can visit 16 museums and all related events (like music and talks) and can use all public transport till next morning 6:00.

      We had close to 100,000 visitors.

      • Must suck to live in a country where museums are run by companies that need to make a profit.

        That depends on what museum we're talking about. TFS implies this is more like a common science centre not a museum. A key difference in if something should be publicly funded.

        If there is something of great historic significance then absolutely there should be a public fund to keep it going. If on the other hand you're creating a learning theme park for people with a very specific inclination towards a topic there's no reason taxes should pay for it. If people want such a thing then it should stand on it's

        • oh, oh.
          Education should not be free?

          • Education should not be free?

            If it was, the hills would no longer be alive with the sound of hillbillies!

          • oh, oh.
            Education should not be free?

            It most certainly should, but this is not education, it's a special purpose facility for people with a specific interest. The existence of this facility will not fundamentally alter your education, but may alter your interest in a subjection.

            While we're talking about education, how about we fix the system that is known as student loans in America. The fact that your financial status rather than your academic results can affect you ability to go to university is something truly frightening. As I said, suckin

        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          On a scale of suckiness this doesn't even register when we were discussing only yesterday that it actually costs money if you call an ambulance

          It's off-topic, but even worse, it costs you money even if someone else calls you an ambulance. It must suck to have epilepsy or similar malaises and get ambulances called for you when you don't need them, but are powerless to resist them.
          And even worse, "mental observation", which is used as punishment by some of our finest. Even if there's nothing wrong with a person, the observation takes place, and is billed to a "patient" who never asked for it nor needed it - it's enough to ruin someone's life.

      • In my city in the US all 19 museums are free and the zoo, all year round. I live in Washington DC. It must suck to live in your country where you have to PAY to see ONLY 16 museums for a single day! See how that works? Stupid Europeans don't know anything about the US.
      • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

        Must suck to live in a country where museums are run by companies that need to make a profit.

        Who said anything about profit? Most museums in the U.S. are nonprofits. They do, however, have to bring in enough money to pay their bills. :-)

    • Perhaps a nice interactive science website with VR would be a better way to spend the money

      Or if it is going to be a physical museum, then the majority of exhibits need to justify their not being on a web page. That means really hands on, tactile exhibits designed to give an experience that you can't do online.

      And... "history of computing"? I don't think kids are going to be interested in the nostalgia of their parents' generation and coo over cases of Apple IIs and C64s, or queue up to play genuine Pong the way middle-aged nerds do.

      Here's a silly, possibly off-topic suggestion that probably

      • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

        Or if it is going to be a physical museum, then the majority of exhibits need to justify their not being on a web page. That means really hands on, tactile exhibits designed to give an experience that you can't do online.

        The thing is, G.Wiz was all of those things. It still couldn't cover its ongoing costs. Now maybe it was mismanaged, or maybe they overestimated the draw of certain expensive exhibits that they were locked into a rental contract on... I couldn't say, because I haven't seen their financial

  • Children have absolutely no interest in looking at old computers, make it something hands on where the children can touch, interact and experiment.
  • A bit hidden on the site is one room (I almost missed it) with a small but very good set of hands on activities to learn about computers. A simple thing like coding your age in binary and boards to explain an experiment with AND & OR principles. Some games were also available

    It shows also the evolution of computers. From an analog computer build in meccanno, an IBM 360 and so fort. I was particle impressed by the automatic analog switching telephone unit still functioning with rotary telephones. You can

    • The SFBay Area has three to emulate/draw ideas from:

      The Exploratorium: Practically grew up here as a kid. More of a STEM orientated, the key thing was it was all HANDS ON.

      The Lawrence Hall of Science @ Berkeley. Another childhood hangout.

      The Tech Museum in San Jose. Just took my 13 year old here, he is hard to please. Just turned him loose and he had a great time. 3d Printing, robotics, network simulations, build-a-plane flight mechanics. I enjoyed it too!

  • Maybe some programmable robots that can move objects from one bin to another based on some high level commands. (perhaps small and under a little bubble)

    robot 1 (worker bot): goto A, pickup, goto B, drop, repeat
    robot 2 (maid bot): find ball, pickup, goto A, drop, repeat
    robot 3 (messy bot): goto B, pickup, random walk, drop, repeat

    so with 7 possible commands there is a fair amount of programming of behaviors. might be overkill to try and also allow branching and conditionals.

  • If you want to get children interested in computers and computer science, especially as a prelude to increasing their education in the same... I can't think of a more back-asswards way to go about it than sentencing them to a computer history museum. As interesting as the topic is to the geek and nerd, it's dull and boring and almost completely irrelevant to the call-to-action you linked to.

    Don't confuse what you want to see with what is actually needed. A computer education center, which is what you're

    • It isn't necessary to get ALL the kids interested. Just to give the potential minority of fledgling nerds exposure.

      Trying to achieve mainstream appeal is a distraction. This is Slashdot. Maybe you wandered in here by mistake?

      • Try reading what I wrote moron. I didn't say it was necessary to get all kids interested, nor did I say anything about mainstream appeal.

        And yes, this is Slashdot, where reading comprehension is a must. Go away until you've acquired some.

  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Monday August 08, 2016 @05:13AM (#52663497)

    A common mistake people do when making stuff for children is assuming that kids are dumb so let's make it simple for them.
    Kids are not dumb and a good children's museum teaches the adults too. The only real difference is the "Adult" museums are more or less teach like the Victorian times quite expecting you to stay attentive with learning to be done via audio and visual learning.
    A "Children's" museum offers the tactile learning as well and fully engages all the senses for proper learning.

    I would make physical and manipulable exhibits such as not gates and gates and or gates either out of blocks or plumbing with color water. Then getting so far to make a 4 bit adder.
    After you get that far then you can switch to electricity. Perhaps with a large quartz transistor and circuits. Where they can turn a dials and press buttons pull leavers to get the point.
    The goal is to demistify computers to children and adults before you get to the other suggestions with robots writing code. But for the most part target towards teaching adults the concepts using as many stimula as possible.

    • have a look at this
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    • If it was up to me, I'd add to that at least two sections dedicated to computers of the last millennium. One would be all UNIX workstations - like the various SPARCstation pizza boxes, SGI's various blue themed boxes - Indy, Indigo, Onyx, Oxygen, et al, NEXT workstations, DEC's Ultrix workstations, etc. Another would be all the non UNIX computers - Amigas, the old Motorola 68k and PPC based Macs, RISC based Windows NT workstations from DEC (Alphastations), MIPS Magnums, NeTpower MIPS workstations, DeskSta
  • Replicas of ancient computers, like the solar system models, rope robots of the greek and romans, probably even ancient steam engines (even if that does not compute), maya calendar, babylonian number system.

    Everything that is fascinating and/or math/science related. Variations of "abacus" . Inka number system and thread woven messages.

    Various simple encryption methods, like the greek staff with wrapped paper around it, the grid based encoding schemes: chicken code and pig code.

    Water clock of the romans ...


  • As as child in the 1960s, I went to the Science Museum in London. There were lots of handles to crank and buttons to push, and the science tended flow out of that. Taking my own son in the early 1980s, it was somewhat the same and rather enjoyable, crank something and see what happens.

    Also (one of) MONIAC, the Philips Hydraulic Computer was there: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] and currently there's a reconstructed Difference Engine (also in Mountain View, I think?). These objects make computing very
  • The most important consideration, above all else is that it be a fun, engaging experience. Who cares whether they walk away knowing important names and dates? If they walk away thinking "computers are fun" that will do more for the future of computer science than any amount of knowledge you can pack into their little heads in that time. Here are some ideas:

    Mechanical computers: use colorful balls on ramps to perform basic addition and subtraction.Let them tinker with the ramps.

    Blinkenlights. A big panel f
    • make it so that there is a supply of cheap things that kids can play with/shred to allow for interaction

      items for your list

      1 actual punchcards (bonus if they are decent copies of say IBM cards)
      2 bundles of "microseconds" heck if they want to make bracelets out of them later good
      3 tunnel parts that do the bolean math functions

      make the concepts REAL

      (heck go disney with it and have folks running about that recreate figures from computing history)

  • ... and a pile of resistors for the kids to use.
    Oh, and electrons.

  • full of children learning how to make computers do fun stuff https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
  • Something like an Apple Store? Microsoft Store? Something else?

    So you're really just asking what it should *look* like? As in, what should the aesthetic design be?

    Sure. Make it look like an Apple Store.

    It seems like the bigger question should be, what should be in it? What should the exhibits be, and how should it work? Whatever the aesthetics, what are kids going to learn from the experience?

    And I don't know what the goal is or what resources are available, but just to throw an idea out there, the first thing that popped into my head was (perhaps obviously) to

    • by phayes ( 202222 )

      Something like an Apple Store? Microsoft Store? Something else?

      So you're really just asking what it should *look* like? As in, what should the aesthetic design be?

      Nah, he's asking whether it should be like an Apple store and filled with people or like a Microsoft store and usually deserted except for the people who work there... ;-)

  • YouTube: "How Computers Work: A Journey Into the Walk-Through Computer [youtube.com] is an educational video produced by The Computer Museum and hosted by David Neil of PBS's Newton's Apple. Join David Neil and his four young companions on an entertaining and illuminating trek through The Computer Museum's one-of-a-kind, two-story working model of a desktop computer." Exhibit flyer [computerhistory.org] (pdf). Press kit [computerhistory.org] (pdf).

  • A hands-on demonstration of boolean logic: starting with two switches in series to show A AND B, then two switches in parallel to show A OR B. A more advanced portion of it might have a large plugboard (like from the old Ma Bell days), and a collection of gates and switches, with flashcards showing how to build up common circuits - a 1-bit adder, XOR, a 1-bit flip-flop, etc.
  • First off, while I'm sure it's important to get corporate sponsorships, the logos need to be only on the outside of the building and not inside. The purpose of the museum cannot be for companies to establish brand awareness and preferences - it must be to interest and excite kids about technology and where the future lies.

    Don't focus on teaching kids how to use technology, focus on introducing the basic concepts which computing technology is based on. That means avoid rows of PCs letting kids design their

  • Give children something to do.

    Things to poke, prod and make stuff happen. Don't show them a CPU, let them build logic gates that light shit up, make noises etc.

    Give them control of a complex lock system on a constrained (miniature) canal setup where a barge represents a data and the routes dictate processing.

    Show them to history of 'speak and spell', calculators, robotic fucking barney, other toys to see how computers have enhanced play.

    Build a proper difference engine and let them program it.

    Shit, they're

  • Museum are about the past and are passive learning, how about something like Do Space in Omaha, NE? http://www.dospace.org/ [dospace.org]

    Think of it like a high tech library

    Computers available for the use of all
    3D printers/laser cutter available http://www.dospace.org/technol... [dospace.org]
    Tech activity kits for checkout: http://www.dospace.org/technol... [dospace.org]
    Regular/Special Events (Girls Who Code, Cyber Seniors, software classes, etc.
    http://www.dospace.org/events/... [dospace.org] , http://www.dospace.org/events/... [dospace.org]

  • Learn about the Ontario Science Centre during the mid-1970s. That place was super cool. Tons of interactive tech, huge lasers, giant Tesla coils and Van de Graaf generators, and of course, the Philips Coffee Machine (I'm still searching for the schematic, btw). "Coffee! Coffee. Coffee?" Oh, and none of this global warming boring-as-all-hell environmentalist crap.

  • Schanley, the city’s asset manager, regularly conducts walkthroughs of the former GWIZ building.

    Am I the only one who read this as Schannel? I thought maybe this guy was a huge fan of Microsoft crypto...

  • Static museums work for the visual arts, they are kind of a failure for anything else.

    Have a display where kids can play videogames as they have been over the years, have another one in which they can update their bank account, another one in which they can use databases to track down a suspected criminals, another one in which they can create their own bit coin operated recreational herbs commercial web site.

  • A bank of 8 toggle switches with a light above each to show when they are turned on. Next to that, a 3-digit 8 segment display to show the 8-bit number corresponding to which switches are flipped. Maybe another one to show the ASCII letter corresponding to the number, when there is one.

    You don't actually have to understand it to get something out of it. But you could also label each "bit" and its value as well as put up an ASCII chart for the older kids.

  • Getting kids to museums is hard enough but I feel like making them look at old technology (when the smartphone they're inevitably carrying in their pocket probably has more computing power than all of them combined) is a pretty special challenge.

    On the other hand if you could tie it into video games at least they'd be able to do something interesting and entertaining while they're looking at all these old crusty machines. The evolution of video games, from Pong/Space Invaders to World of Warcraft/Call of Du

  • Of course I think the answer you're going to get is going to involve game consoles more than old computers. Remember, computers didn't used to be game machines or home machines, they were business machines, doing boring, adult, business-y things. Sure, there were games written for text-only computers, but that's going to be boring, boring, boring to the average modern kid, who is used to HD graphics and 6-channel surround sound.

    Something else to consider in this particular case is the mention of this being
  • It should include things like this: Interactive Art using FlipBits [vimeo.com]. Full Disclosure: Yes, it may be a shameless plug. But you asked for my opinion.

"So why don't you make like a tree, and get outta here." -- Biff in "Back to the Future"