This month, three lucky Ideum staff members attended a workshop focused on the Bosque Education Guide. We (Becky Hansis-O’Neill, Jenny Kvapil, and Joe Donovan) were excited to attend because the content presented in the guide is directly applicable to our current project designing visitor center exhibits for the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge.
The Bosque Education Guide is a robust collection of educational activities for K-12 classrooms developed by scientists and environmental educators. At a hefty 695 pages, the guide explores and explains the ecology of the Middle Rio Grande Valley and the species that live there. The workshop, which was hosted at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park and sponsored by the Friends of the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, provided an in-depth experience of some of the guide’s cornerstone lesson plans. As participants, we were able to see how the lessons work and experience the thoughts, questions, and emotions that students might have while engaged in the lessons.
Much like a classroom teacher and informal museum educator, it is the job of an exhibit designer to take complex topics like science, politics, and social concerns, and make them digestible. In fact, many of our staff members started by working in museums or as teachers! We rely on this background to help us break down information and determine the logic behind the interactives that we design. Lesson plans are a great place to start the exhibit design process. Here are some of the ways lesson plans can help us design awesome exhibits:
While exhibit design and lesson planning have these six major themes in common, there are some distinct differences and challenges unique to exhibit design. Timing, for example, can be very challenging. Many guests that see exhibits may only spend a few minutes interacting with them, so we need to design them to be used and taken in quickly. Despite this key difference, lesson plans are extremely useful for exhibit designers. Teachers have already broken down goals, background information, tasks, and outcomes - a little creative rearranging and reinterpretation can produce great exhibits. Utilizing lesson plans as a foundation for exhibit design helps us create experiences that are easy to understand, audience-appropriate, and effective. In this case, we wanted to apply our new knowledge of the Bosque Education Guide to our current work.
Upon returning to Ideum, we immediately put our experience to good use, holding a design charrette with additional members of the Ideum team. We leaned on some of the lesson plans we’d just learned and worked through some exhibit concepts that were in need of refinement and we are pleased to report that it came together quite well! Our team members were more equipped to talk about subject material and had a better understanding of how to communicate that material to others. The Bosque Education Guide also gave us a common vocabulary to discuss the concepts we wanted to address. The workshop was the perfect opportunity to gather extra training for our Valle de Oro project, and we enjoyed the experience very much!