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More Math Needed in Science Museums
Posted:
Feb 7, 1994 9:30 PM


I thought Forum readers would enjoy the following by John Sullivan:
I went to the Ontario Science Center in Toronto last August. This is a modern science museum, with a number of interactive exhibits like those at the Exploratorium in San Fransisco, but also large sections on more applied things like food+nutrition or transportation.
I looked for exhibits about math, and was pretty disappointed. The only one they seemed to think was math was a collection of pocket calculators with signs suggesting that you do various "tricks" along the lines of "Take your house number, multiply by 2, add three, multiply by 5, subtract 5, erase the last digit, subtract one; look you have your number back".
There was a whole room devoted to sports (the materials used in sports equipment, etc). One exhibit was about judging things like gymnastics, and was trying to make the point that a judge who gave everyone low scores didn't adversely affect the results. Somehow they didn't seem to explain this well. They had a system set up where 5 people could judge videotaped events, but this didn't seem to teach much science.
There were some computers running LOGO available, and a quite nice double pendulum, but again no attempt to explain what was going on in these exhibit.
They did have a good exhibit on optical illusions, with many of the standard ones done nicely with sliding tranparent panels set up so that you could check that whatever didn't look true was in fact true. Along with these were a couple of copies of the room with distorted perspective that I've seen elsewhere. (You look with one eye from one particular viewpoint, and it looks cubical even though it isn't.) One such room had marbles seeming to roll up hill, and figures seeming to change size, but my favorite exhibit was another such room that you could walk into. Hanging on one wall was a TV screen connected to a camera at the magic viewpointyou could walk around this funnyshaped room, but see yourself walking in a "normal" room, your size changing.
I think we need to get more math into the museums.
John Sullivan University of Minnesota



