This follows Nick’s post on “preparing for a different type of Tsunami”, when he discussed initial challenges of the tsunami tank exhibit, especially in terms of the Lego activity and resources used.  Nick pointed out some mechanical/ physical challenges already encountered during initial prototyping but nevertheless said he was confident that the exhibit will be fun, interesting, and popular among Hatfield visitors.

POPULAR without a doubt! I have done some observations and brought in some groups to test the Lego activity at the tank and already can tell you Nick, the tsunami tank will most certainly be very popular. As a consequence, challenges to the exhibit are not only related to the resources used in the activity as you pointed out and whether it works or not, but also brings up issues of crowd management, flow and accessibility to the tank area and interactions among visitors.


In sum, here are some main points that surfaced from my short prototype:

a) The Lego activity and concept for the tank seem to generally work, apart from a few glitches already being addressed such as computer malfunctions and the sanding of Lego blocks so that they don’t stick so strongly together causing poorly constructed structures to stay firm after a potentially strong tsunami wave.

b) There is a need for establishing some rules for building structures so that participants won’t just build a solid square block that will stand still no matter what. The rules during the prototype were that each participant gets a cup full of Legos and have to build a structure of whatever shape but that will not surpass eight blocks tall to survive a tsunami wave. However, a few malfunctions were observed. As an example, the cup idea did not work well as most groups will go to the activity table and search for parts they want to use that were not in their cups.

c) Groups, especially children will spend a long…long time at the tank, which is good and challenging at the same time since crowds accumulate around and things can get really chaotic pretty fast. Creating clearly defined stations for building structures, providing a set of steps to be followed (through a facilitator or signage) and reinforcing time management can address the issue. Although I am afraid there isn’t really a definite solution for that, and at some degree we will have to rely on the visitors themselves (especially parents) to make good judgments and facilitate the process.

d) Visitors have LOTS OF FUN, interact and participate in shared learning.  After all, isn’t that the important aspects to cultivate if we are trying to facilitate learning?

Other subsequent observations were also made when the tank was opened to the public for a day with no facilitator and all my initial speculations were confirmed that crowd management will pose a huge issue, and while some creative solutions are on the making, the exhibit will need constant prototyping through time and even after it is completely opened to the public in order to minimize the problem.  Should I even call it a problem in the very sense of the word? Maybe I should say it is a good problem to have.

The exhibit has all the potential to foster active prolonged engagement (APE) and promote meaningful interactions. Humphrey and Gutwill (2005) importantly point out that APE exhibits are empowering to visitors as they can take pleasure in “observing, playing, investigating, exploring, collaborating, searching and speculating”. That is what I just saw groups starting to do at the tsunami tank.

(Humphrey, T., Gutwill, J. P., & Exploratorium (Organization). (2005). Fostering active prolonged engagement: The art of creating APE exhibits. San Francisco: Exploratorium).




Since we last heard from him, Summer Scholar Brian has made progress on his wave energy device model, but that progress has in turn revealed more work to be done:

“With the successful design of the ”Pelamis” prototype it’s now time to reconstruct it using materials that are more durable and can stand up to the wear and tear of public use.  The next step for me is to actually incorporate a working public-friendly version of the Pelamis into the wave tank.  The first design used wood to attach the hinges to and after a few weeks in the water the wood has started to mold and disintegrate.  This upcoming Tuesday I hope to find a replacement material such as PVC or aluminum that won’t corrode in water.  Another material that I have to replace is the pipe insulation foam inside the PVC that keeps the whole thing afloat.  I have noticed that the foam is getting more and more saturated with water so the buoyancy of the entire device is decreasing.  Luckily for me ping pong balls bit perfectly in the 1 ½ in pipe so I am going to try and use those for floatation because they will hopefully never lose their buoyancy.

I am really impressed with the way the model moves in the water right now and I am hoping that the new materials won’t impede or hinder the movements seen with the first prototype.  This model does not actually create any energy from the motion of waves. The idea behind the whole design is that the public will be able to create waves in the tank and see how this particular WEC captures the energy of the waves through the snake-like movement.  As long as the motion is consistent, it should be fairly simple for anyone to understand how energy is captured.”

(Yes, your host is a child of the 80’s and “The Facts of Life”)

Diana is learning the back and forth, up and down, of life as an interpreter and exhibit developer at the VC:

“Over the past couple of weeks, some interesting things have happened at the Hatfield Marine Science Center.  Not only have people been rude, but they have also been spectacular.  My faith in the human race is always moving back and forth like a wave.  First of all, there is my erosion wave tank.  We have had some great success and devastation in the wave erosion tank.  The wave tank was first somewhat of a chaos area with children walking on the edges of the prototype wooden table, sand volcanoes in the middle of the tank, and water everywhere you can think of around the tank area. Then we made a beach erosion challenge, with signs that gave very simple directions on what visitors were challenged to do. That made a significant difference between the actions taken around the tank area.  We saw a significant increase in families using the wave tank area as opposed to children creating sandcastles on their own as well as an increase in people reading the signs and trying to do the beach erosion challenge instead of just creating waves.  While the increase was promising, I still saw some problems.

One of the main problems of the wave tank that all of us in the VC are seeing is that the water needs to be changed constantly. I have changed the water about 3 times a week and each time there is something new in the water.  I have found potato chips, granola bars, and hair in the wave tank.  A spring broke on the wave creator, and the aluminum is oxidizing from the fresh water, which will lead to more problems later on.  Yet, out of all of these the ongoing problem that is really hard to find a solution for is the amount of water on the floor.  This problem has not only seemed to stump me, but my coworkers and advisors as well.

Out of all of these problems that my project has had, many amazing things have happened as well.  I have had some spectacular conversations with visitors.  This older couple one day came on my estuary tour and first asked some highly intelligent questions that tested my knowledge to the limit.  Then, once the tour was over, I was able to have them stay until closing with our eye level tank feeding, ocean quest and exhibits in general.  They would call me and McKenzie out by name just to ask us questions.  The older man told me he had no previous knowledge about marine science or biology for that matter, so he had many questions.  Oh he did and we had plenty of answers.  The visitors who are rude sometimes make me very upset, but then there are people like this older couple for example and most children, especially the ones that ask tons questions, that make my job totally worth it!”

Here’s an update from intern Julie Nance as she wades in to gathering data from the public:

“Last week I began front-end evaluation – talking to people out in the Visitor Center to get their opinions for the climate change exhibit.  I had them choose what case study they would want to learn more about, from a set of 14 pictures (species affected by global warming such as salmon, pteropods, etc).


I wrote down what everyone said and came up with some interesting trends, such as how the majority of women in their 20’s and 30’s as well as school age girls chose the emperor penguin over the rest.  This wasn’t a huge surprise given the options.
So the next round, I removed the penguin and turtle to force a harder choice, so many in that age group switched to the next most familiar and cute creature: the clown fish.  As my fellow intern Nick puts it, they’re only interested in “charismatic mega fauna”.
However, there were many people who chose things that were more local and meaningful to them personally.  My favorite comment I found funny was, “I chose Dungeness Crab, because I like to eat them, and I’m interested in keeping that going.”
The two most surprising comments were from gentlemen who were roughly age 60 to 70.  This demographic is kind of stereotyped as being very skeptical of climate change, and I will admit that I pegged them as probably being in that group.  One chose phytoplankton and said, “they are basic foodstuff.  They’re at the bottom  of the food chain, so that has effects all the way up.”  The other chose algae and said, “some people don’t believe [climate change] and think it’s ‘business as usual’, but I don’t think so.  Algae will probably be one of the first affected.”  Wooohoo!  You go dudes!  Thanks for changing my perception.

This week I’m preparing for the next phase of evaluation in which I will get into more detail with visitors about the exhibit itself, how it will work, and what types of resources they would want available on it.  A graphic designer, Alison, who works on projects for the VC is making a graphic for me to print and show to visitors while I talk to them about the exhibit.  This will really help them to visualize what I’m talking about.

The psychology behind talking to people and getting their opinions is staggering.  Every question, phrase, graphic, etc. I use goes through this complex interview process in my brain.  I wonder things such as, “how might people misinterpret this?”  “Will using this picture bias people’s responses?”  “Will using this phrase turn people away and change their answers?”  “If I color code, what are these colors going to make people think?”
That last one is big right now, along with positioning of things.  I am going to ask people to self-categorize into one of the groups from “Global Warming’s Six Americas,” but the graphic I was going to use from that study has different colors for each and I wonder if people will choose their favorite color, or think that one color is better or more desirable or think that I as the researcher want to lean them a certain direction based on the color or position.  If I lay out the 6 options top to bottom, it makes the top seem to be best and the bottom worst.  Colors- are warm or cool colors more acceptable and which do I appear to be favoring?  If I lay them left to right it might feel best to worst on a spectrum, or perhaps even political left wing/ right wing.  When you are doing research with human beings, whose thought patterns are so complex, you really can NOT control for every variable and you just have to do your best and realize that the results are influenced by many things.”

Another of our interns, (actually, they are all Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholars), Nick, lets us know what it’s like trying to prepare for the “visitor tsunami” that’s bound to occur when we get our third wave tank all set, based somewhat on the inundation he gets as an on-floor interpreter:

“Working as a docent for the front desk and touch pools has provided abundant opportunity to interact with the public and I seem to learn as much information as I provide. Visitors ask so many interesting questions and also ask about local marine events: how is the Sea Turtle doing that washed up on the shore, inquiries about the tsunami debris and recently the Brown Pelican crisis at the Yaquina Head seabird colony. Visitors also bring in some unusual items and ask for help identifying them; one man brought in an orca tooth that he had discovered eroding out of a cliff.

Among my favorite duties is acting as the guide for the daily tour of the Yaquina Bay estuary describing the marine plants and animals of the bay. Participants especially like discovering the tiny crabs that are often living under the very rocks they are standing on. It is pretty rewarding and members of the tour group have often told me that after taking the tour, they now want to become marine biologists.  I have also been helping with the Ocean Quest multimedia presentation in the auditorium. We have been working out the bugs in the presentation and it is finally at a point where we are happy with it.

Our main project involves working on three wave tank exhibits. Brian has been working with the wave energy exhibit, designing an experimental “wave power” device that looks like a futuristic mechanical snake. Diana has been working with the erosion tank and has had to be vigilant in order to prevent the “sandy beach” from becoming a mess from enthusiastic children. My project has been working with our tsunami tank. I have been working on designing ideal tsunami proof structures as well as showing buildings that will not be able to survive the wave. Using Legos as building materials, I have attempted to construct scale models of different building to see if the various designs are demolished or not with the wave tank.

The tsunami project has had some problems associated with it. For starters we have had endless computer glitches and malfunctions that often make it difficult just to run the machine. We have also been experimenting with different lengths of continental slope (represented by an acrylic ramp). Additionally, we found that Legos seem to stick together really, really well….sometimes so well that buildings that should be demolished are still left standing!  We have had to resort to sanding the individual bricks so that they do not stick together as well and will better represent actual building materials. We are hopeful that these problems will be fixed within a few weeks when we plan to open the tank to the public. The educational intent of the display is to challenge visitors to construct a building that can stand up to a tsunami wave. We are confident it has the makings of a fun and interesting exhibit and hope it will be very popular with our visitors!”


Our Free Choice Learning Lab group took our first field trip last Tuesday… Hurray!

We visited the Science Factory Children’s Museum and Exploration Dome and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, both located in Eugene, OR. This field trip and the ones yet to come are intended to get our group out and about! Outside our offices and interacting with others in the  field. The objective is getting to know our local museums, their facilities, staff and  educational programs, making connections and establishing partnerships with those institutions to crate a network supporting professional exchange and development. The Science Factory and the Museum of Art are the first two in a “Friends of the Free-Choice Learning Lab” list I am creating to support such exchange. THANK YOU VERY MUCH!  And… for all of you reading this blog, please let me know your suggestions about what kind of network I should create to better support these forming relationships, as you may know I am not technologically inclined and would appreciate some input as to what you think would be a good way to do this.

I should acknowledge the awesome people we got to talk to during this field trip. From the Science Factory, we talked to Nick Spicher (Education Director), Kim Miller (Operations Director) and Carolyn Rebbert (Executive Director). From the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art and UO, many thanks to Sharon Kaplan (Museum Educator for Academic and Public Programs) and Phaedra Linvingstone (Assistant professor in Museum Studies at UO, Coordinator of the Art and Administration Graduate Program). We really appreciate your time and willingness to talk to us about your institution and educational programs and sure hope our group can collaborate with you in the future. We had an awesome time! At the Factory we literally just blended right in with the 48 children around for summer camps. We were also mesmerized at the beauty of the Museum of Art and really enjoyed our experience. Bellow are some photos of us having a really really fun but nevertheless intellectually rich time during our trip.


FCL lab group at the Science Factory.


Recyclotron Exhibit, preventing balls from ending up in the landfill


Laura and Michelle racing wheels


Optical Illusion... Laura was becoming me...


Courtyard at the Museum of Art
Shawn, Katie and Phaedra at the Museum of Art
The group at the Museum of Art Courtyard


If you want to know more about the Science Factory please visit

For Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art visit

Thank you Dr. Shawn Rowe for providing this opportunity for our lab and thanks to all that joined us and contributed to a very pleasant day OUT AND ABOUT!