Prairie Science: Integrating Informal Science and History Learning through Family Dialogue

September 1st, 2012 - August 31st, 2016 | PROJECT

Currently, many museums present histories of science and technology, but very few are integrating scientific activity--observation, measurement, experimentation-with the time- and place-specific narratives that characterize history-learning experiences. For the Prairie Science project, Conner Prairie is combining proven science center-style activities, developed by the Science Museum of Minnesota, with family-engagement strategies developed through extensive research and testing with audiences in historical settings. The goal of this integration is to create guest experiences that are rich in both STEM and historical content and encourage family learning. One key deliverable of this project is the Create.Connect gallery, which is currently installed at Conner Prairie. Create.Connect allows the project team to evaluate and research hands-on activities, facilitation strategies and historic settings to understand how these elements combine to encourage family conversations and learning around historical narratives and STEM content. For example, in one exhibit area families can experiment with creating their own efficient wind turbine designs while learning about the innovations of the Flint & Walling windmill manufacturing company from Indiana. The activity is facilitated by a historic interpreter portraying a windmill salesman from 1900. The interpreter not only guides the family though the process of scientific inquiry, but shares his historic perspective on wind power as well. Two other exhibit areas invite hands-on exploration of electrical circuits and forces in motion as they connect to stories from Indiana history. Evaluation and research findings from the Create.Connect exhibit will be used to develop a model that can guide other history institutions that want to incorporate STEM content and thinking into their exhibits and interpretation. By partnering with the Science Museum of Minnesota, we will combine the experience of science center professionals and history museum professionals to find the best practices for incorporating science activities into historic settings. To ensure that this dissemination model is informed from many perspectives, Conner Prairie has invited the participation of four history museums: The Museum of America and the Sea, Mystic, Connecticut; the California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento, California; the Wabash County Historical Society, Wabash, Indiana; and the Oliver H. Kelley Farm, Elk River, Minnesota. Each of the four participants will install history-STEM exhibit components which will be connected to location-specific historic narratives. Drawing on the staff experience and talents of participant museums, this project will develop realistic solutions to an array of anticipated barriers. These issues and the resulting approaches will become part of a stronger, more adaptable dissemination model that will support history museums in creating STEM-based guest experiences.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Project Products

Poster - Prairie Science
Conner Prairie Indicators and Observation Protocol
Create.Connect: Summative Evaluation Report

Team Members

Cathy Ferree, Principal Investigator, Conner Prairie Museum


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: ISE/AISL
Award Number: 1223770
Funding Amount: 917950


Access and Inclusion: Rural
Audience: Families | General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Engineering | History | policy | law | Physics | Social science and psychology
Resource Type: Project Descriptions
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Museum and Science Center Exhibits | Museum and Science Center Programs | Professional Development | Conferences | Networks | Professional Development and Workshops | Public Programs