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Kinds of explanations - Captions

['Captions' means plore texts, graphics, panels]

The ideal Plore needs no caption!
Some of the Plores should be so simple that the Explorer can appreciate their use and aim with little or no instruction or comment. The point should, ideally, be obvious as soon as they are used; and as many will be in continuous use they will show off to people watching what they do and how to do it.

But even when what to do is clear, what it means may be difficult to appreciate. But this is indeed inherent in science as science is difficult! Much of its persisting fascination is, however, that its difficulties draw one on to deeper questions, so for anyone involved it is continuous adventure; but the 'endless question' notion is unlikely to appeal to children, or even perhaps to most adults.

Provide a range of information sources
Our primary aim here should surely be to try to make clear, when possible rapidly and easily, something of what the experiments mean. We may then indicate that this is not the whole story, and that to go further (though perhaps later) could be interesting and worth the effort.

This point, and the consideration that there will be a very wide range of ages and educational backgrounds, suggests that there should be different kinds and levels of information-sources.

These should be clearly distinguished (as for example a blast of mathematics could be a put-of) and help may be needed for appropriate selection. All this, however, can be 'tuned' by experience.

The first essential is to have captions explaining as simply as possible what to do; what to note as especially interesting; minimal information for appreciating what is going on; fuller background and other information (to be selected if required); some questions raised; guidelines for seeking further information etc. outside the Exploratory.

As a general point (and hare we may deviate from current museum practice) there can be a lightness of touch with humour in much of this. For example, the necessary kinds of captions may be distinguished with amusing signs (which may be little coloured models) such as:

Hand

Explaining what to do.

Eye

Pointing out what to see or especially note.

Brain

Information for understanding.

Ear

Questions. (The little ear model shaped like a question mark.)

Appendix

Information for further (though not now essential) digestion.

Feet

How to seek information beyond the limits of the Exploratory.

The Appendix and Feet information may be available as publications in the Science Shop. There may be specially written sheets or publications; and lists of key references, preferably available in school or county libraries. There may also be suggestions for school or home experiments. There is a case for some classically important papers to be available, as the history of science and technology is of course very important and fascinating especially as one gets to understand the principles involved and the drama of discovery and invention.

It is important to avoid information over-kill, producing King John's reaction: 'Zounds I am bethumped by words!' This should in part be avoided by clearly indicating kinds and levels of information that are available, so that the Explorers can select what they need, and what he may like to take up later. For selecting information, we may consider also:

Changing captions
Captions which are 'directional' so that the text changes (by passive optical means) as the reader moves past, or round it. (There are several possible ways of doing this which we are devising.)

VDU Displays
Standard VDU displays which may be interactive with questions and answers.

Interactive video
Interactive video disks run with a computer these will be extremely powerful.

Take-away science
The Science Shop will have a wide range of publications for sale, and also materials for home and school experiments.

Levels of explanation

Whatever the techniques of presenting information, a basic problem is the language and analogies to use for conveying novel ideas. Technical terms such as 'inertia', or certainly 'moment of inertia' will not be generally understood and they may be a put-off for many people. The same is true of mathematical symbols. Having the various types and 'levels' of explanations should help and indeed this seems the only solution to this most difficult problem of presentation, which is perhaps less of a problem in schools because of similar ages and educational levels in each class.

It should be rewarding for a thoughtful Explorer to go through a sequence of increasing-depth descriptions and explanations. In any case it is important that different 'levels' of explanation are not all presented at once, but can be selected as required. Just how to do his remains to be worked out: new information technology techniques should be helpful here, perhaps especially computer-controlled interactive video discs.

The Exploratory will become a centre for learning how to learn and how to present information and ideas. It will remain alive just so long as we go on questioning and learning how to solve these problems which are at the heart of education.

 

Adapted from: The Exploratory Interactive Science Centre, Plan for Action 1, February 1983 and The Exploratory Interactive Science Centre, Plan for Action 2, February 1985.

   
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