Information on Plores
Many of the Plores should be as simple and as self-evident as possible: requiring little or even no caption-giving explanation or information, at least in the first instance.
Almost all will, however, have implications – and sometimes an apparently simple and 'obvious' phenomenon can be difficult to explain in depth; though it may be highly suggestive with only incomplete understanding. This is indeed the rule. It is so for most of us, for example with candle flames, soap bubbles, gyroscopes and magnets. Not all needs to be explained at once, and everything that is suggestive and intriguing inspires individual exploration – which is the point of the Exploratory.
The grouping of Plores can show underlying concepts. For example, by placing coloured pigments, butterfly wings or diffraction gratings, prisms or artificial rainbows together, we see Newton's general concept of white light made up of the spectral colours and how colours can be produced from white light – both in nature and in art. Although not clear from either Plore alone, together they provide a powerful and deep message which is almost impossible to convey in a book. This becomes even clearer for dynamic principles of mechanisms or processes which must be experienced as working to be appreciated.
Many of the Plores should be presented as experiences, such as feeling gyroscopic forces, and perceptual phenomena of seeing, hearing and touching.
Results of experiments should appear as soon and as clearly as possible. This presents very real problems as some processes simply do take considerable time. Where Explorers will return (especially school parties) we may be able to run long-term experiments, for example on genetics with flies, or growth of plants. But on the whole we should choose experiments and demonstrations which yield rapid results.
Plores should be as simple as possible – without unnecessary knobs, switches, dials etc. How things are measured should not, however, be avoided. Such constants as the velocity of light, and melting and boiling points and so on are important and have intrinsic interest. Just how they are measured should be of great interest. Physical values related to sensations have especial interest – pitches of notes should be given - as the relation of our perceptions to the physical world is a primary interest though seldom presented.
Display instruments, such as oscilloscopes, are not familiar to everyone and they have to be 'read' correctly, which is not always easy. How they are set up (e.g. the time-base rate) affects their displays in complex ways. Perhaps there should be special instrument Plores, to show how they work. For if, say, an oscilloscope is not set up with an appropriate time-base rate and gain it will show nothing or nonsense. Instruments have their own fascination, and can be seen as extensions of our senses and (especially computers) of our brains. Rather than hide them away, they can be explained and used both for gaining information and for showing principles by which information is gained by organisms and by science.
Computer simulations may be useful, and indeed essential in some cases, for example for showing chemical structures. But they should not dominate, as they depart from the ideal of 'hands-on' exploration. This raises the final question: how far can 'hands-on' exploration lead to fundamental understanding? Understanding is forming conceptual models in the Mind. This process can be aided in many ways, and computer models may be most powerful. The point is that we should start with 'hands-on' interactive Plores and discover where these take us. Just as it is absurd to think of exploring as having an end, so we should not set limits now to the Exploratory.
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.
© 2000 The Exploratory