Design Zone

Background 

Funded by the National Science Foundation, Design Zone is a 6,000 sq. ft. traveling exhibition that focuses on creative problem solving using mathematical thinking. In Design Zone, visitors learn how video game developers, music producers, architects, engineers and other creative problem solvers use math as a tool to create everything from hip-hop tracks to skate parks. The exhibition is organized into three thematic areas, highlighting the relationship between mathematical thinking and the creative process in art, music and engineering.

Challenges 

Create an exhibition that engages teens and their families in mathematical thinking. Leverage the exhibition as a teaching tool for educators across the country.

Solution 
Research & Development

To better understand how to connect with the youth audience, OMSI worked closely with a group of 10 teens from a local Boys & Girls Club. Over the course of nine weeks, the teens became part of the exhibit development team and helped come up with activities and environmental designs that would appeal their age group. These insights complemented the contributions of other project advisors who included math educators, researchers and exhibit professionals.

Exhibits as Teaching Tools

As part of the national tour, OMSI provides an on-site workshop and other resources for host-site staff to further develop their facilitation skills. In addition, several exhibits were developed specifically to be “facilitation friendly” with special props and modes that facilitators can access to engage visitors in deeper exploration. Each host museum also receives a math “toolkit” to equip their staff to engage in mathematical exploration with visitors both in Design Zone and other exhibits and programs.

Evaluation & Visitor Studies

OMSI evaluated the project at multiple stages, from early development through a final summative evaluation. During the development of the exhibition, the OMSI team carried out extensive prototyping. In addition to testing exhibit prototypes individually with visitors, the team held a "family night" sneak preview to test all the prototypes with families. This process allowed the team to evaluate the overall experience for visitors and to make changes for a more compelling, educationally rich exhibition. All that work paid off. The summative evaluation found that the exhibition was both educationally effective—and fun.