Family Learning Forum

A Project of the USS Constitution Museum

Prototyping for a New Exhibit:
War of 1812 Discovery Center

by USS Constitution Museum Team

The USS Constitution Museum will open the War of 1812 Discovery Center in the Spring of 2012. The Discovery Center will include participatory exhibit elements that introduce museum visitors to the causes and consequences of the War of 1812 and reinforce the interpretative theme of one ship, one crew, one nation. During the summer of 2011, the Museum’s three Family Learning Interns prototyped a number of the Discovery Center’s interactive elements and documented their experience for the Family Learning Forum.

  • Tipping Towards War, which challenges participants to balance the four main causes of the War of 1812 on a wobbly boat surface that will eventually tip, sending the country into war.
  • Calling All Hands, is a two-sided, vertical puzzle designed to foster collaboration and teach visitors that the ship and her crew could not operate without each other.
  • Earning the Nickname Old Ironsides, is a story boarding activity that encourages users to draw the moment when a sailor observes cannon balls bouncing off the side of USS Constitution in the War of 1812.
  • Who Won the War of 1812? is a game that will address the complex results of the war and allow visitors to make decisions about how those results affected each side.

This blog documents the interns’ experience testing and modifying the interactives based on visitor feedback. As the interns moved through the prototyping process, a number of themes became apparent:

  • Prototyping an interactive requires a lot of time and many changes. Sometimes these changes are small tweaks to a design and sometimes they are much more drastic.
  • Visitors will often surprise you and what seems clear, engaging and fun to you may not be to them.
  • Actively listening to and incorporating visitor feedback is a necessary part of the process.

Before prototyping your own hands-on activity, remember that the Family Learning Interns relied on their patience, flexibility, and creativity to successfully prototype the interactives for the Discovery Center. Good luck!

Meet the 2011 Family Learning Interns!

Molly studied studio art at University of North Carolina, Asheville and will receive her master’s in Museum Education from Tufts University in May 2012.

Sarah studied history at Stonehill College and will receive her master’s in History Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program in May 2012.

Julia studied political science and history at Boston University and will receive her master’s in History and Museum Studies from Tufts University in May 2012.