iPads and Coconuts by Aaron Compton

I’ve been looking at trends in museum education. It’s a pretty specialised role and in New Zealand there is a very small community of us, so I like to think it’s easy for us to set our own trends. For instance I just noticed that Te Papa is doing light painting for Matariki this year.

Hell, at Tairawhiti Museum we’ve been doing that since 2011. I’m a trendsetter.

Sophie: This girl disappeared down a wormhole, leaving only her shape on the wall behind her. But really we waved lights behind this girl to get her silhouette, she stepped away and we shone a torch on the ngatu where she had been standing

Sophie: This girl disappeared down a wormhole, leaving only her shape on the wall behind her. But really we waved lights behind this girl to get her silhouette, she stepped away and we shone a torch on the ngatu where she had been standing

Light painting is an activity with a definite WOW factor for children, teachers and parents. Take a dark room, a webcam hooked up to a long-exposure app and a big screen, some pretty light sticks and torches in different colours, add a group of excitable children and you’ve got some fun times ahead. You can draw in the air and make freaky portraits and the results appear in real time on the big screen; you can then print them out or give them to the teacher as .JPGs.

This is the kind of museopunk thing I love (check out museopunks.org ). It stemmed from me wanting a hands on activity to go with the graffiti art exhibition we had, but not wanting to mess with spray paint fumes in our enclosed classroom space, or to have to explain to parents why I was teaching their children to be vandals.

Tagging: A budding graffiti artist writes his tag in the air. No paint, no fumes, no clean up.

Tagging: A budding graffiti artist writes his tag in the air. No paint, no fumes, no clean up.

There is a lot of high tech stuff I and other museum folk dream of doing. iPads, wifi through all the galleries, location awareness, all that good, expensive stuff. I don’t have a budget for iPads. What I can afford though is coconuts.

Back in 2012 when the Transit of Venus was all we could talk about here in Tairawhiti, I was thinking about navigation. I wanted those iPads but instead my mind went to what I had heard called a ‘starpeeker’– a coconut shell with holes drilled at certain places to align with stars. I wasn’t sure how it worked but the idea appealed.

So I did a mash up of this Polynesian navigation device with a European one – a map. I made 15 maps of our gallery space and on each one put 2 different coloured footprints. Each map goes with a specific, numbered, starpeeker coconut with 2 sets of holes colour coded to the footprints on the map. When a pair of students find the exact right spot in the gallery where the footprints on their map should be, they can look up through the starpeeker and find the right coloured star in the rafters. When all is aligned correctly an arrow on the starpeeker points them in the direction of a certain taonga, and they have to answer a question about that taonga. Phew.

Children at Tairawhiti Museum use a mashup of European and Polynesion navigation techniques to find their way through the gallery.

Children at Tairawhiti Museum use a mashup of European and Polynesion navigation techniques to find their way through the gallery.

It was hugely complicated to set up but worth it – children really have to think to succeed with this and teachers love it, it aligns with a lot of NZ Curriculum stars.

Wifi? No. Location awareness? YES!

High tech is trending highly but hands on activities will always be in style. The low tech backlash starts here. Go and buy some coconuts!

Aaron Compton
Education Officer, Tairawhiti Museum

 

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