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Children's Motivation to Explore Partially Completed Exhibits in Hands-On Museums

Henderlong, Jennifer ; Paris, Scott G. ;
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    Abstract Two studies were conducted to determine the impact of partially completed, hands-on exhibits in science museums on children's motivation and engagement. The central question was whether partially completed exhibits are more motivating for children than fully completed or uncompleted exhibits. In Study 1, 120 children (Grades 1–6) were observed interacting with either a fully completed, partially completed, or uncompleted tangram exhibit in a children's science museum. Data were examined for differences between possible exhibit conditions, ages, and genders for two dependent variables: (1) children's preference for various levels of exhibit completion and (2) the final level to which children assembled the exhibit. Children demonstrated a preference for interacting with partially completed exhibits over uncompleted exhibits and reached a higher level of final completion when exhibits were approached in a partially completed state. In Study 2, 40 children (Grades 1–3) were observed in a different museum interacting with a maze exhibit in order to establish the generalizability of the Study 1 results. Again, children showed a preference for partially completed exhibits over uncompleted exhibits but the higher level of final completion when exhibits were approached in a partially completed state was not replicated. The findings are discussed in terms of tasks that provide incongruity and challenges that foster children's risk-taking, self-assessment, and self-efficacy.


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