Tag Archives: museums

Postcard from New York City

13 Oct

MoMath exhibit on Moebius strips.

Have you ever been really disappointed in a museum? Not a, Man, the Louvre is a crowded place at the height of tourism, disappointed, but a, Oh, there’s a museum about X? That might be cool! Let’s go in!…..30 minutes later….Well, that was a waste of $20.

The Boy and I felt that way after a quick visit to the National Museum of Mathematics in New York City. Taking a cue from the Modern Museum of Art, it’s nicknamed itself MoMath, and I think our MoMath, MoProblems joke was just about the best thing we got out of the place.

We went because we happened to be walking by and thought that a museum about math had a lot of potential to be cool–and the Boy likes math. We had an hour to kill–why not?

When we walked in, we found out that it was just two small floors, which turned out to fit in nicely with the specs of my ideal museum (smallish, and just when you’re about to get museum fatigue, you’ve reached the exit/gift store). Every exhibit was interactive, so there were some kids running around playing with everything. That also was cool and gave the place a lot of energy.

The problem came in with the “so what?” factor. We’d go to an exhibit and try to figure out what we needed to do. Turned out you needed to go to a monitor to pull up information about it. I personally don’t do that well with screens in museums — I get bored with them really easily, and while just playing with the exhibit was fun, I got nothing out of them. The worst was when I rode the bike with square wheels and asked the exhibit minder what the point of it was. She said something about the fact that you can use square wheels if you have the right bumped surface, but there was nothing really mathy in her explanation. I definitely know that there’s math involved with that, but it can’t be math magic or the math fairy waving a wand around. What’s the principle? What’s important about it? What else does it apply to? How do I do that math?

OK, maybe that last one is a little too complicated to show in a museum, but still. Giving me different patterned disks and telling me to cover parts of them to get a pattern mesh just shows me that that can be done. There’s math behind that phenomenon too? Really?

The Boy was also pretty disappointed, so I was comforted in the fact that I wasn’t alone. But maybe the museum ultimately really wasn’t for us. Maybe it’s designed for kids to play around, and for their adults to watch and remember to look up the principles later, if they want to know more about the math involved. Or maybe it’s just really hard to communicate math principles while you’re engaging with them.

Sadly, our experience here also made us leery about going to the Museum of Sex, so we skipped it and just hung out instead. Good choice?

 

The Phrase that Pays

4 Aug

Poison Ivy display at the Harvard Museum of Natural History

This week, the Boy and I went to the Harvard Museum of Natural History, and while the animal galleries were fantastic and the glass flowers were pretty unbelievable (really, the flowers don’t look like glass at all), what really caught my eye was a little interactive quiz about poison ivy.

The purpose of the quiz was to show you how poison ivy is a pretty wily plant, but I was more fascinated by the sheer number of rhymes to help you remember what to look for:

Red leaflets in spring, it’s a dangerous thing.”

“Longer middle stem, stay away from them.”

“Side leaflets like mittens will itch like the dickens.”

“Berries white, run in fright!”

“Hairy vine, no friend of mine!”

I said as much to the Boy, who responded, “Well, have you ever had poison ivy? It’s really bad!”

That evening, I was reading some of David Sedaris’ Theft by Finding, and I came across a similar rhyming  warning:

“Beer on wine, you’re fine. Wine on beer, stand clear.”

To which I thought, Huh. I haven’t heard that one. Because I know:

“Wine before beer, you’re in the clear. Beer before wine is not so fine.”

“Hard before beer, you’re in the clear. Beer before hard, you’re in the yard.”

“Wine before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before wine, you’re doing fine.”

I guess sometimes you need all those rhymes to help you remember not to do something stupid. The effects of the latter though are maybe not as itchy.

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