Scientific Explorer

Rebecca Jones, Peter Kappus, Cherie Kuo, Brian Loughry

Scientific Content

"Scientific Explorer" is a science kit that is meant to teach elementary school children about Darwinism and bio-diversity. However, there are a variety of reasons why this kit does not appear to be successful as an educational experience. First of all, there is not a well established connection between each part of the kit; the booklet, the materials, and the exercises can all exist independently of each other. For example, one of the exercises ask the user to go outside and observe different types of organisms in a given environment, but the book never applies these observations to its scientific content. Furthermore, there exists a major discrepancy between the suggested experiments and their respective documentation. The experiments are basic and rudimentary enough to be used for introducing a younger audience to bio- science, however the explanations and facts are written in such an exceptionally sophisticated style that it is better suited for a more mature audience. The effect of this disparity creates a kit that is both too advanced for children yet too trite for adults. "Scientific Explorer" also fails as an educational experience because of its inability to motivate users to think creatively. Every activity is accompanied by detailed step-by-step instructions, this leaves very little room for children to come up with their own innovative ideas for solving a problem. Finally, the kit fails in keeping the audiences' interest. Many of the experiments are either repetitive in nature, or require users to wait before one can see results. For example, one activity asks the user to plant different types of seeds, then observe the different resulting flowers. Elementary school children have a fairly short attention span. They will feel bored with an activity where they can't do anything but wait for one or more weeks. Also, most of the exercises in the booklet are in worksheet formats that children will see more as homework. As a result, the potential audiences perceive science pertaining to Darwin and the study of bio-diversity as boring. The only potentially successful application for "Scientific Explorer" would be in a classroom environment where a teacher could provide more guidance.

Nuts-and-Bolts:

The kit was well documented in terms of providing users with detailed instructions on how to perform each of the experiments. Unfortunately, it fails to provide it's audience with a brief description of the materials provided. For example, it is assumed that the users (elementary school aged children) know what a petri dish is used for, or how to properly use a magnifying glass. Another shortcoming of the material in the kit is the piece of paper that has body parts of a bird drawn on it. The children are suppose to cut out the body parts and put the bird together with different features (different beak, tail, wing...etc). This is very poorly done because the paper can be torn or lost especially when some of the parts are drawn so small. Furthermore, the tools provided for the exercise of planting different type of seeds are insufficient. The pots does not hold water well, and there are more types of seeds then there are enough vials to hold them. Because of the wide range of activities, the time it takes to perform each experiment, as well as the easily broken materials, "Scientific Explorer" is best suited as an on-going project for 1 or 2 users.

Aesthetic Appeal/ Entertainment:

The kit also fails in its aesthetic appeal. First of all, The materials provided are boring. The designers did make an attempt to liven up the tools by coloring the plastic. However, by coloring the vials, they became less useful for observation purposes. Secondly, the booklet is printed in black and white, and the exercises are formatted as worksheets. This is unappealing for users because the kit resembles more of homework than an exciting "toy" for learning.

Future Development:

There are many changes that should be made to the "Scientific Explorer" science kit before it can becomes a successful educational tool. First of all, better material and tools should be provided in the kit. For example, the body parts of a bird cut out from paper could be replaced by pre-cut wood punch-outs. Another option would be to show the users what each part feels like by having feathers or a plastic beak that mimics the real thing. Secondly, some of the structured activities should be replaced with more open-ended exercises in order to allow users to develop their creative thinking and problem solving skills. The detailed instructions for each experiment should also be minimized so the user does not need to rely so much on the documentation but is free to explore. Finally, the kit would be even more entertaining and useful if it is accompanied by some kind of computer software that allows users to see photographs of the different plants, and hear the noises made by the various animals. The users could even select a region in world, and the program will take them on a guided tour of its ecosystem.