Mike Horn Designs Frog Pond Exhibit for Computer History Museum

Mike Horn Designs Frog Pond Exhibit for Computer History Museum

Frog Pond

Using new interactive technologies, SESP assistant professor Michael Horn designs innovative museum exhibits to engage visitors in learning. His newest exhibit — on computer programming — will be on display at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

Frog Pond, a compelling multi-touch tabletop game, will help museum visitors learn computer programming. As part of a larger exhibit at the museum called Make Software, Change the World, Frog Pond will draw visitors into free-form computer programming activities.

On an interactive tabletop display, the Frog Pond game presents an array of green lily pads and brightly colored frogs, and visitors can program frogs’ actions using a graphical language. Each player moves programming blocks to control frogs of one color as they catch bugs, collect gems or behave in various ways. The exhibit is intended to engage visitors ages 11 to adult.

Two years ago the Computer History Museum approached Horn about developing an exhibit on computer programming that would be accessible for visitors to walk up and use. The staff had seen Horn’s prior work at the Museum of Science in Boston, where he created the Robot Park exhibit designed to teach children computer programming by using wood blocks to control the movements of a robot.

“We're building on research about what makes for an effective and compelling exhibit in an interactive science museum. We've also gone through many rounds of formative development and testing with our target audience to make sure that it's not only easy for visitors to create computer programs, but that those programs lead to interesting learning experiences,” he says.

For example, through evolving iterations of the game based on research, Horn came up with the idea of creating two programming spaces in the exhibit, one on either end of the table. “This allows for a variety of different social experiences. Visitors can work head-to-head in a competitive mode (where you try to program your frogs to eat more bugs than your opponent) or shoulder-to-shoulder in a collaborative mode or in different combinations of both,” he explains.

After numerous rounds of development and testing, Horn and his team, including Learning Sciences doctoral student David Weintrop, are wrapping up data collection on a learning research study at the museum. Frog Pond will open to the public in early 2015.

Early research indicates that the extensive design process has helped Horn to meet his goal that the exhibit have the following characteristics:

  • Provide an enjoyable experience with computer programming
  • Be easy to learn
  • Support active prolonged engagement
  • Be consistent with the museum’s goals and encourage computer programming in other contexts

Horn works in a new branch of research called tangible computing to study human interaction with new forms of interactive technology for learning. His Tangible Interaction Learning and Design and Learning Lab (TIDAL) creates engaging learning experiences with emerging technologies in diverse settings including museums, schools and homes.

Previously Horn has designed exhibits for other museums across the United States. Most recently, the National Science Foundation funded Horn’s research to develop museum exhibits on evolution and the diversity of life on earth, using tabletop touchscreen technology. The resulting interactive visualization of the tree of life is on display at Chicago’s Field Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the University of Nebraska State Museum.

Horn is an assistant professor at Northwestern University with a joint appointment in Computer Science and the Learning Sciences program in the School of Education and Social Policy.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 11/13/14