I had never been to a museum before an eighth-grade school trip took me to the Narayanhiti Palace Museum. The experience of seeing the home of the previous royal family was novel to me. I was about 14 years old at the time, and now I’m 24. Though a decade has passed, I still clearly remember the rooms where the previous kings slept, where they dined, the exotic decorations and animals that were mounted on the walls, yet I don’t remember any of the textbooks I read at that age. Experiences are hard to forget; they teach us things subtly and effectively, but the textbooks we rote-learn are easily forgotten.
A lot of my work as a science instructor and coordinator at Book Bus now involves creating such novel experiences for students. During the past couple of months, the Book Bus team has collaborated with the Natural History Museum in Swoyambhu to create an immersive learning experience for student visitors of the museum. In this primary phase of a long-term collaboration, the Book Bus team has designed and put up three activities at the museum: Zoopur, where students, role-playing as scientists and explorers, retrieve information on the museum’s flora, fauna, insects and aves, solve puzzles, draw their animal of choice and stick them onto an interactive mural depicting a range of habitats; The Adventures of Curious Kiri, a student-led scavenger hunt through the museum to discover a variety of animals, the clues hidden into whimsical comic strips telling the story of thirsty Kiri the caterpillar; and The Magical Forest, a winding board game teaching food-chains in a fantastical wilderness.
These activities were designed to create museum-learning experiences for students that are fun and memorable. Students from different schools around the valley, when they visit the museum, have been trying out the activities and playing the games to learn habitats, scientific names, eating habits and the food chains that exist in a variety of ecosystems. These nuggets of scientific knowledge have been tucked away into the activities. For example, the scientific names of animals are hidden in away in the Zoopur cross-word puzzles for students to solve. In the same vein, characteristics of the different classes of animals are turned into little riddles for students to puzzle out in The Adventures of Curious Kiri. One such riddle goes like this:
“With legs no more, his body covered with scales
run he can’t, in swimming he never fails
ahead of the Reptiles Room, Chipley waits for you
He hides easily in water, seen only by few
Superpower: Wet and slippery, you need skills to catch Chipley.”
In teams of three, students then scramble through the museum to figure out who Chipley could be. Once they do, they draw Chipley into the comic strips, completing the mystery and introducing Kiri the caterpillar to a new friend, who might be able to help Kiri find water.
The Magical Forest board-game gives another spin to learning the food-chain, turning the relationship between predators and prey into the rules of the game, and the places they occupy as primary, secondary, and tertiary consumers on the food chain into excuses to win point-cards. Playing as either a pangolin, a barn owl, a rabbit, or a frog, students navigate the forest with a roll of the dice, escaping predators, hunting prey, and winning consumer cards based on which predator or prey they land on. Information on the transfer of energy through the food chain is also hidden away into the point-system: the Primary Consumer Cards awarding the largest sum of Sun Points, the Apex Predator Cards awarding the least sum of Muscle Points, and the Secondary Consumer Cards right in between.
Created based on the resources available to the Book Bus at the Natural History Museum, these activities would have been pale imitations of what they are now if we had developed them without collaborating with the Natural History Museum, not to mention the many curious and enthusiastic students who played these games and activities and gave us valuable insight into how they could be tweaked and revised so that they were even more exciting and informative. Not only the students, however, we encouraged teachers to engage in the activities, give us feedback, and find value in emulating such fun learning experiences in their classrooms.
Emulating activities such as these in the classroom by telling stories to teach science, creating games to help students visualize the rules of the wilderness, and incorporating art and creativity into science lessons creates memorable experiences for students. Collaborations on smaller scales among science, literature, and art teachers can develop integrative design lesson plans that are experiential and immersive, stimulating the students’ creativity in ways that the lesson stays with them throughout their educational journey.
Aakrit Shrestha is a science instructor with the Book Bus.