Developing STEM Activities for the Museum of London


Sponsor: Museum of London MoL
Sponsor Liaison: Olivia Murphy
Student Team:

Colin Buckley

Sean Fraser

Tessa Garbely

Karina Naras

Abstract: Our team collaborated with the Museum of London to develop STEM-based activities for children and families. We reviewed published literature about family learning in museums and observed children’s programs at London museums, then designed, developed, and delivered two activities for the Easter half-term. Based on observations and participant feedback, we developed recommendations for the design and implementation of future activities. Finally, we presented the Museum of London with seven new activities based on their collections to educate children about aspects of STEM.



Executive Summary

The Museum of London is a history museum that tells the story of London from prehistory to modern times. Their mission is to educate and inspire every citizen and visitor of London from an early age. As part of the London Culture Mile, they are currently trying to incorporate opportunities for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education in addition to history.

The Museum of London asked our team to aid in the development of new STEM-based programs. The goal of this project was to develop, deliver, and review two STEM-based, family focused activities in order to provide recommendations for the development of future family activities, and to suggest potential STEM activities that the museum may use in the future. We divided this goal into four distinct objectives:

  1. To observe programs offered by museums, with special consideration for the Museum of London, and record evidence of the Generic Learning Outcomes
  2. To develop and deliver two family-oriented activities to educate children about topics within STEM
  3. To summarize observations of family engagement in the activities in order to make recommendations for the design and implementation of future family-oriented museum programs
  4. To develop a collection of potential future STEM activities which relate to existing exhibits and adhere to our recommendations for implementing effective activities

We began by observing interactive school sessions hosted by the Museum of London and other London museums. We observed that effective activity facilitators

  • Repeated important words and concepts
  • Incorporated physical motions
  • Asked scaffolded questions
  • Maintained an energetic, humorous, and positive attitude

Additionally, we interviewed Sandra Hedblad, the Senior Family Learning Manager at the Museum of London, and we attended the Early Years Conference, which focused on methods for engaging children under age five in museums.

We developed two STEM-based children’s activities: DeTECHtives, a scavenger hunt that guides participants to find examples of the six simple machines (pulley, screw, lever, wheel and axle, ramp, and wedge) throughout the galleries, and Think Like an Engineer, an interactive demonstration about how automated vehicles must be programmed to make decisions and how engineers must consider many factors when designing a machine. We prepared worksheets, observation sheets, comment cards, and sets of instructions called Volunteer Packs for facilitating the activities.

We delivered the activities for eight days during the half-term in the museum’s foyer. We recorded evidence of the five Generic Learning Outcomes: Knowledge and Understanding; Skills; Action, Behavior, and Progression; Enjoyment, Inspiration, and Creativity; and Attitudes and Values. We also collected participant feedback in the form of comment cards. Throughout the delivery period, we modified the activities based on written and verbal feedback as well as our own observations. For example, on the first day of delivery we found that children were more interested in other activities that had a more colorful presentation, so we made a colorful sign and put it in front of our activity station to catch families’ attention.

Both activities included a question-and-answer component. The DeTECHtives activity included an introduction to simple machines before the scavenger hunt, during which we encouraged children to play with simple machine toys and asked questions about the machines to help them understand their use. During Think Like an Engineer, we asked the children what a self-driving car would need to do, introducing them to the design process used by engineers. Asking a variety of questions helped children understand what engineers must do when developing new technology.

Throughout the activity delivery, we recorded evidence of the five Generic Learning Outcomes. While we noted evidence of all five outcomes for both activities, some outcomes were more prevalent than others. Knowledge and Understanding was the most commonly recorded learning outcome, while Action, Behavior, and Progression was the least commonly recorded. This was due to the activities’ design, as well as our data collection process.

Feedback on the open-ended portion of the comment cards was positive in 37 out of 50 cases. Participants complimented how engaging the activities were and how we interacted with the children. Some comment cards contained constructive criticism, the most common of which was that DeTECHtives was too difficult for children five and under. We incorporated this criticism into our activities by warning families with children five or younger that the activity may be too complex for the child to complete alone.

Based on our findings from the observation sheets and comment cards, we recommend that the Museum of London incorporate the following to create successful STEM activities:

  • Clear signage: The activity station should be colorful and well labeled to attract the attention of participants.
  • Charismatic attitude: The facilitator of the activity should be cheerful and enthusiastic in order to maintain the participant’s attention.
  • Age-appropriate variations: The activity should take into account younger children and include simpler elements for their benefit.
  • Efficient time management: Because the time spent with each participant is rather short, the facilitator needs to plan ahead in order to use that time efficiently.
  • Relatable topic: Relatable topics are always very important when working with children, particularly when STEM is involved.

We used these recommendations to create a set of ideas for potential STEM-based activities that the Museum of London may use in the future. Ideas included Here to There: Transportation through History, an exploration of how vehicles and their power sources have changed over time, and Augmented Reality Activity Trails, an incorporation of Augmented Reality into our DeTECHtives activity. For each activity, we made sample Volunteer Packs with background information, a description of the activity, intended learning outcomes, and considerations to make when delivering to different age groups.