everyday SCIENCE Listening to Conversations at the Frogs Exhibition

When Exploratorium staff members set out to develop and design the Frogs exhibition, they had multiple goals. They wanted to create something beautiful, intriguing, and informative for their diverse audience while also presenting scientific information and engendering respect and appreciation for the animals.

To realize these goals, the exhibition turned out to be quite extensive. It included an introductory area that explained the development of frogs and toads, a section on eating (and being eaten), frog and toad calls, amphibian anatomy, a close-up observation area, a section showing adaptations, a section discussing the declining status of frogs worldwide, and a section on frog locomotion.

In order to explore these varied topics, the final exhibition included an unusually diverse range of exhibit types. Among the offerings were interactive exhibits (10); terrariums of live frogs and toads (23); cases of cultural artifacts (5); samples of maps, excerpts from children’s books, and examples of frog folklore (18); cases of organic materials (3); videos of frogs (3); windows to the Frog Lab, where frogs could rest and breed (2); and an immersion experience of sitting on a “back porch” at night listening to the calls of frogs.

In trying to understand the kinds of conversations people (groups of two were selected for the study) engaged in at the exhibition and what they revealed about learning, a coding system was developed that distinguished five overall categories for talk: perceptual, conceptual, connecting, strategic, and affective.

Perceptual Talk

Allen coined the term “perceptual talk” to describe the process of identifying and sharing what is significant in a complex environment. She defined four subcategories that describe the process of sharing one’s immediate experience in more detail:

  • Identification of something to attend to without using a formal name, reflected in such comments as, “Oh, look at this guy,” and “There’s a tube.”

  • Naming something to attend to, such as an object or an interesting part of the exhibit: “Oh, it’s a Golden Frog.”

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