Health Museum Houston Review – Interactive Learning Done Right

Just about everyone remembers their first job. When you were in high school and realized that going to Taco Bell everyday for lunch is actually very expensive and gas is not cheap and you are not cute enough to ask a parent for any sort of allowance once you are working age, the job hunt truly began, and call it a blessing or a curse, but my first job was as a dance teacher, meaning several times a week, I would teach kids anywhere from ages 4 to 14 dance combinations that they would later perform in front of hundreds of people. While this might sound easy in theory (four months to prepare a two-minute dance seems almost trivially simple), I can assure that it is far from a breeze. It’s not uncommon to make great progress teaching a segment of a dance one rehearsal and the very next day have the students completely forget it. Regardless of the little songs and rhymes I created to help my students remember the combination of intricate steps, I never felt I succeeded in teaching the students even half as much as I intended. If I learned anything from my first job, it was that children learn best through interactivity, doing the dance themselves over and over again until it is their own (and also that teaching children just about anything is a challenge in itself and I have so much respect for my kindergarten teacher who had to deal with the little monster I was then). When it comes to learning outside of the classroom, most museums find themselves in a tricky situation to make content accessible for all ages and really teach its viewers something they will not simply forget the next day. The ultimate goal should be to make the viewer, regardless of age, truly understand, question, and yearn to learn more the content, and of all the museums I have had the pleasure of visiting, none have grasped and run with this idea of interactivity more than The Health Museum.

Interesting? Interactive? Just SEE for yourself (get it?).

Upon entering the museum’s grand hall, there were multiple little kiosks providing tiny brainteasers for visitors to attempt to solve. They ranged from creating a pattern of disks in a limited number of moves to solving brain teasing math problems with movable blocks. I visited the museum the same time as a summer camp’s field trip, and I can testify that there was not a single puzzle that was not swarmed with the most focused group of kids I have ever seen, all watching a single brave soul attempt to solve the puzzle before switching to the next person to give it the old college try. I later got an opportunity to try a few of the puzzles myself and quickly learned that just because they were made for kids does not make them easy in the slightest (the group of kids solving these earlier were obviously much, much smarter than me).

But it was hard to focus on puzzles when there was a giant heart just a few feet from me, waiting to be explored.

My first stop on my tour was the most memorable and arguably the most intriguing: the Amazing Body Gallery, a permanent exhibit in the museum. Everything here was interactive, and I mean it  – literally everything. From a giant beating heart that periodically showed the evolution of a heart attack, paired with emergency sirens and impressive lights, to a pair of bikes tethered together, one with a skeleton riding and another with yourself riding that enables you to see a visual representation of your joints and bones coming together during a simple bike ride, it was apparent that visitors could engage, learn, and understand regardless of whether they are a visual, auditory, or verbal learner. Learn how different sound volumes are measured by screaming into a soundproof room paired with a microphone, test your nose with an array of different smells to guess their origin, take a peek inside your brain with a cute depiction of the left and right brain in action, view your eye from the inside and the many different nerve endings and complex components, crawl in an intestine only to come out to a physical gauntlet that assess flexibility and physical fitness. Everything in this room was begging to be explored, and throughout my over one hour long visit, the room was consistently filled with laughing groups of visitors seeing who could jump the highest or bike the fastest (so I guess the kids here were not only incredibly smart, but also very physically fit – two things they now have over me).

For the record, I was definitely a contender for the fastest skeleton biker.

I unfortunately, visited on the tail-end of the BioRhythm exhibit’s life-span, an exhibit showing how different sounds affect and change the human body through variations of frequency and volume, now replaced with the brand new Body as a Work of Art exhibit, but I can only express my awe at the amount of detail and precision that went into explaining such complicated concepts to children in a very interesting, interactive, and understandable way. From my conversations with some of the museum staff, everyone was very excited to open the new exhibit, which focuses on the beautiful aesthetics and pieces to center around the unique qualities of the human body, whether that include a focus on rare genetic conditions at POSITIVE EXPOSURE, fascinating scars and medical conditions at Scar Stories, or abstract art depicting the beauty of the body at Reflections. While I have not attended yet, I have nothing but the utmost confidence that this exhibit will blow the entire family away and keep the conversations interesting and engaging for days following. If it is anything like the other exhibits carefully placed throughout the museum, then I have faith knowing it will be held and kept at such a high standard for educating viewers in the most enjoyable way possible.

Truly, truly interactive. A momento of me rocking some sweet amplifying headphones from the BioRhythms exhibit.

Teaching children anything might be one of the most complex and dangerous tasks ever created, and doing it correctly is nearly impossible, yet the Health Museum in Houston manages to succeed while keeping it interesting and engaging. It felt less like a museum and more like a playground to explore and learn from. Whether you want explore the human body, appreciate the art that comes from it, run microbial experiments and dissections in the DeBakey Cell Lab, or watch an interesting and relevant film at the McGovern Theater, you are sure to learn, engage, and explore regardless where you are.

Featured image courtesy of the Health Museum official website. All other photos were taken by me, Nathan Cooper Jones

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