The exhibition occupies roughly 1,000 sq m and covers a combination of science, impact, and mitigation – the approach advocated by the International Panel on Climate Change and reflected in the structure of its working groups. The exhibition covers a lot of ground, including measurement of environmental variables, population growth, the greenhouse effect, recycling, changes in weather patterns, eco-friendly buildings, CO2, alternative energy, energy-saving appliances, and much more. The exhibition comprises a series of text and graphic panels, with a computer challenge and a few push-button demonstrations. The science shown is relatively well established, and the panels are in both German and English.
As described by the staff members involved in the development of the exhibition, the exhibition is encyclopedic. By covering a wide variety of topics in great depth, I observed that many visitors seem overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information displayed. It took me nearly an hour to read and absorb about ¼ of the exhibition. I saw many family visitors browsing for a few minutes and moving on to another gallery.
School groups in Germany study the environment in detail starting in the 7th grade. Schools can sign up for a guided program lasting 90 to 120 minutes, which typically includes 45 minutes of presentation (educator talking, children sitting on the floor in the gallery) followed by 45 minutes or so with groups of 4-5 students using the exhibition text to answer questions listed on a worksheet. At the end, students report out to the group so that in principle, everyone gets to hear answers to all questions.
Students at this age are naturally somewhat reticent to report out to their peers, so that the instructor often completes the answers so all students can hear them fully. A role-play post-visit activity is available for teachers wanting to follow up their visit with more depth. This program is fairly new, and about 900 students have done the program since the beginning of 2007.
By the time students have been thru the scientific basis and the impacts sections of the presentation, there is often not enough time or enthusiasm left for the final step, i.e. what actions can a person take to reduce their impact on global warming. Staff find that it’s a difficult topic for many students to get engaged in.
- To provide the scientific foundation for global warming, it takes a lot of words.
- Many people are reluctant to engage, where the message is not particularly positive.
- It is not a simple task to generate hands-on exhibits that help visitors to engage in the topic.