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February 28, 2013

New IBM THINK exhibition at Epcot is difficult for young kids to understand or appreciate

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IBM put a lot of thought into creating its new THINK exhibition in Innoventions West at Epcot. Unfortunately, the company thought more about presenting information than it did about entertaining young guests.

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On approach, THINK is inviting with all the colorful digital screens and even a theater in the round. But I have to agree with Jack's review when he said that, for the most part, kids younger than 16 will be bored. That certainly was the case with my children, who are 8 and 10 years old.

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My kids -- like most their age who have grown up surrounded by technology that they use on a daily basis -- ran up to the 7-foot monitors, ready to play whatever game was offered. One of many cast members offered to explain a giant panel and help my son and daughter get started. These huge screens are not games, rather sources of layered information that is revealed by tapping and swiping on various elements. In this case, though, the technology is not engaging enough to override what felt like a school lesson; uncovering the information did not require any new or exciting method and the material was presented in a straightforward manner that is better suited to adult learning styles.

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What did capture my children's interest is what IBM calls its "gesture wall," a wall blanketed by digital screens that change images according to guests' movement. It seemed to offer fun for the guests of all ages who walked or ran the length of the wall, creating visual changes on the screens.

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IBM also has installed simple touchscreen games that are based on the company's inventions. Guests try to move so-called Icons of Progress on the screen to form a timeline of sorts of IBM's technological progress in the last 100 years. If you're successful, your reward is one of 10 collectible buttons. Earning a prize, no matter how small, is fun for kids. Plus, participants can opt to have their photos taken and put on an electronic postcard that can be sent to two people.

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IBM's message in its new THINK exhibition, which replaces SmarterPlanet, is that progress by the human race has been led by human thought. Sure, it's not very original nor profound, yet it is important and it could be made entertaining. After all, just consider what Siemens, Liberty Mutual, Raytheon and others have done with informational demonstrations at Epcot.

The exhibition's 10-minute film, which runs continuously, offers the talking points of seeing, mapping, understanding, believing and acting, which are themes throughout the exhibition. But they are far too complex for young children to grasp. By the end of the presentation, my daughter had asked me multiple times to explain what the film was about.

To borrow a line from Jack, IBM's THINK is "heavy on information and light on entertainment." Unfortunately, even for adults, this makes absorbing what could be interesting information difficult -- especially when guests are in a theme park where they expect to be entertained and engaged, even while learning.

For older students, perhaps the most valuable components to the THINK exhibition are the companion iOS and Android apps that were released last week as part of last week's National Engineers Week. The apps were designed for middle-school and high-school classes and offer free science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) lesson plans on TeachersTryScience.org.

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About IBM's THINK

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in the IBM's THINK category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

National Engineers Week is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.