Family Learning Forum

A Project of the USS Constitution Museum

Layering Information

by USS Constitution Museum Team

  • Families are much more likely to be drawn to a text panel if there are graphics, artifacts and an interactive around it.
  • Be creative about layering text. Unconventional delivery methods can pay off.

There is more than one way to convey a theme

Labels are only one way to present information. Since the Museum's goal was to encourage family learning through engagement, interaction and conversation, we tried to employ various techniques so that visitors with different learning styles could access information in different ways.

For example, instead of relying solely on text we looked for hands-on opportunities for families to experience the daily life of a sailor, or ways to present information visually in a graph or chart. We reinforced themes through text, artifacts, graphics, charts, illustrations, props and interactives. We also tried to be creative about where we put text.

The exhibition team realized that we had a captive, though horizontal, audience in our popular hammock area so we added thematic text to the ceiling. We have observed many parents reading this text out loud to their children as they swing in the hammocks.

questions above hammocks

Text was added to the ceiling in the hammocks area of the exhibit

Do you get more than 4 hours of sleep at a time? Not if you are a sailor in 1812!

Can you nap in your hammock during the day? No, off-duty sailors have to curl up on the wooden deck.

Do you like to sleep on your stomach? A sailor’s life may not be for you.

We also put text on plates in our mess area where visitors sit on a piece of sail cloth on the “deck” and bond over salt pork, ship's biscuit, and grog. Text on plates sparks conversation among family members with questions such as:

mess plates with text

Mess plates with text

Top: “Salt beef again?”

Bottom: “While at sea, we eat the same foods day after day, whether we like it or not. How’d you like to eat the same food everyday?

In our final exhibit we are going to introduce “History Buff” flaps that contain another layer of information for those who are interested, such as the fact that women on board the British ship Guerriere helped pass powder during the battle, and the percentage of sailors who could sign their name.