Family Learning Forum

A Project of the USS Constitution Museum

  • Ask a question
  • Promote conversation
  • Share an interesting anecdote with your visitors
  • Display light-sensitive documents
  • Provide additional information
  • Encourage active exploration of the exhibit
Mess Area - lift flap

Does this work? Are lift flaps interactive?

Our exhibit team has debated this question many times. We believe if the purpose of the lift flap is simply to provide additional text, without looking like another text panel, it is not accomplishing the goal of hands-on, minds-on interaction. If the content challenges visitors to answer a question, empathize with someone from the past (what would you do in this situation?) or think actively and make a comparison to their own daily lives (when do you feel scared?), then using a lift flap is ok. There is an element of trust with the visitor here. If exhibit developers invite you to lift a flap or slide a panel to find a response, the hidden information or object should be compelling and thought-provoking. If you betray that trust and just layer piles of more text below the flap, odds are visitors will stop using them.

What goes under the flap?

If you pose a question on the top, the answer statement lands inside. Can you also include a prompt to look for a related object close by? Sometimes we display small objects under the flap, such as a coin or a light-sensitive document secured under Plexiglas. An engaging image and question on the outside gives visitors incentive to lift the flap. The content inside must be brief (50 words or less) and should be thought-provoking, humorous, surprising or remarkable. It should not be boring.

Which visitors use lift flaps?

In one exhibition we inserted lift flaps for kids to enliven an otherwise traditional show. These were anecdotes that might be of interest to younger visitors. In a simple tracking study we discovered that many of our visitors (both small and tall) read ONLY the lift flaps in this exhibition. We rewrote the flaps to be sure that they conveyed the overall themes of the exhibit (instead of just interesting anecdotes), increase the number of flaps and reinstalled them with an eye toward serving a family audience. The ten 50 word lift flaps are the most likely text to be read in the exhibition.

Why should I use this technique?

Lift flaps are inexpensive to fabricate and offer another layer to the exhibit. They can carry a wide range of messages. Some carry their own theme: in one exhibition we included KNOT FACTS that addressed misconceptions as we sought to be clear about what is NOT TRUE.

Example: USS CONSTITUTION did NOT fight in the American Revolution – this is a common misconception since we are located on Boston’s Freedom Trail where every other site focuses on the events of 1776, but we discuss the War of 1812.

As mentioned above, we created one set of lift flaps specifically for children, then revised them to serve a multigenerational audience. Sometimes lift flaps add an additional layer of information, sometimes it highlights an interesting anecdote or they can even make visitors consider a different perspective. Another set of lift flaps seeks to build empathy with sailors of 1812 by looking at battle from an emotional perspective: anticipation, battle and aftermath. Sliding panels ask visitors: when have you been scared, or brave or sad.