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Children’s Protagonism in a Science Exhibition: an Exploratory Study of an Exhibition in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)


Despite the fact that the majority of museum visitors are often very young children, much research in museums focuses on pre-teen learners (ages 8–12). Our goal in this study was to investigate the behaviors of children aged 5–8 during a visit to a science exhibition. We aim to develop a methodology to assess children’s levels of engagement with the interactive exhibits and how the participation of explainers (mediation) affected this engagement. Our working hypothesis was that different activities (and different kinds of mediation) would generate different levels of engagement. We recorded videos from 13 groups of 5- to 8-year-old children visiting “Aventuras pelo corpo humano,” an interactive exhibition about the human body. A large data set including thousands of excerpts of video-taped activity was analyzed using collaborative, online, qualitative data analysis software (Dedoose). The results suggest that the type of mediation overrides the design of the exhibition when it comes to children visitors’ experiences and that, despite their emphasis on promoting visitor engagement, explainer mediation strategies often represented deficit and banking models of teaching and learning, highlighting the importance of training for explainers that goes beyond content training and focuses on strategies of mediation that promote learner agency and protagonism. This study confirms previous empirical insights, which can help guide the design of future exhibitions as well as professional development of explainers and science communicators.

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This study is a partnership between House of Oswaldo Cruz/Oswaldo Cruz Foundation - Fiocruz (Brazil) and Oregon State University (USA), and linked to the Brazilian Institute of Public Communication of Science and Technology.


This study was supported by the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and the Carlos Chagas Filho Foundation for Supporting Research in the Rio de Janeiro State (Faperj). This material is also based upon work supported by the US National Science Foundation under Grant No. ESI 1114741.

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Correspondence to Luisa Massarani.

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The project was approved by the Fiocruz Ethics Committee. And every child included in the study had parental permission to participate.

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Massarani, L., Chagas, C., Rocha, L. et al. Children’s Protagonism in a Science Exhibition: an Exploratory Study of an Exhibition in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). Res Sci Educ 51, 1307–1324 (2021).

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  • Science museums
  • Science communication
  • Non-formal education
  • Public engagement in science
  • Protagonism
  • Agency