New communication exhibit helps kids Get the Message

An exhibit at the Glazer museum shows kids how the world connects.
Kristen Morris and her daughters — Lucy, 9, and Charlotte, 3 — use one of the 15 hands-on stations. Tyler Tjomsland/tbt*
Kristen Morris and her daughters — Lucy, 9, and Charlotte, 3 — use one of the 15 hands-on stations.Tyler Tjomsland/tbt*
Published February 9 2012
Updated February 9 2012

It's hard to imagine — especially for young smartphone fanatics — that Morse code could be faster than text messaging.

But that's the conclusion of a new exhibit devoted to communication at the Glazer Children's Museum.

"Get the Message" has 15 hands-on stations for kids to explore different forms of communication, from totem poles to sign language.

The instant messaging station uses a video clip from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno pitting two guys text messaging against two guys using Morse code. Contrary to an audience member's prediction, the Morse code team is the first to convey the message: "I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance." The men in vintage news-editor uniforms cheer the 170-year-old technology.

"Get the Message" caters to children ages 5 and up — slightly older than the Clifford the Big Red Dog exhibit it replaced. It exposes visitors to the various ways we send and receive information and messages on a daily basis, starting with the simplest human facial expressions.

All stations are interactive and require basic reading skills to achieve the full effect. Kids can use hand signals to tell a crane operator how to move a load or sit at a TV anchor desk reading from a teleprompter.

Other stations let users create cave drawings and identify signature sounds on a touch screen, from an ambulance to an alarm clock. Visitors can also make a front page of a newspaper with their name and photo in the top story.

The exhibit, which is part of regular museum admission, opened Saturday and runs through May 6. It was developed by the Discovery Center Museum in Rockford, Ill., and the Family Museum in Bettendorf, Iowa, and sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Officials brought it to the Glazer museum to show how science and communication can connect in fun ways.