Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose

The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose

We visited the Tech Museum in San Jose in early January when most schools were still on winter break, yet not all were. So there were still some school groups there during our visit.

I have very mixed feelings about the Tech. We primarily went to see the special Myth Busters exhibit before it ended. I don’t want to go into a review of that too much since it is now ended (but it was wonderful!) but the Tech does offer other special exhibits for limited amounts of time. It’s worth it to check out their website to see what special shows they have going, and what others might be coming up so that you can plan your trip for something that would be of the most interest to your family. The downside is that the special exhibits have an additional charge above the general admissions cost. We were lucky enough to go as part of a group, which offered us a wonderfully discounted rate for both the special exhibit and the rest of the museum.  If you think you can get a group together, it would be a significant savings to everyone.

Also, for homeschoolers, or other groups, the Tech offers many workshops and classes at good rates, and I believe these also include admission to the museum as well. I have not attended such a class, but I have heard from friends that the ones they attended were fun and successful.

Aside from the Myth Busters exhibit, I found myself a little disappointed in the rest of the museum. There were certainly lots of interesting and hands on things to see and do, but I often felt like there was little to no explanation of the science involved. Those exhibits that did have useful signs explaining the science were not explanations that were accessible to children.

However, the very few exhibits that had a docent or museum volunteer stationed with it were wonderful. They were very accessible. They wouldn’t wait only for questions, but would jump in to demonstrate or ask questions to the children to encourage them to try different things. Those exhibits are the only ones that I felt my kids walked away from having learned something, instead of just playing with pretty lights that they didn’t understand.

One interesting feature that I don’t think we used to its best benefit is a ticket tracking program. Each entry ticket has a bar code that can be scanned at numerous (almost all) exhibits throughout the museum. Some just take a photo of you at the exhibit. Not a great photo, sort of a security camera grainy photo, but still neat. Some record your activity for that project. Then you can use the number on your ticket to access online all the things you recorded during your visit. Pretty darn cool.

A personal pet peeve of mine was partly to blame with my lack of enjoyment, and that’s poorly supervised school groups. There were enough of these kids all over the place to really make it difficult to enjoy each exhibit. It was not unusual for my youngest to be pushed (or edged) off a station she was working at, or for kids to shove ahead of us as we waited for a turn at something. Enough that I had to scold other’s children more than once as they were rude of mean to my small child as their chaperone stood on watching.  A friend told me that they have enjoyed the museum more when they go in the later afternoon instead of right at opening, because the school groups are starting to leave by that time of day. I think if we ever return, we will go on a weekend or in the afternoon as well.

If you plan to be at the museum at lunch time, I strongly recommend bringing a packed lunch, or preparing to leave to eat at on outside restaurant. The in house restaurant was packed with long lines and no seating at lunch time so that we ended up leaving all together when we were too hungry to keep exploring. The website says they don’t allow food in the exhibits, but I believe as long as you keep your food packed away, and only eat in the eating area (or outside if you can’t find a spot to sit) all should be fine.

Despite all the little annoyances that pushed my personal buttons, my kids had a fabulous time at The Tech, and have asked many times since to go back. I am certainly happy we went, and loved the Myth Buster exhibit, but I know when we make another trip down to San Jose, there are some things I’ll do differently.

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