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Designing for Productive Struggle in Informal Science Learning

Productive struggle at work in Partners in Motion exhibit

Project title
Developing Guidelines for Designing Challenging and Rewarding Interactive Science Exhibits ("Productive Struggle”)

Project Description

The Museum of Science, Boston, in collaboration with EdTogether, the University of Rochester, and CAST, are conducting a three-year Research in Service to Practice project, called Developing Guidelines for Designing Challenging and Rewarding Interactive Science Exhibits, to explore how informal science learning (ISL) experiences can support visitors' engagement in "productive struggle” — learning challenges that are exhilarating, challenging, intensive, and fruitful. 

This project will systematically create:

  • an empirically-tested theoretical model for productive struggle in ISL environments
  • a refined set of 4 exhibits designed to elicit and support productive struggle
  • a refined and tested set of design guidelines and strategies: Designing for Inclusive and lmpactful Productive Struggle

This project will deepen the value and impact of museums for a broad range of visitors by expanding the definition of what makes for an inclusive and effective ISL experience. By describing and investigating productive struggle and the exhibit designs that elicit and support it for a diverse range of visitors, and then developing design guidelines and approaches through a research-practice collaboration, this project will give rise to a rich and generative new set of tools and goals for ISL design.




National Science Foundation


Museum of Science
University of Rochester

Principal Investigators 

Christine Reich, Museum of Science (PI)
Elizabeth Kunz Kollmann, Museum of Science (Co-PI)
Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann, EdTogether (Co-PI)
Samantha Dali, University of Rochester (Co-Investigator)
Jose Blackorby, CAST (Co-PI)


Kim Ducharme
Kevin Kent