Mobile exhibits often offer the best of a museum experience in a less austere and more hands-on environment. Here art, poetry, and science come to the students -- and often come to life for the students -- in fancifully decorated transit buses or repurposed truck trailers that visit a school for a day or two.
Most of the programs featured here, which range from the literary to the scientific to the musical, will roll up to your school at no cost, though geographic limitations do apply. Call ahead to see when a mobile exhibit is passing through and what's needed for setup. And remember to make sure you're clear on what topics are included -- the Beat Museum presentation, for example, makes reference to gay activism and drug use.
More Than Meets the Ear:
The Culture Behind Music (Anthropology Program at Utah State University)
Installed by undergrad interns, this musical journey into foreign cultures teaches students about music making among native peoples of Uganda, Australia, and the Andes Mountains. Where to Catch a Ride: Salt Lake City area and as far north as Idaho. Where the Journey Leads: So, what do Ashlee Simpson and Nickelback say about our culture?
How long: Up to three weeks. Who: Grades 1-5. Cost: Free.
Corps of Discovery II: 200 Years to the Future
Offers regional activities under the Tent of Many Voices it pitches at each stop. Montana kids, for example, might watch an opera based on Scarface, a legend in the Blackfeet tribe. Where to Catch a Ride: Following the path of Lewis & Clark, it hits North Dakota in April, Montana in May, June, and July, and Idaho in August. Where the Journey Leads: If only the pioneers who followed the famed explorers paid as much homage to Native American cultures as this traveling exhibition does.
How long: One hour. Who: Grades 5-10. Cost: Free.Credit: Hugh D’Andrade
The Physics Van
Kids get to act as atoms in a demonstration of various states of matter; demos using basic materials illuminate how electricity and gravity work. Where to Catch a Ride: Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, area, but the van has taken its message of physics and fun as far as Colorado. Where the Journey Leads: "Cool! You mean if I drop this lead weight out the school window onto that van, it'll fall at the same rate as this . . .? D'oh!"
How long: Less than one hour. Who: Grades K-6. Cost: Free.Credit: Hugh D’Andrade
Museum Without Walls
Exhibits include "In the Pipeline," where students construct tunnels, mazes, and cages using PVC pipe and fabric panels. Where to Catch a Ride: Phoenix area. Where the Journey Leads: Far from initiating kids to the rat race, the PVC maze helps kids navigate math, language, and cooperation skills.
How long: Up to several days. Who: Grades preK-4. Cost: $50-$350 (grants are available for some schools).Credit: Hugh D’Andrade
The Beat Museum
Showcases Beat generation writers and artists like Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady and their "Bop Spontaneous Prose." Through video, stories, slide shows, and firsthand accounts, it describes the history that shaped the movement. Where to Catch a Ride: California in April, across to Massachusetts by September, and the Eastern states in October and November. Where the Journey Leads: It's only fitting that the movement that included Jack Kerouac would hit the road again to spread the word. Perhaps these dharma bums will plan a stop at a "Supermarket in California" along the way.
How long: 45-90 minutes. Who: Grades 9-12. Cost: $2,500 (apparently, the best minds of this generation can pay for the last one).