museums&MORE Winter 2020
Explore and Learn By Debbie Eisele

Museum of Discovery and Science provides an interactive approach that engages and educates

Museum of Discovery and Science (MODS) was originally founded as the Discovery Center in 1976, yet has maintained its hands-on learning approach. In 1992, MODS opened in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in a very bustling region focused on arts and culture. Since opening its doors in Ft. Lauderdale, the museum has seen over 10 million visitors.

Museum of Discovery Science Gift Shop
The 1, 700 square foot Explore Store at Museum of Discovery Science sells educational toys, souvenirs, science kits, and more.

Joseph P. Cox, president and CEO of MODS, and Eric Bloom, food and service manager and store manager for Explore Store, detailed the amazing museum, store and amenities at MODS. “With 150,000 square feet of exhibit space on two floors, MODS is home to more than 30 dynamic, interactive exhibits, the 300-seat AutoNation IMAX Theater, an open-air Grand Atrium featuring the Great Gravity Clock, and a physics-focused Science Park outdoors,” Cox and Bloom noted.

Each year, the museum hosts over 400,000 visitors and is the primary destination for school field trips in Broward County, Cox noted. “MODS’ programming is rooted in four major content pillars: Physical Sciences with an emphasis on aviation; Health; Environmental Science; and Early Childhood,” Cox shared. “The ability of MODS to entertain and educate children and adults through immersive exhibits, engaging educational programming and films, and a live animal collection adds immeasurably to the region’s educational resources.”

Museum of Discovery Science Explore Store
Staff at the gift shop are on-hand to assist customers with shopping needs and to create a positive in-store experience.

Only a small number of science museums in the country have a designated STEM Center (science, technology and math) with designated educators on staff. “Promoting critical thinking, developing problem solving skills and encouraging risk-taking are at the heart of all STEM-based programming at MODS, while fun is the byproduct,” Cox elaborated. “The award-winning APP-titude internship program exposes high school students to careers in computer science and engineering while they earn college credit and community service hours.”

The museum underscores its Open Doors program, which allows free or reduced admission for those with disparities in education, social and economic status. “MODS is a place where diversity is celebrated, and inclusivity is embedded,” Cox said. “We are also proud to offer resources and accommodations that make the experience for visitors with special needs both manageable and enjoyable.

MODS also has been fully accredited by the American Association of Museums (AAM) for the last 30+ years. “Less than 3% of museums in the country are awarded that designation,” Cox emphasized. Additionally, the museum is a member of the Association of Science-Technology Centers and Association of Children’s Museums.

Gift Shop

The 1,700 square foot Explore Store is open during museum hours and it sells educational toys, souvenirs, science kits, Keva planks, model kits, t-shirts, books, puzzles, gemstones and jewelry. Explore Store employs five part-time employees and two managers and it is a member of the Museum Store Association (MSA).

Merchandise display at Museum of Discovery Science

Best-sellers at Explore Store include freeze-dried Astronaut Ice Cream. Additionally, building structure merchandise, such as Keva planks is a popular, fun and challenging product. Plush animals that are featured in the live animal collection are also available in the store. One of the more notable plush products is the otter, that can be seen live in action in the museum’s Otters at Play exhibit.

Otter merchandise at MODS
Otter plush toys are very popular and visitors are able to enjoy some of these adorable creatures in its live Otters at Play exhibit.

“The Explore Store is full of merchandise that inspires the imagination and reinforces the experience of the Museum itself,” Bloom said. This gift store offers new and unique items and the managers continuously research offerings to create an ideal blend of merchandise that consumers enjoy.

Permanent Exhibits

A popular exhibit at MODS is the To Fly Aviation Exhibit Hall, which offers more than 8,000 square feet and is one of the biggest exhibits in the museum. The exhibit is sponsored by the Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust and showcases The Leighton Family Hangar. This aviation-themed makerspace is high-tech and “fosters collaboration and the development of new skills.” In addition Inspiration Takes Flight is a 7D film that combines 3D imagery and sensory experiences and interaction in the form of water spray, bubbles, mist and motion.

“The EcoDiscovery Center, which offers a peek into the Florida environment through a lens of environmental stewardship, houses the simulator ride Everglades Airboat Adventure as well as Prehistoric Florida, featuring a life-size Megalodon,” Cox shared.

This exhibit also features Otters at Play, which is a two-story, habitat — complete with indoor and outdoor space, a swimming pool and a waterfall. This exhibit has been one of the most popular exhibits at MODS. “The adorable North American river otters live in a two-story, indoor/outdoor habitat. Visitors love to watch them play and swim underwater on the first floor or from the second floor above,” Cox shared. “As they are being entertained by these semi-aquatic mammals, guests learn about their ecosystem, the challenges they face from human encroachment, and how they are cared for at MODS.”

The Keller Science Theater is another permanent exhibit at the museums, which provides science demonstrations and interactive augmented reality programs.

Temporary Exhibits

MODS also offers a variety of temporary exhibits, such as the Attack of the Bloodsuckers! This traveling exhibit explores the science of the what, why, when and how of mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, leeches and other parasites. “This hands-on exhibit is an opportunity to get up-close and personal with a variety of blood-feeding parasites, to learn why bloodsuckers are important to the ecosystem and why they bite!” Cox said.

Another hands-on exhibit all visitors enjoy is Turtle Travels. “In addition to learning the history of turtles and tortoises, visitors can try on shells, migrate on a gigantic board game, and experience ‘turtle vision’ at various interactive stations,” Cox explained.

A new temporary exhibit, Expedition: Dinosaur!, offers animatronic dinosaurs, replicas and artifacts that make the exhibit feel alive and provides an interactive educational experience. “Visitors will learn about a wide variety of dinosaur species and the adaptations that allowed them to survive and interactive displays,” Cox said.

In June, MODS will launch its Wild Kratts: Creature Power! Exhibit that showcases the children’s television series. Visitors can expect to be immersed in animal habitats, discover powers and “go on a mission to foil the villains’ nefarious plans by using the powers of science.”

MODS hosts nationally recognized temporary exhibits annually and the cost for these are included with Museum admission.

Explore Store at Museum of Discovery Science

Its STEM-focus programs and distinctive accreditation from AAM sets this museum apart. “MODS believes as much in cultivating a love for science and experiential learning in preschoolers as it does in developing the local workforce and, therefore, offers an impressive variety of live shows and hands-on labs, award-winning educational documentary films and Makerspace workshops tailored to every age and designed to enhance the visitor experience,” Cox said.

Positive Impact

“Since he took the helm at MODS, Mr. Cox has proven that he is passionate about building and furthering collaborative relationships. He relies on strong community partners and supporters and nurtures those relationships,” Eric Bloom said.

“He has leveraged his wide-ranging experience at other museums – a brand new institution on the west coast of Florida and a nearly 200- year institution in Massachusetts – to encourage actionable ideas and champion innovation,” Bloom explained.

Team of employees at Museum of Discovery Science
The retail team at Museum of Discovery Science

Cox has enabled MODS to push into the forefront of what is happening in museums and has incorporated the Makerspace and has introduced a “groundbreaking spatial technology in partnership with Magic Leap that customizes visitors’ experience.” Ultimately the museum provides unique Interactive programs that not only help children develop necessary skills needed in STEM careers, but it also provides opportunity for the local workforce with its educational efforts.

“Another seminal shift since Mr. Cox came on board are the access and inclusion initiatives that reflect both the diverse population of the area and the concept that ALL are welcome to explore, engage and be inspired at MODS,” Bloom said.

Debbie Eisele

Debbie Eisele is the former managing editor for Gift Shop Plus, Stationery Trends and a variety of special issue publications, including: The Guide, Holiday Shop, Celebrations & Occasions and Waterfront Living.

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