Minnesota History: Building A Legacy

Cutting-Edge Exhibit for Tech-Savvy Students

Mock-up of Dakota tipi in the “Then Now Wow” testing area at the
Minnesota History Center.

Then Now Wow

When students step into “Then Now Wow” in late 2012, they will enter an exhibit like no other ever created. Our state’s rich history will spring to life while students, for the first time, will experience a twenty-first century field trip designed just for them.

“I think it’s going to revolutionize the field trip,” said Wendy Jones, Head of Museum and Education Programs at the Minnesota History Center.

Instead of being told to put away their handheld technology, students will use it as an integral part of the exhibit. Exhibit developers are now researching the best way for students to use a tool like a smart phone or an iPad to enhance the “Then Now Wow” experience (the exhibit's working title was "Our Minnesota").

Technology will also allow teachers to use elements of the exhibit before the field trip begins and after it ends. 

“We’re taking this step not just because it’s cool, but to take the best of what technology has to offer, so we can really promote learning for students,” said Kate Roberts, Senior Exhibit Developer at the Minnesota History Center.

With $2.5 million from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, the Minnesota History Center is creating “Then Now Wow” and also traveling exhibits to extend its reach to all corners of the state. The exhibit is being designed primarily for schoolchildren and incorporates the advice of dozens of teachers who participated in focus groups on the project.

While exhibits are always created with students in mind, Roberts said “Then Now Wow” will capture the attention of this new generation which learns in a whole new way.

Today’s schoolchildren have been dubbed “digital natives.” They have grown up using the internet, video games and cell phones. They prefer to learn in a social, collaborative way that encourages them to ask questions and think critically.

“How do today’s students think, how do they process information, how do they use the tools provided to them?” Roberts said. “We are so completely focused on that student audience.”

While some staff studies the best way to incorporate technology, others have already decided how the exhibit will be laid out.

Visitors to “Then Now Wow” will travel to three distinctive areas of our state.

  • The Prairie
    In 1873, newlyweds Gro and Ole Rollag left Norway for a new life in Rock County, MN. A replica of a sod house in “Then Now Wow” is based on their home.  Visitors will imagine a pioneer family huddling in the 12x16 foot space for an entire winter. Inside a full-scale tipi, visitors will encounter multimedia magic. Poet Bobby Wilson will deliver Dakota history in an engaging slam-poetry style.
  • The Forests
    Visitors will step into the shoes of a miner in the early 1900s. They’ll descend into an Iron Range mine, don headlamps and search for veins of ore. They’ll walk a path of stepping stones across the Mississippi River. They’ll become clerks and American Indians inside a fur post, each bartering for the best deal.
  • The Cities
    The story of the Twin Cities will be told aboard a streetcar “traveling” from the Capitol to downtown Minneapolis. At stops along the way, streetcar windows will open onto various historical scenes.  At University and Marion, the sound of a Tommy gun will introduce the story of a Dillinger gang member gunned down by St. Paul Police at that intersection in 1934.

“Then Now Wow” supports the state history standards and complements what students are learning in Northern Lights, Minnesota’s history textbook.

Students who visit “Then Now Wow” will begin their field trip long before they set foot inside the History Center. Exhibit staff are developing an online component students and teachers can use in the classroom to prepare for the exhibit. The mobile application being developed will allow students to download elements of “Then Now Wow” to bring home with them, extending the field trip long after it’s over.

“It's about how kids today like to learn instead of trying to force them into a mold that no longer exists,” Jones said.

See Project Details

This site is updated regularly with descriptions and data related to Legacy projects funded through the Minnesota Historical Society by the Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund (ACHF).
Further information about the use and impact of all Legacy Funds can be found on the Minnesota Legislative Coordinating Commission's Minnesota's Legacy site.