This particular portion had four ramps in a row, each with slightly different features, the closest one with a fantastic gap to be cleared (and an optional plastic shark to jump over or ram into).
As I was playing with my boys, we noticed that some cars made the jump consistently and others did not. Why would that be, I asked myself. Because some are heavier and will fall faster, I answered, and then very nearly walked on to the next exhibit.
Turns out, there's one little problem with this...
Once in the air, the cars will always fall at the same rate, no matter their weight. It's the faster cars, not the heavier ones, who will make the jump. My brain defaulted to the intuitive and wrong explanation of physics. I had to wonder, how many kids came to the wrong conclusion, and how many parents even explained it incorrectly to their kids, as I almost did? What was it that made me stop and recognize that I had fallen into the same misconception of gravity that I had as a child in my grandmother's basement?
It strikes me that this context—Hot Wheels cars racing down ramps—would be a great opportunity for a physics education intervention. Imagine, for example, a space where one would drop a heavy and light car at the same time and see which hits the ground first, and then tandem ramps where the same two could be raced.
I don't know if that would be an effective museum-based intervention for teaching physics or not, but it made me reflect on the misconceptions that people harbor toward computing. Whereas physics has almost thirty years of research on the Force Concept Inventory, we have nothing so well established in computer science. If we don't know what misconceptions people carry, it's hard to imagine designing interventions to overcome them!