Experiences in Informal Science Learning Environments
Visitors to whyville.net, a large social networking site on the Internet targeted at teenagers, find their chat sessions interrupted by the unexpected appearance of the word “Achoo!” Over a few days, the virus spreads through the community. Using resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made available on the site, visitors learn to identify how the virus spreads and how to prevent further infection (Neulight, Kafai, Kao, Foley, and Galas, 2007).
A retired doctor and his wife travel several times a year, often with Elderhostel programs. During one trip, the program explores the history and culture of Montreal. On another trip, they learn to express themselves through art. Many of their trips involve the natural world: learning to conduct marine research in the Louisiana wetlands, observing elk in Colorado, and counting manatees in Florida (Hopp, 1998).
A teenager with a collection of stuffed elephants gathered since the age of one receives a calendar with pictures of elephants as a gift. Bored, the teen browses the Wikipedia page about elephants. Excited by what he reads, he recalls years before attending a lecture on elephants given by a local university researcher. He contacts the researcher and joins her research group as an unpaid intern, analyzing sound recordings of elephants in African jungles. When he applies to colleges, his interest has shifted from international politics to biology and conservation.
people and scientific organizations have argued that, to successfully navigate these issues, society will have to draw creatively on all available resources to improve science literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993; National Research Council, 1996).
Contrary to the pervasive idea that schools are responsible for addressing the scientific knowledge needs of society, the reality is that schools cannot act alone, and society must better understand and draw on the full range of science learning experiences to improve science education broadly. Schools serve a school-age population, whereas people of all ages need to understand science as they grapple with science-related issues in their everyday lives. It is also true that individuals spend as little as 9 percent of their lives in schools (Jackson, 1968; Sosniak, 2001). Furthermore, science in K-12 schools