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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
They then studied how these contributed to overall learning, defined as a combination of holding time and frequency with which visitors mentioned the exhibition’s intended themes during an interview after their visit. While their measure of learning is unorthodox, they found that it was slightly higher for visitors who had higher levels of interpretation while in the exhibition space.
The nature of participant explanation and commentary observed in designed settings varies according to many factors, including gender(Crowley, Callanan, Tenenbaum, and Allen, 2001a), age of the children (Gleason and Schauble, 1999), educational approach or goal (Schauble et al., 2002; Ellenbogen, 2002), available resources, and the skill and background of the leader and of the participants as well as situational demands (e.g., summer camp versus school group field trip). Gelman, Massey, and McManus (1991), for example, found it very difficult to design a stand-alone exhibit that promoted scientific observations and experimenting, as did Schauble and Bartlett (1997).
Much of the research on language use has focused on interactions in family groups in museums and science centers. This work dates back over two decades (e.g., Hensel, 1987; McManus, 1987; Taylor, 1986) and is largely comprised of detailed descriptive studies characterizing how adults and children behave and talk while visiting aquariums, museums, and the like. A common emphasis of this work is parent-child interactions.
One critical finding in this literature is that the participation of a parent improves the quality of child engagement with exhibits. For example, Crowley and colleagues (2001a) observed 91 families with children ages 4-8 as they interacted with a zoetrope exhibit in the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose, California. They found that children who participated with their parents discussed evidence over longer periods of time and in a more focused manner than children who participated without their parents. Parents, they observed, played an important role in helping children select appropriate evidence and identify it as such. When using interactive exhibits with their children, parents tend to focus their explanations on the functions and mechanics of the exhibit, connecting the exhibit with real phenomena, and making connections to formal science ideas (Crowley and Callanan, 1998). Such explanations are often brief and fragmented—Crowley and Galco (2001) call them “explanatoids”—but they seem well targeted to a moment of authentic, collaborative parent-child activity. When parents explain a feature in an exhibit, children are more likely to talk about their experiences with the exhibit. Similarly, as previously noted, Gleason and Schauble (1999) found the educational potential of exhibits in a science gallery depended on mediation by parents. Parents tended to assume the most difficult concep-