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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
children’s learning. In particular, they found that children of parents who read artifact labels aloud (in this case, for fossils) and helped children make connections to shared family history were better at identifying fossils after their museum visit.
Another form of specialized talk, of great interest in classrooms, is argumentation (National Research Council, 2007; Bell and Linn, 2000; Driver, Newton, and Osborne, 2000; Duschl and Osborne, 2002). While there is little research on science-specific modes of argumentation and discussion in informal environments, most observers agree that typical presentations of science in such institutions are built on everyday language in order to engage a general public. Studies of classroom-based science argumentation have found that such discourse generally requires extensive instruction and support, intentional development of shared norms, and long-term practices of reflection (National Research Council, 2007). Thus, even in the cases in which inquiry and scientific talk are encouraged in designed settings, it may be that the experiences are not extended enough to be internalized by the learner. And as noted previously, it also seems plausible that scientific argumentation can be perceived as threatening to the social interactions and leisure goals learners have for their visit. There is no immediate reward for challenging the conceptual structures of others in the group, especially in multigenerational groups in which power is unequally shared. Thus, it is not yet clear whether scientific argumentation can be incorporated into these settings without jeopardizing defining properties of informal environments.
There are documented examples of the use of scientific terminology and language on occasions when museum visitors read labels aloud (Crowley and Jacobs, 2002; Borun et al., 1996) and explain or comment on exhibit features to each other (Tunnicliffe, 1996; Ash, 2002). The time frames of such studies are generally too short to assess whether learners internalize such scientific terminology and use it in other settings. There has not been sufficient work analyzing participation in designed settings over months or years to explore how the use of scientific language might deepen over time in designed spaces.
Research on learning broadly employs varied notions of tools, which include not only conventional scientific tools (e.g., laboratory equipment), but also a broader range of representational tools, such as language, graphs, and mathematical formulas. This broader notion of tools is evident in the growing body of research on classrooms (National Research Council, 2007). However, there has been very little emphasis on tools in research on learning science in designed settings. Furthermore, how people are introduced to conventional scientific tools in informal environments has not been directly evaluated, but at least some programs involve participants in inquiries that