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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
go beyond communicating scientific language and ideas and require them to use lab equipment, research tools, and measurement tools. For example, in the Cell Lab Exhibition at the Science Museum of Minnesota, participants use a number of tools as they visit the exhibition and its seven wet lab experiment benches. Visitors have the opportunity to use a number of scientific instruments and tools, including microscopes, cameras, monitors, glass slides, test tubes, incubators, dry baths, and UV detectors (National Science Foundation, 2006).
Again, available resources, the skill and background of the leader and the participants, and situational demands are likely to determine the depth of contact and talk, rather than the design of the space or materials alone (Gelman et al., 1991; Gleason and Schauble, 1999; Schauble and Bartlett, 1997). Gleason and Schauble (1999) found that the educational potential of exhibits in a science gallery depended on the mediation, which may be particularly important the more individual exhibits or stations require participants to use scientific tools.
Social Group Influences
There is some evidence that use of scientific language may be influenced by gender (see Chapter 7). One body of work looks at the ways in which parents and facilitators interact with boys and girls. Several studies (Crowley et al., 2001a; Tenenbaum and Leaper, 1998; Tenenbaum, Snow, Roach, and Kurland, 2005) have found that parents engage in modes of discourse associated with higher cognitive demands at higher rates with boys, than with girls. Crowley and colleagues (2001b), for example, examined 298 naturally occurring conversations among parents and their children at interactive exhibits in a science museum. They observed interactions of families with boys and girls, girls only, and boys only and with one, two, or no parents present. They found that parents, both fathers and mothers, tend to provide causal explanations of phenomena to boys more frequently than to girls. Although families seemed not to make gender-based distinctions in bringing children to museums, engaging them in interactive science activities, talking about what exhibits do, or talking about what to perceive in an exhibit, they placed significantly greater emphasis on explaining science to boys. This subtle distinction could have consequences for girls’ science learning, raising concerns for parents and educators who design and facilitate learning in designed settings. In Alice’s Wonderland, an exhibit designed with a theme that parents would think of as interesting to girls, no gender differences in explanations were found, suggesting that modifications to exhibits could influence parents’ tendency to engage girls with science (Callanan et al., 2002).
Level of expertise is another factor that may shape group learning processes in designed settings. The varied expertise of group members can influence learning interactions. For example, an individual with a lot of infor-