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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
mation, even a child, may play an important role in facilitating the learning of others by pointing out critical elements or information and by providing input and structure for a more focused discussion of science (Moll, Amanti, Neff, and Gonzalez, 2005; Palmquist and Crowley, 2007). In a small study of an exhibition about glass, Fienberg and Leinhardt (2002) found that adults with high prior knowledge and interest in glass tended to engage in more explanatory talk (discussing how or why something happened or worked), than those with less prior knowledge or interest.
Vom Lehn, Heath, and Hindmarsh (2001) reported that visitors’ activities at an exhibit could be significantly affected by the behavior of other visitors, either companions or strangers. Meisner and colleagues (2007) showed that visitors sometimes turned their interactions with interactive exhibits into spontaneous performances with a theatrical flavor, which allowed them to be shared with other family members or even strangers. And Koran, Koran, and Foster (1988) documented that visitors can learn exhibit-related behavior from strangers, even without any conversation taking place. They found that museum visitors, especially adults, were more likely to engage in such behaviors as touching a manipulative exhibit, listening to headphones, or attending to an exhibit for an extended period if they had previously witnessed a person silently modeling these behaviors.
Strand 6: Identifying with the Scientific Enterprise
Informal environments for science learning, like all educational institutions, can be seen as places of enculturation (Bruner, 1996; Martin and Toon, 2005; Pearce, 1994). Enculturation is about developing identity as a part of a community, and informal settings include different environments that may influence people’s identities as science learners (Ivanova, 2003).
Personal identity, viewed as “the cluster of knowledge, dispositions, and activities brought with the visitor” (Leinhardt and Knutson, 2004, p. 50), highly influences museum visitors’ conversations (Fienberg and Leinhardt, 2002) and can shape learning experiences more broadly (Ellenbogen, Luke, and Dierking, 2004; Leinhardt and Gregg, 2002; Falk et al., 1998; Leinhardt, Tittle, and Knutson, 2002; Anderson, 2003; Anderson and Shimizu, 2007). For example, Falk, Heimlich, and Bronnenkant (2008) used the following categories to classify 1,555 visitors to a group of four zoos and aquariums:
Explorers are curiosity-driven and seek to learn more about whatever they might encounter at the institution.
Facilitators are focused primarily on enabling the experience and learning of others in their accompanying social group.
Professional/hobbyists feel a close tie between the institution’s content and their professional or hobbyist passions.