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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
facilitated more novice students’ use of tools or their understanding of how all the pieces come together.
Students also learned important lessons just by being around others doing work. For example, one student said “You see work going on all around you. You see people making small, small mistakes, and you learn from that” (Rose, 2004, p. 76). The teacher also played an important role in the classroom. His assistance often came in the form of sharing tricks of the trade that he developed from years of experience. For example, when he noticed a student who was struggling to hammer a nail into a board, he explained that if the student moved his hand down on the tool he would produce more force. When the student made the adjustment, he was surprised at the different feel of swinging the hammer and that the hammer now seemed more powerful. Rose explains that such interactions not only lead to learning a physical skill, but also lead to an awareness of the connection between the work and such scientific principles as force, friction, and balance. There is, of course, a substantial difference between knowing where to hold a hammer to exert the most force on a nail head and mastering a scientific explanation of the same. However, as diSessa (1993) has argued, learners may quickly develop embodied knowledge or “phenomenological principles” through such experiences. Later the learner may relate these phenomenological principles to more abstract concepts (e.g., force, momentum, leverage).
The cultural and historical nature of learning relates not only to the accumulation of facts and concepts, but also to identity development. As Lave and Wenger (1991) explain, “Learning involves the construction of identities. … [It is] an evolving form of membership” (p. 53). “Our identities are rich and complex because they are produced within the rich and complex set of relations of practice” (Wenger, 1998, p. 162). When speaking about identity, people often first consider such demographic characteristics as age, gender, socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity. Although these factors no doubt have the potential to influence people’s attitudes and behavior, as well as the ways in which others may treat them in society, Fienberg and Leinhardt (2002) suggest: “Another conception of identity is that it includes the kinds of knowledge and patterns of experience people have that are relevant to a particular activity. This second view treats identity as part of a social context, where prominence of any given feature varies, depending on which aspects of the social context are most salient at a given time” (p. 168).
This discussion of learning as a cultural process illustrates that how learning occurs and what is learned are influenced by personal and contextual factors from early childhood through adulthood. Applying a sociocultural perspective to the different modes of learning and valued knowledge across and within cultures can move the discussion from one based on a deficit model to one that recognizes and values the contributions of a wide variety of cultural groups.