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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
barring individuals from nondominant groups, because their science-related practices may not be acknowledged (Lee and Fradd, 1998; Lemke, 1990; Moje, Collazo, Carillo, and Marx, 2001; Brown, 2006).
Recognizing that language use and discourse patterns may vary across culturally diverse groups, researchers point to the importance of recognizing the use of informal and native language, as well as culturally developed communication and interaction patterns in science education (e.g., Lee and Fradd, 1996; Warren et al., 2001; Moschkovich, 2002). Lee and Fradd (1996) noted distinct patterns of discourse (e.g., use of simultaneous or sequential speech) around science topics in groups of students from different backgrounds. As mentioned earlier, Rosebery, Warren, and Conant (1992) identified connections between Haitian Creole students’ skills in story-telling and argumentation and science inquiry, using those connections to support their learning of both the content and the practices of science. Hudicourt-Barnes (2001) demonstrated how bay odyans—the Haitian argumentative discussion style—can be a great resource for students as they practice science and scientific discourse.
Children’s experience with scientific thinking also varies a great deal, depending on a range of issues, such as culture, gender, and parents’ educational, financial, and occupational background. For example, Valle (2007) found that parents with college majors in engineering were more likely to discuss scientific evidence with their children in the context of conflicting claims (e.g., the relative advantages and disadvantages of food additives) than were parents with a background in the humanities.
The cultural nature of science described in this section illustrates the need to expand the perspective on what counts as scientific thinking and competence. Science education often tends to privilege certain ways of demonstrating understanding of a phenomenon or topic (Ballenger, 1997). Therefore it is often difficult for students of diverse backgrounds to reconcile their own discursive norms with the norms of scientific discourse typically presented in both formal and informal environments for learning. A potential consequence of this narrow view of science practices is that students may dis-identify with science, perceiving it as incompatible with their own cultural values (Lederman, Abd-El-Khalick, Bett, and Schwartz, 2002).
CULTURE AND SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE
Research exploring the access to and participation in science of specific groups is generally limited. However, there is an emergent research base related to science learning in informal environments for a small set of under-represented cultures. Here, we synthesize research on four groups and their experiences with learning science in informal environments. In this synthesis we illustrate common themes that underlie the experiences of individuals with varied cultural and historical backgrounds.