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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
versus intrinsic biological properties also increases with age and decreases with population density. In short, sensitivity to ecological relations appears to vary as a function of culture and geography.
Studies conducted in Poland also suggest that environment matters. Using a category-based induction task patterned after Ross et al. (2003), Tarlowski (2006) found that urban 4- to 5-year-olds generalized in a broad, relatively undifferentiated manner from a human, nonhuman mammal, and insect base, whereas rural children generalized as a function of biological (taxonomic) similarity and showed no evidence for anthropocentrism. Tarlowski added an interesting twist to his studies with the variable of whether the child had a parent who was a biological expert. The findings associated having an expert parent with greater differentiation of generalization to biological versus nonbiological kinds. In general, the effects of “rural versus urban” and “expert versus layperson” parents appeared to be additive.
Overall, these studies tend to associate children’s exposure to a rural rather than an urban environment with reduced anthropocentrism and greater sensitivity to ecological relations. Having a parent with expertise in biology also apparently helps young children display a more mature understanding of biology. This research also calls into question the current practice of treating urban, middle-class children as the gold standard for claims about cognitive development in science learning in general—and science learning in informal environments in particular.
SCIENCE LEARNING IN INFORMALSETTINGS FOR DIVERSE POPULATIONS
Ownership and Outreach
As we have argued, informal settings for science learning are themselves embedded in cultural assumptions that may tend to privilege the world view, discourse practices, and contextualizing elements of the dominant culture. People from nondominant cultural groups may tend to see these institutions as being owned and operated by this same group. Garibay (2006a, 2006b, 2007) identified a number of factors—particularly the lack of diverse staff, perceptions that content was not culturally relevant, and the unavailability of bilingual or multilingual resources—that resulted in second-generation Latinos feeling unwelcome in museums.
When museum staffs conceptualize efforts to broaden participation as “outreach,” they implicitly endorse this view of ownership. The term “outreach” implies that some communities are external to the institution. Collaboration, partnership, and diversity in power and “ownership” may provide greater opportunity for nondominant groups to see their own ways of sense-making reflected in informal settings, designed environments, and practices.