Gallagher and Hogan (2000, p. 108) suggest that “examining science-learning experiences that expand the boundaries of typical schooling gives new meaning to the term systemic educational reform when ‘the system’ embraces the community at large … [and] encourage[s] others to create, implement and systematically study models of intergenerational and community-based science education.… Such inquiries have potential to provoke new thinking that could expand our field’s basic conceptions of what it means to learn and practice science.”


There is no cultureless or neutral perspective on learning or on science—no more than a photograph or painting could be without perspective. Science is a sociocultural activity; its practices and epistemological assumptions reflect the culture, cultural practices, and cultural values of its scientists. Diversity in the pool of scientists and science educators is critical. It will benefit science by providing new perspectives in research, and it will benefit science education by providing a better understanding of science. Informal environments for science learning are themselves embedded in cultural assumptions. People from nondominant cultural groups may tend to see these institutions as being owned and operated by the dominant cultural group. Furthermore, science may be broadly construed as an enterprise of the elite.

Informal institutions concerned with science learning are making efforts to address inequity and encourage the participation of diverse communities. However, these efforts typically stop short of more fundamental and necessary changes to the organization of content and experiences to better serve diverse communities. Much more attention needs to be paid to the ways in which culture shapes knowledge, orientations, and perspectives. A deeper understanding is needed of the relations among cultural practices in families, practices preferred in informal settings for learning, and the cultural practices associated with science. The conceptions of what counts as science need to be examined and broadened in order to identify the strengths that those from nondominant groups bring to the field.

We highlight two promising insights into how to better support science learning among people from nondominant backgrounds. First, informal environments for learning should be developed and implemented with the interests and concerns of community and cultural groups in mind: Project goals should be mutually determined by educators and the communities and cultural groups they serve. Second, the cultural variability of social structures should be reflected in educational design. For example, developing peer networks may be particularly important to foster sustained participation of nondominant groups. Designed spaces that serve families should include consideration of visits by extended families.

More generally, environments should be developed in ways that expressly

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement