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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
artifacts. For example, talking with expert scientists, teachers, and knowledgeable peers (Strand 5) can lead to greater knowledge of science. This land of learning can also take place when working with various objects, such as calculators, computers, and video clips.
Kozma’s viewpoint accounts for the social contexts in which media are used. An episode of a children’s television program can be used in multiple venues (e.g., classrooms, homes, after-school centers) for different purposes and lead to different learning outcomes. While some studies suggest that media formats have an impact on student learning, it is also worth considering if these studies have examined the possible effects of interactions with peers and the media objects.
Science as a Process
Recent reforms in science education have been concerned with bringing rigorous scientific content into classrooms as well as introducing learners to the practices of scientific inquiry (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1990; National Research Council, 1996, 2007). While traditional science learning is often thought of as acquiring concepts and terminology (Strand 1), inquiry reforms emphasize the need for students to perform tasks similar to those encountered in scientific practice (Strand 3): posing questions, generating and interpreting data, and developing conclusions based on their investigations (Linn, diSessa, Pea, and Songer, 1994). Developing deep understandings of science requires understanding the nature of scientific explanations, models, and theories as well as the practices used to generate these products (Strand 4). In other words, students should learn how to plan and conduct investigations of phenomena while also grounding these activities in specific theoretical frameworks related to particular scientific disciplines.
Despite these goals and recommendations, many science-related informal media focus on providing information about facts and phenomena. It may be easier to develop these types of programs than create materials that engage students in doing science. For example, science documentaries can present information about earthquakes and tsunamis, but the narrative flow of these programs might be compromised by including experiments for viewers to conduct. Furthermore, it would be difficult to know if viewers were actually performing these experiments in classrooms and homes.
As discussed above, few studies speak to the impact of science-related programs on the audience’s understanding of science. For example, Hall, Esty, and Fisch (1990) investigated the impact of a television program, Square One TV, on children’s problem-solving heuristics when working with complex mathematical problems. They found program viewers using more problem-solving actions and being more mathematically rigorous in post-test problems than nonviewers. Evaluations of Bill Nye the Science Guy