Programs for science learning are offered through informal learning institutions, schools, community-based organizations, and private companies. As discussed in Chapter 6, there is mounting evidence that such experiences can stimulate and enhance the science-specific interests of adults and children. There is also some evidence that participation in informal programs for science learning, such as those involving networks of science volunteers in data collection (e.g., citizen science programs for tracking migrations, environmental monitoring and clean-up), can promote informed civic engagement on science-related issues, such as local environmental concerns and policies.
Science is also receiving more emphasis in out-of-school-time programs (clubs, after-school and summer programs, scouts) as part of an increased focus on academic subjects for school-age learners during nonschool hours (see Conclusion 12). With increased public and private funding, existing programs are adopting a science focus, and new science initiatives are being developed. In our review of this literature in Chapter 6, we found that the current evidence base of science-specific learning in these programs is limited to data from individual program evaluations. These studies suggest that science programs can make important contributions to students’ understanding of scientific and mathematical concepts, their ability to think scientifically, and their use of scientific language and tools. They also can be effective in improving students’ attitudes toward science and toward themselves as science learners.
Conclusion 3: Learning science in informal environments involves developing positive science-related attitudes, emotions, and identities; learning science practices; appreciating the social and historical context of science; and cognition. Informal environments can be particularly important for developing and validating learners’ positive science-specific interests, skills, emotions, and identities.
The committee outlined six strands of science learning that encompass a broad, interrelated network of knowledge and capabilities that learners can develop in these environments. In Chapters 4, 5, and 6 we use the strands to organize our review of the literature in order to illustrate the ways in which research supports these particular learning outcomes. The strands are statements about what learners do when they learn science, reflecting the practical as well as the more abstract, conceptual, and reflective aspects of science learning. Learners in informal environments:
Strand 1: Experience excitement, interest, and motivation to learn about phenomena in the natural and physical world.