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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
capable of engaging in science. Learning in this strand is the consequence of multiple science learning experiences across settings over significant time scales (i.e., weeks, months, years), reflecting multiple opportunities for learners to participate in science. It is important to note, however, that one’s identity as a science learner is also shaped by factors that may be external to or beyond experiences with science, such as social expectations and stereo-types. Informal environments have the potential to promote nondiscriminatory expectations for learners and nonstereotyped views of participant groups and their capabilities in science, to support identity development.
The strands may also facilitate developing shared enterprises between informal learning environments and schools. For example, there is currently extensive work being undertaken to develop and test learning progressions (National Research Council, 2007). A learning progression organizes science learning so that learners revisit important science concepts and practices over multiple years. Rooted in a few major scientific ideas (e.g., evolution, matter) and starting with children’s early capabilities, learning progressions increase in depth and complexity over the months and years of instruction. At each phase, learners draw on and develop relevant capabilities across the strands.
Although this is a relatively new and developing area of work, informal settings could play a complementary role in supporting learning progressions despite the episodic nature of informal learning experiences. For example, informal settings could be designed with the explicit intent of supporting learning progressions in a manner tightly aligned with K-12 science curriculum goals. Alternatively, informal environments could differentiate themselves from the K-12 agenda. If schools were to go “deep” with a commitment to a small number of learning progressions, this could invite informal settings to go “broad,” focusing on incorporating other scientific issues that may not be evident in learning progressions.
Conclusion 4: Members of cultural groups develop systematicknowledge of the natural world through participation in informallearning experiences and forms of exploration that are shapedby their cultural-historical backgrounds and the demands of particular environments and settings. Such knowledge and ways ofapproaching nature reflect a diversity of perspectives that shouldbe recognized in designing science learning experiences.
Although there are examples of culturally valued knowledge and practices being at odds with science (including spiritual and mystical thought, folk narratives, and various accounts of creation), a growing body of research documents that some knowledge and many skills developed in varied cultures and contexts serve as valid and consistent interpretations of the natural world