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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
have explicitly built cross-generational educational experiences in efforts to capitalize on this social configuration. These efforts merit replication and further study, including analysis of how science-rich institutions can collaborate with and serve community-based organizations and how these programs support and sustain participants’ engagement.
Conclusion 11: Parents, adult caregivers, peers, educators,facilitators, and mentors play critical roles in supporting sciencelearning.
Just as informal settings for learning vary tremendously, so do the practices in which facilitators, educators, and parents engage to support it. Even in everyday settings, facilitators can enhance learning. For example, a child’s cause-seeking “why” questions are an expression of an everyday, intense curiosity about the world. Parents, older peers, facilitators, and teachers can and often do support these natural expressions of curiosity and sense-making. Evidence indicates that the more they do, the greater the possibility that children will learn in these moments. Recognizing expressions of curiosity and sense-making supports and encourages learning as productive and signals this value to learners (e.g., by listening to learners, helping them inquire into and answer their own questions, and involving them in regular activities that place learners into contact with natural and designed phenomena and scientific concepts).
Their means of supporting learning range from simple, discrete acts of assistance to long-term, sustained relationships, collaborations, and apprenticeships. For example, just by interacting with children in everyday routine activities (e.g., preparing dinner, gardening, watching television, making health decisions), parents, caretakers, and educators are often helping them learn about science. In addition, family and social group activities often involve learning and the application of science as part of daily routines. For example, agricultural communities regularly analyze environmental conditions and botanical issues.
Even facilitators who are not experts in science (e.g., in after-school and community-based programs) can serve as intermediaries to informal science learning experiences. For example, the choice of pursuing a science badge in Girl Scouts may rest on the enthusiasm and assistance of a facilitating adult (see Chapter 5, “Doing and Seeing” and “Meaning-Making”).
Cognitive apprenticeships are a specialized form of informal science learning in which learners enter into relationships with more knowledgeable others who help them refine their science understanding and skill deliberately over sustained time periods. For example, seasoned science enthusiasts may