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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
learning identities over time as learners navigate informal environments and science in school.
The strands serve as an important resource from which to develop tools for practice and research. They should play a central role in refining assessments for evaluating science learning in informal environments.
There is a clear and strong commitment among researchers and practitioners to broadening participation in science learning. Efforts to improve inclusion of individuals from diverse groups are under way at all levels and include educators and designers, as well as learners themselves. However, it is also clear that laudable efforts for inclusion often fall short. Research has turned up several valuable insights into how to organize and compel broad, inclusive participation in science learning. The committee concludes:
Informal settings provide space for all learners to engage with ideas, bringing their prior knowledge and experience to bear.
Learners thrive in environments that acknowledge their needs and experiences, which vary across the life span. Increased memory capacity, reasoning, and metacognitive skills, which come with maturation, enable adult learners to explore science in new ways. Senior citizens retain many of these capabilities. Despite certain declines in sensory capabilities, such as hearing and vision, the cognitive capacity to reason, recall, and interpret events remains intact for most older adults.
Learning experiences should reflect a view of science as influenced by individual experience as well as social and historical contexts. They should highlight forms of participation in science that are also familiar to nonscientist learners—question asking, various modes of communication, drawing analogies, etc.
Adult caregivers, peers, teachers, facilitators, and mentors play a critical role in supporting science learning. The means they use to do this range from simple, discrete acts of assistance to long-term, sustained relationships, collaborations, and apprenticeships.
Partnerships between science-rich institutions and local communities show great promise for structuring inclusive science learning across settings, especially when partnerships are rooted in ongoing input from community partners that inform the entire process, beginning with setting goals.
Programs, especially during out-of-school time, afford a special opportunity to expand science learning experiences for millions of children. These programs, many of which are based in schools, are increasingly folding in disciplinary and subject matter content, but by means of informal education.