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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
as particular types of knowledge, skills, attitudes, feelings, and behaviors—can be clustered in a variety of ways, and many of them logically straddle two or more categories. For example, the degree to which someone shows persistence in scientific activity could be categorized in various ways, because this outcome depends on the interplay between multiple contextual and personal factors, including the skills, disposition, and knowledge the person brings to the environment. Similarly, studies focusing on motivation might emphasize affect or identity-related aspects of participation. In Chapter 2, we described the goals of science learning in terms of six interweaving conceptual strands. Here our formulation of the strands focuses on the science-related behaviors that people are able to engage in because of their participation in science learning activities and the ways in which researchers and evaluators have studied them.
Strand 1: Developing Interest in Science
Nature of the Outcome
Informal environments are often characterized by people’s excitement, interest, and motivation to engage in activities that promote learning about the natural and physical world. A common characteristic is that participants have a choice or a role in determining what is learned, when it is learned, and even how it is learned (Falk and Storksdieck, 2005). These environments are also designed to be safe and to allow exploration, supporting interactions with people and materials that arise from curiosity and are free of the performance demands that are characteristic of schools (Nasir, Rosebery, Warren, and Lee, 2006). Engagement in these environments creates the opportunity for learners to experience a range of positive feelings and to attend to and find meaning in relation to what they are learning (National Research Council, 2007).
Participation is often discussed in terms of interest, conceptualized as both the state of heightened affect for science and the predisposition to reengage with science (see Hidi and Renninger, 2006).3 Interest includes the excitement, wonder, and surprise that learners may experience and the knowledge and values that make the experience relevant and meaningful. Recent research on the relationship between affect and learning shows that the emotions associated with interest are a major factor in thinking and learning, helping people learn as well as helping with what is retained and how long it is remembered (National Research Council, 2000). Interest may even have a neurological basis (termed “seeking behavior,” Panksepp,
Whereas motivation is used to describe the will to succeed across multiple contexts (see Eccles, Wigfield, and Schiefele, 1998), interest is not necessarily focused on achievement and is always linked to a particular class of objects, events, or ideas, such as science (Renninger, Hidi, and Krapp, 1992; Renninger and Wozniak, 1985).