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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
circumstances (caring for a family member with a particular condition, dealing with a local environmental hazard). In these more deliberate pursuits, there is a learning goal, although it might be quite different from the goals held by science teachers for their students. For example, an adult with a hobby of flying model planes learns a great deal about aerodynamics, and a child who develops a keen interest in dinosaurs gains expertise in understanding biological adaptation. The focused pursuits that are based on life circumstances also involve learning and teaching—for example, a young woman who searches the Internet to better understand her mother’s cancer diagnosis, as well as the community member who learns about water contamination because of a local hazard. Agricultural communities and families engage in sophisticated science learning related to environmental conditions and botany in specific ecosystems. Hobbyists and volunteers can spend hundreds of hours each year engaging in science-related elective pursuits, from astronomy and robotics to animal husbandry and environmental stewardship (Sachatello-Sawyer et al., 2002). A parent might decide to structure significant portions of weekend family time around a science-related practice like systematic mixing to make perfumes or cross-pollination experiments with house plants (Bell et al., 2006).
In contrast to the more opportunistic experiences described first, these deliberate educational opportunities are more systematic, more sustained, more likely to involve the development of social groups to support the activities (e.g., hobby groups), and more likely to link with institutions that make the pursuits possible (e.g., equipment manufacturers, government agencies). Furthermore, sustained learning is more of a central goal in these activities than in the spontaneous ones. But notice that the learning and teaching that occurs in these examples is not defined by the goal of becoming expert in a domain of science or in science as a global concept. The learning is much more specific, more focused, and more connected to the deeply motivated interests and goals of the learner. These everyday pursuits, while they involve sustained individual inquiry, are also often intensive social practices in which individuals share expertise and combine their distributed expertise to reach goals that include solving problems, increasing expertise, and enjoyment.
SETTINGS FOR EVERYDAY LEARNING
The settings in which everyday and family science learning occur vary a great deal in terms of physical setting, the degree to which a particular location is obviously marked as science-oriented, and the relationship to science learning institutions and programs.
Some settings for everyday and family learning are clearly tied to science content—activities like fishing, berry picking, agricultural practices, and gardening, for example. Although participants in these settings may not view their activities as relevant to science, it is not difficult to make the case