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Informal Environments for Learning Science

A great deal of science learning, often unacknowledged, takes place outside school in museums, libraries, nature centers, after-school programs, amateur science clubs, and even during conversations at the dinner table. Collectively, these kinds of settings are often referred to as informal learning environments. Understanding the science learning that occurs in these environments in all of its complexity and then exploring how to more fully capitalize on these settings for learning science are the major issues addressed in this book.

In the course of daily life, virtually everyone engages in informal science learning. In fact, despite the widespread belief that schools are responsible for addressing the scientific knowledge needs of society, the reality is that schools cannot act alone. Society must better understand and draw on informal experiences to improve science education and science learning broadly.

Consider, for example, that by some estimates individuals spend as little as 9 percent of their lives in schools.1 Furthermore, science in K-12 schools is often marginalized by traditional emphases on mathematics and literacy; hence little science is actually taught during school hours.2 Finally—although it needn’t be and isn’t always so—much of science instruction in school focuses narrowly on the “facts” of science and simplistic notions of scientific practice.3 Yet the growing body of research on science learning makes clear that a basic understanding of science requires far more than the acquisition of a body of science knowledge. Rather, knowing science includes understanding, at a basic level, the nature and processes of science. For these reasons, now more than ever, informal environments can and should play an important role in science education.



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1 Informal Environments for Learning Science A great deal of science learning, often unacknowledged, takes place outside school in museums, libraries, nature centers, after-school programs, amateur science clubs, and even during conversations at the dinner table. Collectively, these kinds of set- tings are often referred to as informal learning environments. Understanding the science learning that occurs in these environments in all of its complexity and then exploring how to more fully capitalize on these settings for learning science are the major issues addressed in this book. In the course of daily life, virtually everyone engages in informal science learning. In fact, despite the widespread belief that schools are responsible for addressing the scientific knowledge needs of society, the reality is that schools can- not act alone. Society must better understand and draw on informal experiences to improve science education and science learning broadly. Consider, for example, that by some estimates individuals spend as little as 9 percent of their lives in schools.1 Furthermore, science in K-12 schools is often marginalized by traditional emphases on mathematics and literacy; hence little science is actually taught during school hours.2 Finally—although it needn’t be and isn’t always so—much of science instruction in school focuses narrowly on the “facts” of science and simplistic notions of scientific practice.3 Yet the grow- ing body of research on science learning makes clear that a basic understanding of science requires far more than the acquisition of a body of science knowledge. Rather, knowing science includes understanding, at a basic level, the nature and processes of science. For these reasons, now more than ever, informal environ- ments can and should play an important role in science education. 1

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VenUeS FOR LeARninG Science As individuals interact with the natural world, their built environment, and partici- pate in family and community life, they develop knowledge about nature and science, as well as science-relevant interests and skills. Science learning can occur through a number of experiences, including mentorship, reading scientific texts, talking with experts, watching educational television, or participating in science-related clubs. Informal learning experiences are often characterized as being guided by learner interests, voluntary, personal, deeply embedded in a specific context, and open-ended.4 Successful informal science learning experiences are seen as not only leading to increased knowledge or understanding in science, but also to further inquiry, enjoyment, and a sense that science learning can be personally relevant and rewarding. In order to make sense of the vast number of informal settings in which science learning might occur, we use three categories developed in the National Research Council report Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits.5 These include everyday informal environments (such as watching TV; reading newspapers, magazines, or books; searching online; playing educational computer games; having conversations; pursuing one’s hobby; or volunteering for an environmental cause), designed environments (such as museums, science centers, planetariums, aquariums, zoos, environmental centers, or libraries), and programs (such as 4-H programs, museum science clubs, citizen science activities, and after- school activities). All of these environments can be placed on a continuum charac- terized by the degree of choice given to the learner or group of learners, the extent to which the environments and experiences provided are designed by people other “ than the learners, and the type and use of assessments. Everyday learning includes a range of experiences that may extend over a lifetime, such as family discussions, walks in the ” woods, personal hobbies, watching TV, reading books or magazines, surfing the Web, or helping out on the farm. SurroundEd by Science 2

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Everyday Learning Everyday learning includes a range of experiences that may extend over a lifetime, such as family discussions, walks in the woods, personal hobbies, watching TV, reading books or magazines, surfing the Web, or helping out on the farm. These experiences are very much selected and shaped by the learners themselves and may vary greatly across families, communities, and cultures. People engaging in every- day learning may not be aware that they are learning. Instead, they simply see the activity as part of their daily lives—engaging in a hobby, looking up information on the Internet, enjoying a science documentary on TV, reading a fascinating book about the life of Darwin, playing games (in the backyard, at home, or on the com- puter), or having a meaningful conversation with friends. Consequently, learners may not be explicitly asked to demonstrate com- petence in the same way they are when tested in school. Rather, demonstration of competence or signs of learning are embedded in the activity—for example, parents praising a child who explains how a tree “drinks” water or friends cor- recting and challenging each other when discussing which foods are the healthiest to eat. In informal settings, individuals may take on or are given more responsi- bility or more difficult tasks when it is clear that their competence has increased. For example, a child growing up in an agricultural society may start with feeding animals and cleaning stalls and gradually assume responsibility for tending animal wounds and monitoring the animals’ well-being. An amateur astronomer may take on increasingly more sophisticated outreach tasks, progressing from aiding at a public star party to delivering a lesson on astronomy to schoolchildren. Designed Environments Designed environments include museums, science and environment centers, botan- ical gardens, zoos, planetariums, aquariums, visitor centers of all kinds, historic settings, and libraries. In these settings, artifacts, media, signage, and interpreta- tion by staff or volunteers are primarily used to guide the learner’s experience. When the environments are structured by staff of the institutions, individual learn- ers and groups of learners determine for themselves how they interact with them. The choice to attend a museum, aquarium, zoo, or other designed environment is made by the learner or, in the case of children and youth, often by an adult super- vising the learner (e.g., a parent or teacher). Once in the setting, learners have 3 Informal Environments for Learning Science

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significant choice in selecting their own learning experiences by choosing to attend to only those experiences or exhibits—or aspects of them—that align with their interests. Typically, learners’ engagement is short-term and sporadic in these envi- ronments, and learning can take place individually or in peer, family, or mentor interactions. However, there is increasing interest in extending the impact of these experiences over time through postvisit Web experiences, traveling exhibits, and follow-up mail or e-mail contact. These kinds of innovations are discussed in more detail in Chapter 9. Programs Programs include after-school programs, summer programs, clubs, museum pro- grams, Elderhostel programs, volunteer groups, citizen science experiences, science cafés, public lecture series, and learning vacations. Often program content includes a formal curriculum that is organized and designed to address the concerns of sponsoring institutions. Although the curriculum and activities are focused primar- ily on content knowledge or skills, they may also address attitudes and values and may use science to solve applied problems. Often, programs are designed to serve those seen to be in need of support, such as economically disadvantaged children and adults. As in designed environments, individuals most often participate in programs either by their own choice or the choice of a parent or teacher. They attend pro- grams that align with their interests and needs. Experiences in these environments are typically guided and monitored by a trained facilitator and often include oppor- tunities for collaboration. The time frame of these learning experiences ranges from brief, targeted, short-term experiences to sustained, long-term programs with in- depth engagement. Assessments are often used to determine progress and to allow for adjustments, but they are not typically meant to judge individual attainment or progress against an objective standard or to form the basis for graduation or certi- fication of any kind (although they may affect the participants’ reputation or status in the program or their self-perception and self-confidence). SurroundEd by Science 4

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Insights About Learning in Informal Environments Although these three types of environments are very different, they all share some basic characteristics that are believed to encourage learning: • engaging participants in multiple ways, including physically, emotionally, and cognitively; • encouraging participants to have direct or media-facilitated interactions with phenomena of the natural world and the designed physical world in ways that are largely determined by the learner; • providing multifaceted and dynamic portrayals of science; • building on the learner’s prior knowledge and interest; and • allowing participants considerable choice and control over whether and how they engage and learn. These characteristics have emerged from a philosophical stance toward what it means to provide an informal experience, and they also are informed by a grow- ing research base on learning and how best to promote it. This research base, which forms the foundation for this book, represents multiple fields of inquiry that reflect a wide range of interests, questions, and methods. The diversity of approaches to investigating learning outside schools—both how it occurs and how best to support it—makes the evidence base difficult to pull together. At the same time, the research reveals that the opportunities for promoting learning, as well as inherent challenges in doing so, are similar across the three types of informal environments. iLLUSTRATinG THe cOMMOn cHARAcTeRiSTicS OF inFORMAL enViROnMenTS Two examples provide insight into different kinds of informal learning experi- ences. One is a computer game that can be played at home, and the other is a program for adults. They occur in different settings, with different age groups, different structures, and different time scales. The similarities and differences in the two descriptions highlight the shared characteristics of informal environments for science learning, as well as the unique potential for learning that variation in design can provide. 5 Informal Environments for Learning Science

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everyday SCIENCE WolfQuest: Playing to Learn Imagine the opportunity to explore a swath of “Kids got so excited about the game that they sent Yellowstone National Park not from our human in drawings and stories about wolves,” remarks perspective but as a wolf. From this vantage point, Spickelmier. learning how to hunt and get along with other To ensure that forum participants stay on wolves is a matter of life and death. WolfQuest, an task, a moderator gently guides the conversation by interactive computer game, is designed to help the posting provocative research findings and facilitat- player learn about wolf behavior and the environ- ing productive discussions. For example, participants ment as a means to succeed in this educational equiv- had many conversations about whether wolves were alent of a multiplayer first-person shooter game. going to remain on the list of endangered species Players enter the world of WolfQuest Episode 1: or be removed. The job of keeping conversations Amethyst Mountain as wolf avatars to find out moving in a constructive direction takes between 15 firsthand what it is like to use their senses to track and 20 hours of paid staff time each week. A team elk, pick out a “good” elk (one that is a little weaker of 18 volunteer moderators, drawn from the teen- than the rest), and then chase and hunt it down. age members of the WolfQuest community, provides Defending a carcass against grizzly bears and other support by filling in for the moderator when she is competitors also is part of a day’s work. Players can not working. go it alone or join a pack with their friends—but if they do that, they have to learn how to cooperate with other members of the pack. Much to the delight of the game’s developers, David Schaller, and his partner from the Minnesota Zoo, Grant Spickelmier, players’ responses to the game have exceeded their expectations. “There is a following for our game,” says Schaller. “In fact, even before the game was launched, a few teenagers saw an announcement about the game on the Zoo’s website and posted links to our site on Zoo Tycoon and My Little Pony game forums. About 4,000 people downloaded the game in the first hour after it was launched, and another 250,000 have downloaded it since. These kids have, in fact, built a community.” One of the ways that this community stays vibrant is through an online forum. Through their posts, kids wax eloquent about everything from the game development process to questions about wolves and places to go for more information. SURROUNDED BY SCIENCE 6

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Based on evaluations by the game’s develop- show or video about wolves; read about wolves in ers, as well as an independent evaluation conducted books, magazines, or newspapers; or talked about by researchers from the Institute for Learning the game with family and friends. About 70 percent Innovation, there is evidence of learning. After of the players visited a zoo, nature center, or park to analyzing forum postings, the developers found actually see wolves and other wildlife. Interestingly, that the data appear to be pointing to the use of it appears that the more frequently individuals inquiry behaviors. Players made predictions about played the game, the more likely they were to en- what hunting and mate-finding strategies might gage in one of these follow-up behaviors. work, tested those predictions, analyzed the results Extrapolating from these findings, it appears through the use of observation and note-taking that game-playing has potential as a tool that can be skills, and worked with their pack mates to develop used to build knowledge and inquiry behaviors and new strategies. One player analyzed his maneuvers even lead to additional activities related to wolves as follows: “[As a wolf], I had trouble with social and nature. These learning gains, Spickelmier notes, behavior. I also had to keep up with hunting, and happen as part of the game. As intended, the players trying not to die. Survival of the fittest. I tested being don’t even realize that they are applying science. dominant over the stranger wolves, and how to save They’re just trying out different ways to make their energy for hunting. Once I found a mate, everything wolves successful in their environment. got easier.” “In the world of games in which these kids Schaller and Spickelmier also discov- have grown up,” says Spickelmier, “they expect to ered that the players sought out additional have some control over their learning. Maybe that’s wolf-related experiences as a result of their why they like games so much. For them, the ability to experience with the game. More than 80 manipulate their environment is the way education is done.”6 percent of participants looked up infor- mation on the Web; watched a television Wolf avatars ”face off” during an episode of Wolfquest. 7 Informal Environments for Learning Science

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This example of everyday learning through media illustrates many of the characteristics of informal learning environments. Participation in the game is entirely voluntary, and the amount of time players devote to it is based on indi- vidual choice and interest. The game itself is carefully designed so that, in order to master it, players need to learn about wolves and their habitat. Demonstration of competence is an inherent part of the game, because a player will not succeed unless he or she learns about wolves and is able to use that knowledge to inform his or her strategy and choices in the game. The second informal science experience, called Science Café, was developed by Boston’s public television station WGBH. Unlike WolfQuest, which is targeted for children and teens, Science Café is an evening-long event designed for adults. While Science Cafés have been adapted from Europe and occur nationwide, this particular example reflects the approach developed by WGBH, and it takes place in a pub near Boston. The WGBH approach distinguishes itself by introducing the topic of discussion with a brief video from WGBH’s extensive science documen- tary material. “ Demonstration of competence is an inherent part of the game, because a player will not succeed unless he or she learns about ” wolves and is able to use that knowledge to inform his or her strategy and choices in the game. SurroundEd by Science 8

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everyday SCIENCE Science in Unexpected Places: Learning at a Science Café On a cold November evening in Somerville, through a video clip from a NOVA scienceNOW Massachusetts, a city adjacent to Boston and program. The video focused on the cause of a mass Cambridge, some people ventured out to the neigh- extinction that took place 250 million years ago that borhood bar, the Thirsty Scholar Pub, a place that ended what is known as the Permian era. Following attracts mostly a combination of local working-class the video, Charles Marshall, a Harvard professor and people and young professionals from the moderately curator at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, was priced apartments in the area. Its low lighting, com- going to speak about the topic, relate it to the global fortable tables and chairs, and televisions make it a warming currently taking place, and then facilitate a perfect spot for local sports fans. Some of the adults question-and-answer session. in the audience had tickets for this night’s special The first step in planning a NOVA scienceNOW event, and others just happened to be there. Science Café event is to select the target audience and On this particular night, Ben Wiehe, the WGBH choose a venue where that audience is comfortable outreach project director at that time, had booked meeting. The next step is to pick a topic, which the pub for a Science Café, a program designed involves finding a video clip and scientist for the event. to bring science to people of all backgrounds. The subject for this evening’s Science Café was global People from a range of backgrounds gather for a warming, and the topic was going to be introduced WGBH-sponsored Science Café. 9 Informal Environments for Learning Science

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“We want someone who knows how to promote conversation in the group. The point of the event is for the participants’ voices to be heard,” Wiehe explains. When Wiehe arrived at the Thirsty Scholar Pub an hour early to set up, he noticed a group of regulars sitting near the table he was planning to use for the event. Discovering that they didn’t know about the activity planned, he told them about it and suggested that they join in on the conversation. The men agreed to participate. Wiehe had hoped they would stay. One of the purposes of Science Cafés is to reach audiences who would not normally seek out an evening of science. So for this event, Wiehe had reached out to outdoor groups, such as the Sierra Club, which he thought would be interested because of the event’s focus on global warming and climate change. As Wiehe finished setting up, he noticed that the pub was getting crowded. Soon all 80 seats were occupied. He and other WGBH staff members estimat- ed that about 20 percent of the crowd was Thirsty Scholar regulars who had not come for the event. The remaining 80 percent was probably a mix of students and people who had come for the Science Café after hearing about it through fliers, e-mail alerts, friends, or community newspaper announcements. The evening started with a brief introduction, Introductions are in order at the beginning of a typical Science Café. much of which was drowned out by private conversa- tions and the televisions; then Wiehe ran the video clip. A light and humorous treatment of a serious subject, the clip caught the crowd’s attention. It Those tasks both fall to Wiehe. “The video clip is served to introduce the subject to those unfamiliar very important because it is designed to galvanize the with it and to reinforce knowledge for those who audience,” he explains. “The length is key. I try to go knew something about the topic. with something that is no longer than four minutes.” Dr. Marshall followed the video. He had The choice of the scientist is equally important. prepared a seven-minute presentation designed to As the host of the Science Café, Wiehe takes an active create a link between mass extinction, the subject role in facilitating discussion during each event. of the clip, and global climate change. He concluded Nonetheless, it is still important for him to find a his brief talk with concerns about dangers to come. scientist with a good sense of humor who can talk As an aside, he mentioned that bovine flatulence about a science topic in a clear, understandable way. contributes to global warming by releasing the SURROUNDED BY SCIENCE 10

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greenhouse gas methane, a remark that provoked everyone to enter a prize drawing by completing a chuckle in the room. Then he opened the floor the evaluation forms at their tables. The noise in the for questions and comments. He had a clipboard of room increased as everyone started talking excitedly notes on hand, thinking he would need to refer to with those nearest them. Marshall was immediately them during the open discussion. surrounded by patrons who had more questions. The discussion started with questions from Wiehe then asked him to circulate around the room, regular pub patrons: “How do we know that humans giving everyone the chance to have a face-to-face are causing the problem?” they asked. “Are there conversation about whatever interested them most. any beneficial aspects to global warming?” They also For some, this meant a technical discussion of the challenged what Marshall had described as people’s topic. Others simply wanted a chance to meet Dr. collective responsibility to protect the planet for future Marshall personally. “I’m going to tell my friends I generations. “So what if humans go extinct?” they had a beer with a paleontologist,” exclaimed one mused. “Extinctions have happened before. Maybe it’s Thirsty Scholar patron. “This event reminded me of our fate.” how much I love science.” Then the audience returned to the issue of This participant is not alone in his enthusiasm. bovine flatulence. “How does bovine flatulence con- In surveys of science cafés around the country, more tribute to greenhouse gases?” someone wanted to than 70 percent of those attending a Science Café know. “What if we changed the diet of the cows?” report staying more up-to-date with current science another participant suggested. “If we all became as a result of the experience. The evidence indicates vegetarians, would that help?” that the interest ignited through the event was sus- It’s a good thing that Marshall has a wry sense tained and incorporated into participants’ daily lives. of humor—and can think on his feet. For the next Throughout the rest of the evening, patrons 10 minutes, he and the group discussed different of the pub continued to talk about global warming. ways to deal with this problem. They considered the The pub’s owner, delighted with the outcome of the possibility of feeding cattle different kinds of grains, evening, was eager to be involved in the next event. feeding them their natural diet of grass, or cutting Charles Marshall also expressed his enthusiasm for back on people’s weekly meat consumption. Early the evening and his desire to participate in future in the discussion, Marshall cast his notes aside. He Science Cafés. hadn’t thought that the conversation would go in Perhaps the most telling sign of the evening’s this direction, so his notes were of little use. He had success lay in the hands of several of the regulars to draw on his knowledge of this topic to do his part who decided to stay for the event: tickets to a to keep the discussion going. concert they had chosen not to attend. They opted As it turned out, the event was a learning instead for an evening of stimulating discussion about science.7 experience for Marshall, too. In NOVA scienceNOW’s national surveys, 38 percent of participating scientists report that their involvement in the program changed the way they present their work to the public. After 25 minutes of conversation, Wiehe no- ticed that some people were starting to lose atten- tion. So he ended the group discussion and reminded 11 Informal Environments for Learning Science

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ReFLecTinG On THe cASeS WolfQuest and the Science Café represent two very different informal science learning experiences. One is for children and teens, and the other is for adults. One is a computer game that is played at home for as long as the learner is engaged, and the other is an organized one-shot event. The goals of WolfQuest were also very different from those of the Science Café. The developers of WolfQuest were experimenting with the learning opportunities available through gaming; Wiehe and his colleagues were trying to provide an enjoyable evening of conversation about science, with the hope of whetting the participants’ appetites for more. Despite the significant differences between the settings, WolfQuest and the Science Café share an important element that characterizes much of everyday learning in science: learning can be generated by entertaining engagement that is designed to create further interest and a desire to learn more about the topic. The players develop knowledge and skills as a means to succeed in a game, and their success is synonymous with learning at least some science, along with developing positive attitudes toward the topic itself, as exemplified by their growing inter- est in wolves. The patrons of the Science Café experience the dialogic nature of science and are exposed to a researcher who personalizes science and provides authenticity. In both cases, the learning experience is shaped by to the environ- ment: gamers play and pub patrons talk and discuss. Furthermore, in both the computer game and the Science Café, the pro- gram designers built on the learners’ prior knowledge and interests. Schaller and Spickelmier did so by using the features of gaming that kids enjoy and embed- ding science content into that framework. Once the players were hooked on the game, they began learning the science content. Wiehe used a video clip to capture the interest of the audience and prepare them for Marshall’s talk. To further this engagement, both programs connected with the participants in multiple ways. In the case of the Science Café, this was by engaging them in a discussion of a topic that was intellectually stimulating and emotionally provocative. By playing the computer game, the participants were involved physically, by manipulating the computer mouse to make decisions about their wolf avatars; emotionally, by tak- ing on the persona of a wolf; and cognitively, by learning what they needed to know to ensure that their wolves survived. Also, participants were allowed and encouraged to follow their own interests. At the Science Café, Marshall allowed people’s interests to direct the conversation, even if it was a topic with which he was less familiar. SurroundEd by Science 12

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These similarities across the two experiences are not a coincidence. They reflect the designers’ commitment to providing informal experiences for learning and their knowledge of how to support learning. This knowledge is informed by a growing body of research exploring how people learn across settings and how individuals would like to learn or experience the world in their free time. A SYSTeMATic APPROAcH TO LeARninG Over a century ago, scientists began studying thinking and learning in a more systematic way, taking steps toward what are now called the cognitive and learn- ing sciences. Beginning in the 1960s, advances in fields as diverse as linguistics, psychology, computer science, and neuroscience offered provocative new per- spectives on human development and powerful new technologies for observing behavior and brain functions. As a result, over the past 40 years there has been an outpouring of scientific research on the mind and the brain—a “cognitive revolu- tion,” as some have termed it.8 At the same time, applied research and evaluation in informal science learning have exploded and provided the informal science learning profession with many of today’s fundamental principles and frameworks, many of them informed by the results of this cognitive revolution. This huge and growing body of research on learning provides important insights for designing informal environments for learning science, including guid- ance about how to understand the varied types of learning that occur in informal science environments; how to actively support this learning through designed experiences that directly tap into natural learning processes; how to assess learn- ing in these settings appropriately; and how to improve on existing informal sci- ence environments, including long-term programs, one-shot events, and exhibits. In broad brushstrokes the research on learning to date has revealed the impor- tance of understanding both how individual minds work during the learning pro- cess and how the social and cultural context surrounding an individual shapes and supports that learning. Research on individual cognition and learning, attitudinal development, and motivation has provided insight into the development of knowledge, skills, inter- ests, affective responses, and identity. Some of the relevant principles of individual cognition and learning are articulated in the National Research Council report How People Learn.9 These principles include the influence of prior knowledge; how experts differ from novices (experts being those with deep knowledge and 13 Informal Environments for Learning Science

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“ The sociocultural perspective explores how individuals develop and learn through their involvement in cultural practices, which ” encompass the language, tools, and knowledge of a specific community or social group. understanding of a specific topic versus novices who have a less developed or naïve conceptual understanding of a topic); and the importance of metacognition, or the ability to monitor and reflect on one’s own thinking. These ideas can be used to inform the design of informal science experiences. For example, many museums deliberately juxtapose visitors’ prior knowl- edge with “scientific” ideas that can explain the natural phenomena they are engaging with in an exhibit or activity. This approach to design has been shown to help learners question their own knowledge and more deeply reconstruct that knowledge in a way that comes to resemble that of the scientific discipline. The Exploratorium’s Active Prolonged Engagement (APE) exhibits were designed with this goal in mind. At one exhibit, visitors were asked to figure out which two of six possible disks could roll faster. In doing so, visitors had to determine which variable—mass or distribution of mass—is more important. This process forced them to confront their ideas about this topic, uncovering any misconceptions they had. In fact, evaluators of this exhibit determined that those with misconceptions were the most intrigued with the issues raised by the exhibit, illustrating the devel- opment of deeper knowledge about a science topic. For more information about APE exhibits, see Chapter 3, Designing for Science Learning: Basic Principles. The sociocultural perspective explores how individuals develop and learn through their involvement in cultural practices, which encompass the language, tools, and knowledge of a specific community or social group. This area of research grew out of concern that an emphasis solely on learning processes within individual minds overlooked the crucial role of social interaction, language, and tools in learning. The findings of this research show how verbal and nonverbal social interaction plays a critical role in supporting learning. Importantly, as people develop the culturally valued skills, knowledge, and identities of a specific community, they also bring their own prior experiences and knowledge to their new community. In this way, culture is a dynamic pro- SurroundEd by Science 14

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cess, shaped and modified by the perspectives of its members. According to this approach, scientists, too, are part of their own cultural group, in which people share common commitments to questions, research perspectives, ideas of what con- stitutes a viable scientific stance, and how individuals develop effective arguments. Tools and artifacts are particularly important aspects of the cultural context for learning in science. Scientists use many specialized tools to measure and represent natural phenomena. In addition, tools and artifacts typically represent the backbone of many learning experiences in sci- ence. In a museum, for example, visi- tors make sense of exhibits through forms of talk and physical activities that are fundamentally shaped by the nature of the materials and techno- logical objects they encounter. Media also represent a rich layer of learning artifacts. Interactive media, multiplayer video games, and television all provide a spe- cific infrastructure for learning. Information has become broadly available through online resources and communities. In fact, many people routinely develop and share media objects that involve sophisti- cated learning and social interaction. Research and evaluation during the past 10 years have shown the effec- tiveness of media, but also highlight their limitations. Recognizing oppor- tunities and limitations, media and brick-and-mortar experiences are becoming increasingly intertwined— for example, a documentary on the history of the telescope is comple- mented by a similar full-dome planetarium show, an interactive website that fea- tures activities for backyard astronomy exploration, and a strategy to link the air- ing and local release of the shows with outreach activities by amateur astronomy 15 Informal Environments for Learning Science

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clubs. Similarly, libraries are becoming multifunctional community centers for informal or free-choice learning. Just as museums are now more than repositories for artifacts, libraries provide access to many resources in addition to books: the Internet, message boards, talks, courses, programs, and even exhibits on science and health in some instances. These kinds of linkages and collaborations are dis- cussed further in Chapter 9. The chapters of this book draw on this rich body of research to elaborate on how informal environments can best support science learning. Many of the basic principles of learning operate in similar ways across settings. However, different settings and types of experiences offer different kinds of opportunities for learn- ing. For example, a long-term program is likely to support different aspects of learning than a one-shot experience. Similarly, a highly structured exhibit may be more suited for particular kinds of learning outcomes than a purely exploratory one. Such differences mean that practitioners in informal science education need to think carefully about what can be reasonably accomplished in their own set- tings through the experiences they provide. OOO It is clear that a great deal of science learning—often unacknowledged—takes place outside school in informal environments. These environments include the home, while playing on the computer or watching television; designed spaces, such as science museums; and out-of-school-time programs or adult-oriented lectures or movies. Although these activities vary considerably and occur in different settings with different age groups, different structures, and different time scales, they all share five common commitments: 1. to engage participants in multiple ways, including physically, emotionally, and cognitively; 2. to encourage participants’ direct interactions with phenomena of the natural and designed world largely in learner-directed ways; SurroundEd by Science 16

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3. to provide multifaceted and dynamic portrayals of science; 4. to build on learners’ prior knowledge and interests; and 5. to allow participants considerable choice and control over whether and how they engage and learn. These commitments are consistent with findings from research on learning that reveal the importance of understanding both how individual minds work dur- ing the learning process and how an individual’s social and cultural context shapes and supports that learning. We expand on both aspects of learning in Part II and explore the implications for learning across the range of informal settings. We begin in the next chapter by elaborating on science as a human endeavor and the implications for what it means to learn science. For Further Reading Anderson, D., Storksdieck, M., and Spock, M. (2007). The long-term impacts of museum experiences. In J. Falk, L. Dierking, and S. Foutz (Eds.), In Principle, in Practice: Museums as Learning Institutions (pp. 197-215). Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press. National Research Council. (1999). Executive summary. How People Learn (pp. xi-xvii). Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. National Research Council. (2009). Introduction. Chapter 1 in Committee on Learning Science in Informal Environments, Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits. P. Bell, B. Lewenstein, A.W. Shouse, and M.A. Feder (Eds.). Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Yager, R.E., and Falk, J. (Eds.). (2008). Exemplary Science in Informal Education Settings: Standards-Based Success Stories. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press. 17 Informal Environments for Learning Science

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Web Resources Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE): http://caise.insci.org/ Evaluation of WolfQuest: http://www.archimuse.com/mw2009/papers/schaller/schaller.html Science Cafés: http://www.sciencecafes.org/ WolfQuest: http://www.WolfQuest.org/ SurroundEd by Science 18