This case study illustrates the value of drawing on participants’ cultural practices when designing informal learning environments. This can be accomplished by incorporating everyday language, linguistic practices, and local cultural experiences. While designers of informal programs and spaces for science learning have long recognized the importance of building on participants’ prior knowledge and experiences, the integral role of culture in shaping knowledge and experience is not always appreciated. There are many challenges to forming true collaborations resulting in programs, exhibitions, and activities that integrate traditional knowledge, beliefs, and practices with the knowledge and practices of Western science. However, the CDM’s Vietnamese initiative demonstrates that success is possible.
Indeed, research and evaluation on other efforts in museums to better address diversity show that the resulting enhancements can improve learning. For example, bilingual interpretive labels in English and Spanish in communities with large Latino populations allowed adult members who were less proficient in English to read the labels and discuss the content with their children, directly increasing attention and improving learning outcomes.8 In another case, providing a Spanish-speaking mediator promoted more scientific dialogue. Finally, in a bilingual summer science camp at an aquarium offered in English and Spanish, participating girls were very positive about the experience in part because they learned science terminology and concepts in both languages and thus could better communicate with their parents (who were predominantly Spanish-speaking) about what they were doing and learning. This increased their confidence and helped bridge the program and home environments.9
“There are many challenges to forming true collaborations resulting in programs, exhibitions, and activities that integrate traditional knowledge, beliefs, and practices with the knowledge and practices of Western science.”