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Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments
“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 knowledge 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 development 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-