Many evaluation studies have been conducted on the still ongoing LASER project. RMC Corporation investigated the relationship between professional development and the number of fifth-grade students meeting the standards on the state’s science test.20 The results showed a strong positive correlation. The evaluators also determined that students made significant gains in their understanding of science from pre- to post-assessment, which took place after the students had completed work on several modules.
The Pacific Science Center is unique in that it has the capacity to lead such a large-scale effort. It is well positioned to seek private funding, build a coalition of stakeholders, and galvanize community leaders and politicians to get involved. While many informal science institutions are not able to assume such a large role in a major reform effort, this example does indicate the invaluable contributions that well-established informal science institutions can make on teaching and learning.
Learning progressions in science21 are an emerging area of research in science education that could inform and be supported by the informal science community. A learning progression organizes the study of science so that learners can revisit important science concepts and practices over many years. For example, the big ideas of science, such as evolution and matter, are introduced during the early grades or at an early age; as students’ capabilities increase, greater depth and complexity about these big ideas are added. At each phase, learners would be able to draw on and develop relevant capabilities across the strands.
Informal science environments could play a complementary role in supporting the understanding of these key ideas. For example, a program or exhibition in an informal setting could be designed specifically based on our understanding of learning progressions. The New York Hall of Science, working with the Miami Museum of Science and Planetarium and the North Museum (a small natural history museum in Lancaster, PA) and collaborating with a developmental psychologist from the University of Michigan, is developing a traveling exhibition on evolution that is based on current understanding of children’s naïve reasoning and their progressively more sophisticated understanding as they mature from age 5 to age 12. The exhibition itself is designed to lead children of various ages through a series of increasingly more complex explanations of ideas related to evolution. Initial results of research on learning from the exhibition are encouraging. Also,