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Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments
Strand 5: Using the Tools and Language of Science
The myth of science as a solitary endeavor is misleading. Science is a social process, in which people with knowledge of the language, tools, and core values of the community come together to achieve a greater understanding of the world. The story of how the human genome was mapped is a good example of how scientists with different areas of expertise came together to accomplish a Herculean task that no single scientist could have completed on his or her own. Even small research projects are often tackled by teams of researchers.
Through participation in informal environments, nonscientists can develop a greater appreciation of how scientists work together and the specialized language and tools they have developed. In turn, learners also can refine their own mastery of the language and tools of science. For example, kids participating in a camp about forensic science come together as a community to solve a particular problem. Using the tools of science, such as chemical tests to identify a substance found at the crime scene, students become more familiar with the means by which scientists work on their research problems.
By engaging in scientific activities, participants also develop greater facility with the language of scientists; terms like hypothesis, experiment, and control begin to appear naturally in their discussion of what they are learning. In these ways, nonscientists begin to gain entry into the culture of the scientific community.
Strand 6: Identifying with the Scientific Enterprise
Through experiences in informal environments, some people may start to change the way they think about themselves and their relationship to science. They think about themselves as science learners and develop an identity as someone who knows about, uses, and sometimes contributes to science. When a transformation such as this one takes place, young people may begin to think seriously about a career in a health field, in an engineering firm, or in a research laboratory.
Older adults, who have more leisure time after retirement, may take up hobbies that help give them a new identity at this time of their lives. For example, in addition to spending many hours outside cultivating his beds, an amateur gardener also may pursue another passion, such as growing orchids in a greenhouse. To become more knowledgeable, he or she could seek out information in books, online, or at the local botanical garden club. After becoming somewhat of an