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Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments
Learning science is a multifaceted endeavor. It involves developing positive science-related attitudes, emotions, and identities; learning science practices; appreciating the social and historical context of science; and understanding scientific explanations of the natural world. Informal environments have often been viewed as particularly important for developing learners’ positive science-specific interests, attitudes, and identities.
Designers and educators can realize these goals and make science more accessible to people of all ages when they portray it as a social, lived experience relevant to the lives of the learners. Project FeederWatch is an example of such a project. Participants become part of a community of scientists and make their contributions while engaging in science in a familiar context.
As a way to think about the range of possible outcomes for science learning in informal settings, this chapter introduced a strands framework. The strands provide a way to describe learning outcomes specifying the content, skills, and ideas people are striving to master in these varied environments.
In the next chapter, we look closely at strategies designers can use to make science more accessible to a range of participants. These include interactivity and the importance of presenting information in multiple ways to reflect the needs and interests of a wide range of learners. Their strategies are supported by research about how people learn.
Things to Try
To apply the ideas presented in this chapter to informal settings, consider the following:
What is the culture of your community? This chapter explores the practices, values, and language that are part of culture. With these ideas in mind, bring together your staff to discuss what elements make up the culture of your environment. Do these elements attract visitors, keep them away, or both?
Think about how the strands may apply to your setting. In this chapter, we introduced six strands as a model that can be used to describe learning outcomes. Consider how the strands may be applied to the learning that takes place in your setting. Do your current offerings encompass all of the strands? Which strands are covered most frequently? Are there any strands that are