Fenichel, Marilyn, Schweingruber, Heidi A.. "5 Interest and Motivation: Steps Toward Building a Science Identity." Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2010.
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Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments
“We [my wife and I] did a couple of things. One, we were motivated to locate a site on the Internet about helping to preserve the marine environment. We also became members of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. As active participants in a study group at the aquarium we’ve learned more about why those trees are beneficial to the coral reef. We’ve also become members of The Tech [Museum in San Jose]. Thanks for making such a wonderful film.”
These results are corroborated by an evaluation of Dolphins, another IMAX film. According to researcher Barbara Flagg, 3 months after viewing this film, about 20 percent of the interviewed sample reported that they had taken action related to preserving the ocean environment. One respondent said that “we’ve joined a group that regularly goes down to the beaches to help clean them up.”
Based on these findings, it appears that IMAX films can spark interest in a topic and, in some cases, motivate viewers to learn more or to take action. These films are an example of what informal science venues can do to bring in crowds and generate excitement about science.1
THE ROLE OF INTEREST IN INFORMAL ENVIRONMENTS
Informal environments are often characterized by people’s excitement, interest, and motivation to engage in activities that promote learning about the natural and physical world. Typically, participants have a choice or a role in determining what is learned, when it is learned, and even how it is learned.2 These environments are also designed to be safe and to encourage exploration, supporting interactions with people and materials that arise from curiosity and are free of the performance demands that people often encounter in school.3
Interest, as described in Strand 1, includes the excitement, wonder, and surprise that learners may experience and the knowledge and values that make the experience relevant and meaningful. Recent research on the relationship between affect and learning shows that the emotions associated with interest are a major factor in thinking and learning. Not only do emotions help people learn, but they also help determine what is retained and how long it is remembered.4 In addition, interest is an important filter for selecting and focusing on relevant information in a complex environment.5 People pay attention to the things that interest them; hence, interest can drive what is learned.