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11 Introduction 1 Humans are inherently curious beings, always seeking new knowledge and skills. That quest for knowledge often involves science: from a childâs âWhy is the sky blue?â to a teenagerâs inquiry into the dyes for a new t-shirt; from a new homeownerâs concern about radon in the basement to a grand- parentâs search for educational toys for a grandchild. Each of these situations involves some facet of science learning in a nonschool, informal setting. Experiences in informal environments for science learning are typically characterized as learner-motivated, guided by learner interests, voluntary, personal, ongoing, contextually relevant, collaborative, nonlinear, and open- ended (Griffin, 1998; Falk and Dierking, 2000). Informal science learning experiences are believed to lead to further inquiry, enjoyment, and a sense that science learning can be personally relevant and rewarding. Participants in them are diverse and include learners of all ages, cultural and socioeco- nomic backgrounds, and abilities. They include hobbyists, tourists, preser- vice teachers, members of online student communities, student groups, and families, who may explore experiences in the home, at work, in community organizations, or just about anywhere. Ideally these experiences enable learners to connect with their own interests, provide an interactive space for learning, and allow in-depth exploration of current or relevant topics âon demand.â Box 1-1 provides several examples of informal science learning environments. While drawing on and feeding human curiosity is a valuable end in its own right, informal environments for science learning may also make important practical contributions to society. Serious scientific concerns are ubiquitous in modern lifeâglobal warming, alternative fuels, stem cell re- search, the place of evolution in K-12 schools, to name just a few. Many
12 Learning Science in Informal Environments BOX 1-1â Experiences in Informal Science Learning Environments â¢ isitors to whyville.net, a large social networking site on the Internet V targeted at teenagers, find their chat sessions interrupted by the unex- pected appearance of the word âAchoo!â Over a few days, the virus spreads through the community. Using resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made available on the site, visitors learn to identify how the virus spreads and how to prevent further infection (Neulight, Kafai, Kao, Foley, and Galas, 2007). â¢ retired doctor and his wife travel several times a year, often with Elder- A hostel programs. During one trip, the program explores the history and culture of Montreal. On another trip, they learn to express themselves through art. Many of their trips involve the natural world: learning to conduct marine research in the Louisiana wetlands, observing elk in Colorado, and counting manatees in Florida (Hopp, 1998). â¢ teenager with a collection of stuffed elephants gathered since the age A of one receives a calendar with pictures of elephants as a gift. Bored, the teen browses the Wikipedia page about elephants. Excited by what he reads, he recalls years before attending a lecture on elephants given by a local university researcher. He contacts the researcher and joins her research group as an unpaid intern, analyzing sound recordings of elephants in African jungles. When he applies to colleges, his interest has shifted from international politics to biology and conservation. people and scientific organizations have argued that, to successfully navigate these issues, society will have to draw creatively on all available resources to improve science literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993; National Research Council, 1996). Contrary to the pervasive idea that schools are responsible for addressing the scientific knowledge needs of society, the reality is that schools cannot act alone, and society must better understand and draw on the full range of science learning experiences to improve science education broadly. Schools serve a school-age population, whereas people of all ages need to understand science as they grapple with science-related issues in their everyday lives. It is also true that individuals spend as little as 9 percent of their lives in schools (Jackson, 1968; Sosniak, 2001). Furthermore, science in K-12 schools
Introduction 13 is often marginalized by traditional emphases on mathematics and literacy. This is quite evident under current federal education policy, which creates incentives for mathematics and literacy instruction and which appears to be reducing instructional time in science and other subject matters, especially in the early grades (e.g., Center on Education Policy, 2008). Finallyâthough it neednât be and isnât always soâmuch of science instruction in schools focuses narrowly on received knowledge and simplistic notions of scientific practice (Lemke, 1992; Newton, Driver, and Osborne, 1999; National Research Council, 2007; Rudolph, 2002). Clearly, informal environments can and should play an important role in science education now more than ever. Learning science in informal environments has the potential to bolster science education broadly on a national scale. This is evident in reports from national initiatives to improve education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in the United States. For example, both the Academic Competitiveness Council and the National Science Board were charged with reviewing the effectiveness of all federally funded STEM education programs, as well as recommending ways to coordinate and integrate the programs. The councilâs report cites informal education as one of three integral pieces of the U.S. education system (the other two being K-12 education and higher education) needed to ensure âU.S. economic competitiveness, particularly the future ability of the nationâs education institutions to produce citizens literate in STEM concepts and to produce future scientists, engineers, math- ematicians, and technologistsâ (U.S. Department of Education, 2007, p. 5). Federal interest in informal environments is also reflected in the National Science Boardâs report on the critical needs in STEM education (National Sci- ence Board, 2007). The National Science Board report stresses the need for coherence in this kind of learning and an adequate supply of well-prepared and effective STEM teachers. It calls for coordination of formal and informal environments to enhance curriculum and teacher development. Informal education is described as an essential conduit to increase public interest in and understanding and appreciation of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Furthermore, the report calls for the informal education community to be represented on a nonfederal national council for STEM education that would coordinate education efforts in this area. This report echoes the need for greater coherence and integration of informal environments and K-12 functions and classrooms, and it urges a careful analysis of the goals and objectives of learning science in informal environments. While often complementary and sometimes overlapping with the goals of schools, the goals of informal environments are not identical to them. Differences may stem from the populations that participate in school and nonschool settings, the fact that participation is compulsory in K-12 set- tings (but is typically not in nonschool settings), and the relative emphasis placed on affective and emotional engagement across these settings. Yet, despite these differences schools and informal settings share a common inter-
14 Learning Science in Informal Environments est in enriching the scientific knowledge, interest, and capacity of students and the broader public. The emerging sense that informal environments can make substantial contributions to science education on a broad scale motivated the National Science Foundationâs (NSFâs) interest in requesting the study that resulted in this report. NSF is the leading sponsor for research and development in science education in informal settings. Its portfolio of sponsored activities includes program and materials development, research, and evaluation across a broad range of informal settings and areas of STEM education throughout the nation. This report describes numerous NSF-sponsored projects as well as projects sponsored through other public and private sources. This report provides a broad description of science learning in informal environments and a detailed review of the evidence of their impact on science learning. It synthesizes literature across multiple disciplines and fields to iden- tify a common framework of educational goals and outcomes, insights into educational practices, and a research agenda. The remainder of this chapter provides a brief historical overview of the literatures, a discussion of current issues driving research and practice, and a description of the characteristics of informal environments for science learning; it also describes the scope of the study and provides an orientation to the remainder of the volume. Emergence and Growth of Science Learning in Informal Environments The early roots of Americaâs education system developed in the late 18th century when informal learning institutions, such as libraries, churches, and museums, were seen as the main institutions concerned with public educa- tion. They were viewed as places that encouraged exploration, dialogue, and conversation among the public (Conn, 1998). The American Lyceum movement, which began in the 1820s, supported the growing movement of public education in the United States (Ray, 2005). Lyceums, modeled after the early Greek halls of learning, brought the public together with experts in science and philosophy for lectures, debates, and scientific experiments. In the late 1800s, the Chautauqua movement, a successor to the Lyceum movement, grew out of the social and geographic isolation of Americaâs farming and ranching communities. Chautauquas, a type of educational family summer camp, brought notable lecturers and entertainers of the day to rural communities, where there was a strong hunger for both entertain- ment and education. These movements were driven by the notion that in a democratic nation, an educated populace is needed to inform public policy. They provided a conduit for bringing the science knowledge and practices of the day to an American public with limited access to information. At the same time, people often developed an intuitive sense of the natural world and scientific principles through activities like farming, gardening, and
Introduction 15 brewing alcoholâprocesses that were closely connected to daily life in an agrarian society. Beginning in the mid-19th century the worldâs fairs or expositions brought people from around the world together to learn about developments in com- merce, technology, science, and cultural affairs. Worldâs fairs have been the site for initial broad dissemination of scientific and technological develop- ments, especially during the period of industrialization, when developments like telephone communication were unveiled to vast publics. Recently, indi- vidualsâ personal recollections of these events have been used as the basis for exploring what people attend to, learn, and recall from learning experiences in informal settings (e.g., Anderson, 2003; Anderson, Storksdieck, and Spock, 2007; Anderson and Shimizu, 2007). The role and structure of informal learning in this country have evolved over the past 200 years. Today, technological advances have distanced people from traditional agrarian experiences. In some respects, members of this highly urbanized and technological society have fewer opportunities to explore the natural world than did their ancestors, who raised livestock and farmed. Science education has evolved in a new social context. News and entertainment media merge with natural history museums and science centers, after-school programs, and computer games and gaming communi- ties to reshape the world and peopleâs exposure to science. Although many people are quick to point out a large and persistent re- source gap between schools and nonschool settings, in recent years public and private funders have made significant investments to support informal environments for science learning. A 1993 report of the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering and Technology showed that the federal government spent about $67 million on âpublic understanding of scienceâ activities and that the federal portion was probably only 10 percent of the total outlay for such activities (Lewenstein, 1994). Since 1993 the federal investment in informal science education has more than doubled, totaling $137.4 million in fiscal year (FY) 2006 (U.S. Department of Education, 2007). Increases in funding have also occurred in federal programs that provide informal environments for learning in general (not science specific), such as the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, an after- and out-of-school program. Originally, in FY 1995, $750,000 was allocated to the 21st Century Centers, and since then their funding has expanded to just under $1 billion in FY 2006 (Learning Point Associates, 2006). Additional funding for informal science learning comes from national foundations, nonprofit research organi- zations, and advocacy groups that are interested in supporting opportunities for underserved populations. Organizations, consortiums, affinity groups, and publications concerned with learning science in informal environments have also proliferated over the past 50 years (Lewenstein, 1992; Schiele, 1994), as shown in Box 1-2. The postâWorld War II Soviet Sputnik Program, which in 1957 launched the
16 Learning Science in Informal Environments BOX 1-2â Years of Major Events in Informal Science Learning 50 (with primary focus on the United States) 1957 â ational Science Foundation (NSF) conducts first studies of public N knowledge of science; repeated in 1979 and thereafter biennially. 1958 â SF creates program on âPublic Understanding of Scienceâ (continues N to 1981). 1961 â merican Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) begins A newsletter on âUnderstanding,â linking science journalists, Hollywood film and television producers, mass communication researchers, adult educators, and museum staff (continues to 1967). 1962 â ounding of Pacific Science Center in Seattle. F 1968 â ounding of the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of Califor- F nia, Berkeley. 1969 â ounding of The Exploratorium in San Francisco. F 1973 â AAS creates a (short-lived) NSF-funded National Center for Public A Understanding of Science, linking radio, television, schools, youth activities, and science kits. 1983 â SF recreates Public Understanding of Science Program as Informal N Science Education. 1985 â oyal Societyâs âBodmer Reportâ on public understanding of science R (UK) leads to sustained interest in research on related topics (Ziman, 1991; Irwin and Wynne, 1996). 1988 â ounding of Visitor Studies Association. F 1989 â grant awarded to the Association for Science-Technology Centers A by the Institute for Museum and Library Services results in a series of articles called âWhat Research Says About Learning Science in Mu- seumsâ in the association newsletter and two subsequent volumes with the same title. 1990 â irst chair in the public understanding of science is established, at F Imperial College, London. first satellite into orbit, captured the attention of the U.S. public and galva- nized support for domestic science education. For the first time, the federal government participated in K-12 and undergraduate curriculum development though its newly formed NSF, and a critical mass of top academics made a concerted push to improve science education. This began an era of wide-
Introduction 17 1991 â n International Journal of Science Education special issue on informal A science learning is published. 1992 â he journal Public Understanding of Science is established. T 1994 â conference funded by NSF results in publication of Public Institu- A tions for Personal Learning: Establishing a Research Agenda (Falk and Dierking, 1995). 1996 â he first major informal learning research grant is awarded to the T Museum Learning Collaborative, funded by a consortium of federal agencies. 1997 â Science Education special issue on informal science learning is A published. 1998 â SF-funded conference results in publication of Free-Choice Science N Education: How We Learn Science Outside of School (Falk, 2001). 2000 â SF-funded conference results in publication of Perspectives on Object- N Centered Learning in Museums (Paris, 2002). 2001 â ounding of the Center for Informal Learning and Schools. F 2002 â Journal of Research on Science Teaching special issue on informal A science learning is published. 2002 â ree-choice/informal learning is added as a strand of graduate study F in science and mathematics education in the College of Science at Oregon State University. 2004 â conference called âIn Principle, In Practice: A Learning Innovation A Initiativeâ resulted in a preconference supplemental issue of Science Education, a postconference online publication called Insights, and a postconference edited book on informal science learning. 2004 â ounding of the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments F Center. 2005 â nformalscience (http://www.informalscience.org) is launched to share I evaluation and research on informal science learning environments. 2008 â SF publishes Framework for Evaluating Impacts of Informal Science N Education Projects. spread interest in science centers, and, over the next decade, several of the leading institutions in informal science education were established. More recently several education research organizations, which focus primarily on schools, have added special-interest groups devoted to infor- mal learning and informal science. Numerous peer-reviewed journals have
18 Learning Science in Informal Environments included special editions on informal science learning, and the journal Sci- ence Education added an informal learning section. New journals, such as Public Understanding of Science and Science Communication, have arisen as well. Furthermore, research and evaluations of informal science learning environments have become more available through websites, such as infor- malscience.org; research agenda-setting events have transpired in an attempt to explore and coordinate the research and evaluations (Royal Society, 1985; Irwin and Wynne, 1996); and NSF has published a framework for assessing their impact (Friedman, 2008). Need for Common Frameworks With the growth of interest in science learning in informal environments and the diversification of venues, practitioners, and researchers, the literature has developed in a fractured and uneven manner. Several factors appear to contribute to the divergent trajectories of the research. First, the relationship between schools and informal environments for science learning has been unclear and contested, serving as an impediment to integration of what is understood about learning across these settings. In other words, research on schools rarely builds on findings from research in informal settings and vice versa. Second, the goals of informal environments for science learning are multiple. Designed environments have historically focused on what attracts an audience and keeps it engaged, but experiences are not often framed in terms of learning (Commission on Museums for a New Century, 1984; Rockman Et Al, 2007). After-school programs were traditionally designed with goals that often focused on providing a safe and healthy environment for young children during the hours after school. The goals of these programs have been driven by the institutions that have traditionally supported them, and only recently has large support come from sources that are increasingly concerned with learning outcomes. Third, since many fields of inquiry are invested in this work, the research base reflects a diversity of interests, questions, and methods from several loosely related fields. Historical sociological studies of the relationship be- tween science and the public have largely focused on institutional issues, again without attention to learning. Anthropology and psychology tend to explore learning, but not educational design. Much of the empirical evidence on museums, zoos, libraries, media, and programs has emerged from visitor studies and may include learning outcomes, demographic profiles, and analy- sis of visitor behavior. Evaluations typically illustrate how a specific program, broadcast, or exhibit supports learning. The theoretical underpinnings of this work may not be explicit, and general implications for informal science education are often hard to discern. In addition educators, researchers, and policy makers who are accustomed to research on classroom settings may tend to rely on measures of learning that are not appropriate for informal
Introduction 19 settings. Education researchers, psychologists, anthropologists, practitioners, and evaluators all have interest in informal science learning, yet they tend to explore those interests in distinct ways and participate in distinct and often disconnected communities of inquiry. Fourth, as funding for informal environments for science learning grows, so do questions about the responsible stewardship of investments and re- sources and its appropriate role in the educational infrastructure. Greater investment in an era of widespread accountability has brought greater scrutiny of whether and how science learning experiences in informal settings reach their goals. Designed spaces, after-school programs, and media developed to serve informal science learning ends are now faced with questions of how to prove they are having the impact many have long presumed. Furthermore, this area of inquiry must navigate the uncertain relationship between research and practice. This is perhaps most evident in research on everyday learning for which linkages to an infrastructure for science learning may be unclear. Everyday learningâthe things people learn by engaging in the everyday activities of lifeâhas no institutional home, yet it is fundamental to learning science. Fifth, media and information technology add a host of additional exciting dynamics with which researchers and practitioners must grapple. Advances in wireless technology, the expansion of the Internet, the advent of blogs and wikis, and the growth of games and simulations have changed the ways in which people access or are exposed to information related to science. New media may enhance dissemination of scientific knowledge, but they also raise questions about how and when media should be harnessed for science learning. Consider online gaming: it is a two-way medium (users are both receivers and senders of information), it allows for multimodal engagement (i.e., games can engage people in their preferred way, whatever it is), and as a networked environment it can leverage the small efforts of many users. In important ways these design features of gaming resonate with the philosophy of informal learning and call for greater analytic attention. At the same time, while new media forms make it easier for nonscientists to get access to scientific informationâfor example, through university web- sites and government documentation centersâthey also provide platforms for unverified information, incorrect explanations, speculative theories, and sometimes outright fraudulent claims. In many cases, information seekers may not have the tools to distinguish among the available information sources. The possibilities of media are exciting, yet the ability of researchers and practitioners in informal learning environments to keep pace with media and technological developments remains uncertain. Diversity of perspectives, research approaches, and questions is neces- sary for the healthy development of research in any field of study. Yet a common language and common constructs that characterize the settings, goals, practices, and technologies that are central to the work are needed as building blocks for research and practice. Researchers can benefit from
20 Learning Science in Informal Environments common constructs and language because they make it possible to clearly connect to and build on the work of their peers and predecessors to guide their work. Practitioners can benefit from common language and constructs because they facilitate clear communication, which is central to developing strong, dynamic professional cultures. The field itself benefits from common constructs that identify the commitments, core practices, and knowledge of the field for outsiders and newcomers to the field. Many individuals and or- ganizations, including philanthropies, government agencies, and volunteers, are interested in science learning in informal environments. They need to understand the field well enough to engage with the work, support high- quality efforts, and assess its overall value to society. Can clear, common constructs and language be identified? What are the goals of learning science in informal environments? What is known about leverage points for learning across the diverse settings involved? What are the possible relationships between schools and nonschool settings for sci- ence learning? What strategies allow educators to serve diverse audiences? How should one construe the influence of everyday learning, and how might it inform educational practice? Can the digital media age be harnessed to improve science learning? These are the kinds of questions that prompted this report. ABOUT THIS REPORT With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Research Council established the Committee on Learning Science in Informal Environments to undertake this study. Selected to reflect a diversity of per- spectives and a broad range of expertise, the 14 committee members include experts in research and evaluation, exhibit design, life-span development, everyday learning, science education, cognition and learning, and public understanding of science. In addition, the committee membership reflects a balance of experience in and knowledge of the range of venues for informal science museums, after-school programs, science and technology centers, libraries, media enterprises, aquariums, zoos, and botanical gardens. Committee Charge This study was designed to describe the status of knowledge about science learning in informal environments, illustrate which claims are sup- ported by evidence, articulate a common framework for the next generation of research, and provide guidance to the community of practice. The report covers issues of interest to museums, after-school programs, community organizations, evaluators, researchers, and parents. The committeeâs work was directed toward the following goals:
Introduction 21 â¢ Synthesize and extract key insights from the multiple sources of infor- mation that now shape the field, including evaluation studies, research activities, visitor studies, and survey mechanisms. â¢ Provide evaluators, practitioners, and researchers with an analysis of this synthesized research to begin to identify where common defini- tions and guiding epistemologies on science learning exist. â¢ Provide policy makers, scientific societies, academics, and others inter- ested in informal education with a clear, credible, and research-based overview of the research. â¢ Guide future research, evaluation, and education needs by identifying what a future research agenda might look like, given the state and application of current knowledge-based frameworks. The committeeâs charge was to respond to seven specific questions, which appear in Box 1-3. Following this report, a separate book is planned for publication by the National Academies Press. Based on the conclusions and recommendations of this report, the book that follows will interpret the research base for a practitioner audience. More information on that book is available at http://www7.nationalacademies.org/bose/LSIEP_Homepage. html. Approach and Scope The committee conducted its work through an iterative process of gather- ing information, deliberating on it, identifying gaps and questions, gathering further information to fill these gaps, and holding further discussions. In our search for relevant information, we held four public fact-finding meetings, reviewed published and unpublished research reports and evaluations, and asked nine experts to prepare and present papers. At the fifth meeting, the committee intensely analyzed the findings and discussed our conclusions. We were particularly concerned to identify bodies of research that are character- ized by systematic collection and interpretation of evidence and to show the ways in which these research literatures connect to each other. Some of the literatures drawn on include â¢ out-of-school and free-choice learning programs, â¢ diversity and learning, â¢ learning from media, â¢ learning in museums and other designed environments, â¢ the nature of learning, and â¢ everyday learning and families. The committee has also drawn extensively on evidence that does not appear in traditional, peer-reviewed scholarly publications, although many of the
22 Learning Science in Informal Environments BOX 1-3â Committee Charge 1. hat is the range of theoretical perspectives, assumptions, and out- W comes that characterize research on informal science? 2. hat assumptions, epistemologies, or modes of learning science are W shared between the formal and informal science education environ- ments? How do informal science understanding and practice vary in diverse communities? 3. hat evidence is there that people who participate in informal sci- W ence activities learn concepts, ways of thinking, practices, attitudes, and aesthetic appreciation in these settings? What kinds of informal learning environments best support the learning of current scientific is- sues and concerns (e.g., global warming)? What are the organizational, social, and affective features of effective informal science learning environments vis-Ã -vis a range of learned competencies/outcomes? 4. re some learning outcomes unique to informal environments? For A example, is there evidence that informal learning environments support the learning of populations who have been poorly served by school science? 5. hat is known about the cumulative effects of science learning across W time and contexts? How do learners (young, middle-aged, adolescent, older adults) utilize informal science learning opportunities? How do these opportunities influence learners? Are informal learning experi- ences designed to suit the developmental trajectories of individuals? 6. hat information is needed by practitioners in the field? What infor- W mation is needed by academics seeking to build and enlarge relevant areas of advanced or graduate study? What information is needed by policy makers to affect policies that include informal environments within the scope of education-directed legislation? 7. hat are promising directions for future research? Can common W frameworks that link the diverse literatures be developed? If so, what would they look like? projects and programs devoted to informal science learning have been the subject of formal evaluations, often conducted in rigorous and informative ways. When appropriate, and with sufficient detail to demonstrate the evi- dentiary value of the material, we have drawn on this evaluation literature. At the first meeting, the committee discussed the charge with representa-
Introduction 23 tives of NSF and heard from a panel of researchers on the status of the field of informal science learning. This meeting was largely intended to provide committee members with a chance to internalize the charge and to obtain input from senior informal science educators, researchers, and evaluators as they began the study. The second meeting was largely intended to provide the committee with information on the learning perspectives that guide or inform informal learn- ing environments and how these environments can serve underrepresented or underserved populations. At the third meeting, the committee heard evi- dence about science learning that takes place in various informal venues and pressing policy issues. During this meeting, the committee identified seven topics for which they required a focused literature review from a range of experts with research interests in learning science in informal environments. These topics became the focus of commissioned papers. At the fourth meet- ing, the public session was concerned primarily with the status of the papers prepared to support the committeeâs work and the organizational structure being implemented in NSF as it relates to this project. The fifth meeting was taken up with the committeeâs deliberations. This report is primarily concerned with characterizing the state of evi- dence about how and what people learn about science in informal environ- ments throughout their lives. However, this broad scope, the divergent nature of the relevant literature, and the quantity of unpublished information pre- vented us from doing an in-depth analysis of all of the literature on the topic. Consequently, there are relevant literatures that this study does not consider or only touches on. They include adult workforce learning, the classroom as a site for informal learning, and media-based health interventions (e.g., in public health campaigns and international development). Focus of the Report This report is an effort to develop a common framework for the broad and diverse fields of inquiry about informal environments for science learn- ing. Prior efforts to synthesize these literatures and discern what is known and what is not have been minimal. Synthesis is a crucial step toward le- veraging research to enhance practice and making strategic choices about which research questions to prioritize. One complicating factor in efforts to synthesize this work is that the evidence base reflects the diversity of the evidence and is informed by a range of disciplines and perspectives, including field-based research, evaluations, visitor studies, design studies, and traditional experimental psychological studies of learning. The purposes of these studies, their conceptions of learning and goals, and the methods and measures they employ vary tremendously. Consequently, there is no basis for targeted, systematic, and efficient knowledge accumulation, and it is difficult to leverage research to guide policy and practice. A necessary step in developing a framework is to clearly define what
24 Learning Science in Informal Environments learning is in informal environments. Informal learning institutions typically operate without the authority to compel participation, and they are not solely concerned with improving the science proficiency of children. The model of science learning the committee presents places special emphasis on providing entrÃ©e to and sustained engagement with scienceâreflecting the purview of informal learningâwhile maintaining an eye on the potential of informal science learning environments to support a broad range of science-specific learning outcomes and intersect with related institutional players. We use this broad definition of learning to build a coherent set of shared goals, to articulate particular strengths of the varied research bases involved, and to acknowledge the ways in which informal learning environments and K-12 schooling can complement one another. As noted, this report reviews an extremely broad and diverse literature, and the committee needed to make decisions about how to focus and limit the fact-finding process in order to complete the project with the resources available. Finding ways to constrain fact-finding was particularly important in this study because there are currently few synthesized works, such as handbook chapters and commissioned research reviews, to draw on. Ac- cordingly, the literature reflected in this volume is drawn primarily from North American publications. The committee acknowledges that there are clearly high-quality research literatures that are developed in other regions of the world, but given limitations on time and resources, we chose to use those that are most familiar to the U.S. audience. When international reports are included, these are works that are either seminal in the North American context or speak to important issues that the committee was unable to ad- dress otherwise. The report also reflects an emphasis on research from the past 20 years, a period during which sociocultural and cognitive accounts of learning are most prevalent. Organization of the Report The report has four parts. Part I sets the stage, beginning with this introductory chapter. Chapter 2 provides a description of the theoretical frameworks that guide practice and research in science learning in informal environments. In Chapter 3 we illustrate the expected outcomes of engage- ment in these settings, what we call the strands of science learning. Also, this chapter includes guidance on appropriate methods and techniques for studying these outcomes and their development in informal settings. Part II provides a detailed description of venues for learning science in informal environments. The individual chapters focus on everyday learning environments (Chapter 4), designed learning environments (Chapter 5), and programs for science learning (Chapter 6). Each includes a discussion of their defining features, how they support science learning, and the impact they have on the strands of science learning. Part III explores themes that emerge
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