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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12614.
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SURROUNDED BY SCIENCE

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12614.
×

SURROUNDED BY SCIENCE

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12614.
×

SURROUNDED BY SCIENCE

Learning Science in Informal Environments

Marilyn Fenichel and Heidi A. Schweingruber

Based on the National Research Council Report Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits

Board on Science Education

Center for Education

Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS

Washington, D.C.
www.nap.edu

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12614.
×

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS

500 Fifth Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20001

NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this publication was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. This book is based on the National Research Council report Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits (2009).

This project was supported by Grant No. ESI-0348841 between the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation with support from the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Fenichel, Marilyn.

Surrounded by science : learning science in informal environments / Marilyn Fenichel and Heidi A. Schweingruber ; Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education.

p. cm.

“Based on the NRC report, Learning science in informal environments: people, places and pursuits.”

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-309-13674-7 (pbk.) — ISBN 978-0-309-13675-4 (pdf)

1. Science—Study and teaching—Case studies. 2. Active learning. 3. Experiential learning. I. Schweingruber, Heidi A. II. National Research Council (U.S.). Board on Science Education. III. Title.

Q181.F3295 2010

507.1—dc22

2010003193

Additional copies of this publication are available from the

National Academies Press,

500 Fifth Street, N.W., Lockbox 285, Washington, DC 20055; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313 (in the Washington metropolitan area); Internet, http://www.nap.edu.

Copyright 2010 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America

Suggested citation: Fenichel, M., and Schweingruber, H.A. (2010). Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments. Board on Science Education, Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12614.
×

BOARD ON SCIENCE EDUCATION

HELEN R. QUINN (Chair),

Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Stanford University

PHILIP BELL,

Learning Sciences, College of Education, University of Washington, Seattle

WILLIAM BONVILLIAN,

Washington, DC, Office, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

JOHN BRANSFORD,

Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Washington, Seattle

ADAM GAMORAN,

Center for Education Research, University of Wisconsin–Madison

JERRY P. GOLLUB,

Department of Physics, Haverford College

JANET HUSTLER,

Partnership for Student Success in Science, Synopsys, Inc., Mountain View, California

FRANK KEIL,

Morse College, Yale University

BRETT D. MOUDLING,

Utah Office of Education, Salt Lake City

CARLO PARRAVANO,

Merck Institute for Science Education, Merck & Co., Inc., Rahway, New Jersey

SUSAN R. SINGER,

Department of Biology, Carleton College

CARL E. WIEMAN,

Department of Physics, University of Colorado, Boulder

WILLIAM B. WOOD,

Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder

MARTIN STORKSDIECK, Director (since June 2009)

C. JEAN MOON, Director (until October 2007)

HEIDI A. SCHWEINGRUBER, Deputy Director

ANDREW W. SHOUSE, Senior Program Officer (until September 2008)

MICHAEL A. FEDER, Senior Program Officer

THOMAS KELLER, Senior Program Officer

VICTORIA N. WARD, Senior Program Assistant (until May 2008)

KELLY DUNCAN, Senior Program Assistant

PATRICIA HARVEY, Senior Program Assistant (until June 2009)

REBECCA KRONE, Senior Program Assistant

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Contents

Preface

 

xi

PART I
Frameworks for Thinking About Science Learning

 

 

1

 

Informal Environments for Learning Science

 

1

   

 Venues for Learning Science

 

2

   

 Illustrating the Common Characteristics of Informal Environments

 

5

   

 everyday SCIENCE: WolfQuest: Playing to Learn

 

6

   

 everyday SCIENCE: Science in Unexpected Places: Learning at a Science Café

 

9

   

 Reflecting on the Cases

 

12

   

 A Systematic Approach to Learning

 

13

   

 For Further Reading

 

17

   

 Web Resources

 

18

2

 

Science and Science Learning

 

19

   

 Science as a Social and Cultural Enterprise

 

19

   

 everyday SCIENCE: Research in Your Backyard: Participating in the Practices of Science

 

22

   

 What Is Science Learning?

 

25

   

 Things to Try

 

32

   

 For Further Reading

 

33

   

 Web Resources

 

34

PART II
Designing Experiences to Promote Science Learning

 

 

3

 

Design for Science Learning: Basic Principles

 

37

   

 Insights from Research on Learning

 

38

   

 Strategies for Putting Research into Practice

 

39

   

 Learning from Interactive Experiences

 

41

   

 everyday SCIENCE: Cell Lab: An Opportunity to Interact with Scientific Instruments

 

44

   

 Challenges of Designing for Learning

 

48

   

 everyday SCIENCE: Probing the Depths of The Mind at the Exploratorium

 

50

   

 everyday SCIENCE: Science Learning Among Kids of All Ages

 

53

   

 Learning Through Media

 

56

   

 everyday SCIENCE: How DragonflyTV Fosters Learning

 

57

   

 Things to Try

 

60

   

 For Further Reading

 

61

   

 Web Resources

 

62

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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12614.
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4

 

Learning with and from Others

 

63

   

 Conversations and Language

 

66

   

 everyday SCIENCE: Listening to Conversations at the Frogs Exhibition

 

69

   

 Explanation: A Learning Tool Between Parents and Children

 

73

   

 everyday SCIENCE: A Conversation at the Museum

 

75

   

 Roles That Support Learning

 

77

   

 Things to Try

 

79

   

 For Further Reading

 

80

   

 Web Resources

 

80

5

 

Interest and Motivation: Steps Toward Building a Science Identity

 

81

   

 The Role of Interest in Informal Environments

 

82

   

 everyday SCIENCE: Building Exhibits Based on the Motivation Model

 

84

   

 Cultivating and Sustaining Interest

 

87

   

 everyday SCIENCE: An Innovative Project with Urban Teens

 

89

   

 Well-Developed Interest and Changes in Identity

 

93

   

 everyday SCIENCE: An Environmental Pioneer at Work

 

98

   

 Things to Try

 

100

   

 For Further Reading

 

101

   

 Web Resources

 

101

6

 

Assessing Learning Outcomes

 

103

   

 Challenges of Assessing Science Learning in Informal Settings

 

103

   

 Developing Appropriate Assessments

 

105

   

 Assessment and Evaluation

 

111

   

 Things to Try

 

113

   

 For Further Reading

 

115

   

 Web Resources

 

115

PART III

 

Reaching Across Communities, Time, and Space

 

 

   

 7  Culture, Diversity, and Equity

 

119

   

 Rethinking Equity

 

120

   

 everyday SCIENCE: The Vietnamese Audience Development Initiative

 

123

   

 Designing Informal Science Experiences for People with Disabilities

 

128

   

 everyday SCIENCE: Culturally Relevant Exhibits for People with Disabilities

 

130

   

 Integrating Native American Culture with Science

 

132

   

 everyday SCIENCE: Merging Native Culture and Language with Science

 

133

   

 Things to Try

 

136

   

 For Further Reading

 

137

   

 Web Resources

 

137

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12614.
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8

 

Learning Through the Life Span

 

139

   

 Children and Youth

 

140

   

 everyday SCIENCE: Girls Explore Yellowstone

 

144

   

 Informal Science Learning Experiences for Adults

 

146

   

 everyday SCIENCE: Road Watch in the Pass

 

150

   

 Experiences for Older Adults

 

151

   

 everyday SCIENCE: Project SEE Offers Science for Seniors

 

154

   

 Cohort Effects

 

155

   

 Things to Try

 

157

   

 For Further Reading

 

159

   

 Web Resources

 

159

9

 

Extending and Connecting Opportunities to Learn Science

 

161

   

 Expanding Opportunities for Informal Science Learning

 

161

   

 Linking Formal and Informal Settings

 

166

   

 The Value of Field Trips

 

167

   

 Taking Field Trips to the Next Level

 

170

   

 everyday SCIENCE: The Mystery of the X-Fish

 

171

   

 Another Model for Linking Schools and Informal Settings

 

174

   

 everyday SCIENCE: The Lake Washington Watershed Internship Program

 

175

   

 Out-of-School-Time Programs: An Opportunity for Partnerships

 

176

   

 everyday SCIENCE: The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Pajaro Unified School District Working Together

 

178

   

 Teacher Professional Development in Informal Settings

 

180

   

 Learning Progressions and Preparation for Future Learning

 

182

   

 Things to Try

 

184

   

 For Further Reading

 

186

   

 Web Resources

 

186

APPENDIX:
Major Research Investments in the Connection of Formal and Informal Science Teaching and Learning

 

187

Notes

 

191

Acknowledgments

 

205

Photo Credits

 

207

Index

 

209

Biographical Sketches of Authors

 

219

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12614.
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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12614.
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Preface

As children, many of us remember going on a family outing to a zoo, an aquarium, a planetarium, or a natural history museum. Although sometimes we may have approached such excursions warily, thinking they might prove boring, eventually there was something that caught our eye. Perhaps it was a chimpanzee staring back at us in a strangely familiar way or a shark taking a solitary swim in a custom-made tank. It could have been a moon rock brought back to Earth from one of the first manned space flights.

When, at the end of the outing, parents asked, “Did you have fun?” in spite of ourselves we usually had to say yes. But then they wanted to know something else: “What did you learn?” That question was far harder to answer.

Indeed, those working in science museums and other informal learning environments, including film and broadcast media; botanical gardens and nature centers; libraries; and youth, community, and out-of-school-time programs, increasingly are being called on to answer this question. Although people have participated in these activities for at least 200 years, only in the past few decades have practitioners and evaluators in the informal science community begun to study systematically what people learn, how they learn, and whether experiences in informal environments reinforce people’s identity as science learners. This work, still in its early stages, has proven to be challenging for several reasons.

For one thing, ideas about learning have become increasingly sophisticated. It turns out that learning is far more than simply accumulating content knowledge. It is also a social process, informed and enhanced by collaboration and discussion with other learners. In addition, “science learning” has its own particular characteristics. It encompasses the building of conceptual knowledge as well as mastering skills, such as observing, making predictions, designing experiments, and drawing conclusions based on data. What’s more, science learning has a cultural component. Science has its own language, tools, and practices. Part of the

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12614.
×

learning process for nonscientists is to become familiar with the culture of science and figure out how it meshes with their own cultural perspectives.

Scientists constantly revise their understanding of how the world works based on emerging new evidence. For example, until recently, everyone considered Pluto to be a planet, but now the best minds in astronomy say otherwise. In the field of biology, there has been a shift in focus, moving from an emphasis on the structure and function of plants and animals to one on molecular and cell biology.

Many compelling current issues are related to scientific knowledge, which provides the background needed to make decisions about problems and to take advantage of opportunities. For example, although science cannot tell people what to do about climate change, it can provide the data necessary to realize that carbon dioxide emitted into the air, often through human activities, is greatly affecting the climate. The way people interpret that information—and whether they accept it—is based on their cultural context, values, and vision for the future. The same holds true for acceptance of a new avenue of study, such as stem cell research. Science presents the opportunity to pursue it, but people’s beliefs and values dictate whether they follow through.

One of the goals of informal science environments is to introduce learners to scientific skills and concepts, the culture of science, and the role science plays in decision making. While some of this can be learned in school, informal settings have an advantage in that they can reach people of all ages, with varying levels of interest and knowledge of science. What are effective ways to realize this goal? For example, what tools and strategies are needed to help practitioners in informal settings meet these challenges? What knowledge could help inform their practice?

This book strives to answer these questions. One of its key premises is that an understanding of current research about how people learn in general—as well as the specific challenges of learning science—can improve the quality of informal science offerings. For example, exhibits can become more interactive, which research says has the potential to provoke questions and elicit more thoughtful comments and conversations. Strategies used in commercially produced computer games can be put to use in “educational” games to generate excitement about science as well as to build players’ knowledge base. And out-of-school-time programs, especially those for nondominant groups, can be designed with an understanding of the participants’ culture.

These findings and others brought together in this book come from the National Research Council (NRC) report, Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits. This report, written by a committee

Page xiii Cite
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12614.
×

of 14 experts convened by NRC, includes the perspectives of developmental and cognitive psychologists, science educators, museum researchers and evaluators, social scientists, and professionals in the fields of youth and adult learning. This committee reviewed the most relevant peer-reviewed research, commissioned new papers on specialized topics, and held three public fact-finding meetings. Their report distilled what is known from research while also identifying what gaps remain in our knowledge about how to create effective informal science learning environments.

Along the way, the committee realized that its findings would have tremendous value to a wide range of practitioners. Educators, museum professionals, policy makers, university faculty, youth leaders, media specialists, publishers, and broadcast journalists are among those who could put these new insights to good use. As a result, this book was created with several purposes in mind: to introduce newcomers to a growing body of research, to enhance the knowledge base of mid-level professionals, and to provide seasoned professionals with a source that gathers the body of research together in an accessible format. For all of these audiences, the goal is to present what the committee sees as the best thinking to date on how people learn in informal science environments.

The book is divided into three parts. Part I, “Frameworks for Thinking About Science Learning,” lays the foundation for much of the research referred to throughout the book. The first chapter describes the range of informal environments for learning science, including everyday environments, designed environments, and programs, and then makes the point that these environments are developed by professionals who share common goals. These goals include a desire to engage participants in multiple ways, to provide opportunities for direct interaction with phenomena, and to acknowledge learners’ prior knowledge and interests. Chapter 2 builds on these ideas by focusing specifically on what it means to do and learn science. The chapter opens with a discussion of science as a human endeavor that involves specialized language, tools, and norms. It then introduces the strands of science learning, a framework that describes the range of knowledge, skills, interests, and practices involved in science learning. The strands framework is a tool that can be used to reflect on the broad range of competencies involved in learning science, to articulate learning goals, and to guide evaluation. The strands come up throughout the book in the descriptions of different types of informal environments and the type of learning that has occurred.

Part II, “Designing Experiences to Promote Science Learning,” focuses on different aspects of the research on learning and how it can be put to work by

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12614.
×

practitioners, as well as assessment. Chapter 3 discusses specific strategies, such as the use of interactivity, that are effective in fostering the deeper, more flexible understanding of science that is exemplified by the strands. Chapter 4 highlights the social and cultural aspects of learning, exploring how individual learning is supported through interaction with more knowledgeable individuals and through the dynamic exchange of ideas. Chapter 5 discusses ways to enhance interest and motivation to learn and how a developed identity as a science learner is both a natural outcome of a highly motivated learner and a reason that people pursue varied informal learning experiences in science. Part II concludes with a chapter that explores the role of assessment in informal settings and the challenges inherent in this endeavor.

Part III, “Reaching Across Communities, Time, and Space,” emphasizes other variables that affect learning. Chapter 7 presents a detailed discussion of what is meant by “equity” in the context of informal science settings and how these environments can be made more accessible to diverse populations. Chapter 8 discusses how to develop effective learning experiences for learners across the life span—for children and youth, senior citizens, and other adults. Chapter 9, the final chapter in the book, looks to the future of informal science learning, with a discussion on how to extend learning experiences across different media and settings. It also examines the relationship between formal and informal science environments and discusses the value to the learner of creating stronger links between these two settings.

Throughout the book, case studies show how the principles and strategies emerging from research on learning can and are being employed by informal science educators across various settings. They also provide concrete examples to reflect on and critique, with the hope that they will generate new insights that will inform readers’ own work. For those who want to pursue the topics presented in each chapter in greater depth, a list of additional readings is included. Also, there is a list of “things to try” that provides suggestions for how to take ideas discussed in the chapter and begin to apply them. The “things to try,” however, are not detailed roadmaps for practice, but rather broad ideas that the reader may want to explore within his or her own institutional context.

A major goal of the book is to show the many ways that informal environments can support science learning and provide insight into how science can be made meaningful to people of all ages, backgrounds, and cultures—a value long

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12614.
×

held dear in the informal science community. Columbia University physicist Brian Greene offers an eloquent explanation of this belief:

Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive, and reliable—a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. To be able to think through and grasp explanations—for everything from why the sky is blue to how life formed on Earth—not because they are declared dogma but because they reveal patterns confirmed by experiment and observation, is one of the most precious of human experiences.

Through informal science learning, we can all experience this joy as our eyes are opened to the excitement and wonder that is science.


Marilyn Fenichel

Heidi A. Schweingruber

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PART I
Frameworks for Thinking About Science Learning

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Practitioners in informal science settings--museums, after-school programs, science and technology centers, media enterprises, libraries, aquariums, zoos, and botanical gardens--are interested in finding out what learning looks like, how to measure it, and what they can do to ensure that people of all ages, from different backgrounds and cultures, have a positive learning experience.

Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments, is designed to make that task easier. Based on the National Research Council study, Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits, this book is a tool that provides case studies, illustrative examples, and probing questions for practitioners. In short, this book makes valuable research accessible to those working in informal science: educators, museum professionals, university faculty, youth leaders, media specialists, publishers, broadcast journalists, and many others.

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