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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits 6 Programs for Young and Old This chapter focuses on science learning programs for children, youth, and adults. These programs take place in many different environments—schools, community centers, universities, and a range of informal institutions. They are held indoors and out and in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Program schedules vary, with some taking place daily and others weekly or even monthly. The way in which participants spend their time also varies. Some programs mirror a traditional classroom structure, with program leaders teaching mini-lessons and students practicing skills. Some programs conduct projects off-site in the community, and others take place in a science lab or field study setting. Program goals may include developing basic scientific knowledge, advancing academic school goals, or applying knowledge to improve the quality of life for the participant or the community. What these programs have in common is an organizational goal to achieve curricular ends—a goal that distinguishes them from everyday learning activities and learning in designed environments. Science learning programs are typically led by a professional educator or facilitator, and, rather than being episodic and self-organized, they tend to extend for a period of weeks or months and serve a prescribed population of learners. Ideally, the programs are informal in design—they are learner driven, identifying and building on the interests and motivations of the participant, and use assessment in constructive, formative ways to give learners useful, valued information. Yet as programs that retain much of the structure identified with schools—a curriculum that unfolds over time, facilitators or teachers, a consistent group of participants—and yet that occur in nonschool hours, they have a natural tension. Nowhere is this tension more evident than in discussions of after-
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits school programs in which establishing learning goals, outcome measures, and accountability processes can be especially contentious (see Box 6-1). In this chapter we organize the discussion of programs for science learning around three distinct age groups: children and youth in after-school and out-of-school programs; adults, including K-12 teachers; and older adults, who have unique developmental capabilities and life-course interests. The emphasis in this chapter on programs for school-age children, and specifically after-school programs, reflects several considerations: the committee’s charge to examine the articulation between schools and informal settings; the scale and proliferation of out-of-school-time programs; the fact that there has been considerable research on this topic, much of it evoking controversy that the committee hopes to illuminate and address; the relative paucity of research on programs for adults (including senior citizens); and the promise of out-of-school time as a means of engaging a diverse population of children and youth in science (e.g., U.S. Department of Education, 2003). LEARNING SCIENCE IN OUT-OF-SCHOOL-TIME PROGRAMS Out-of-school-time programs have existed for some time, first appearing at the end of the 19th century.1 Throughout the years, they have changed and adapted to serve different purposes, needs, and concerns, including providing a safe environment, academic enrichment, socialization, acculturation, problem remediation, and play (Halpern, 2002). Diverging goals and the fact that multiple institutions and professional communities share claim to these programs has periodically caused tensions (see Box 6-2). Today, out-of-school-time programs typically incorporate three blocks of time devoted to (1) homework help and tutoring, (2) enriched learning experiences, and (3) nonacademic activities, such as sports, arts, or play (Noam, Biancarosa, and Dechausay, 2003). Programs are also expanding, in large part due to strong federal and private support. They continue to be supported by various stakeholders with diverse goals for a broad range of student populations. The bulk of the research on out-of-school-time programs has occurred in the past two decades in conjunction with a rise in governmental and public 1 We use the term “out-of-school” to refer to the broad set of educational programs that take place before or after the school day and during nonschool periods, such as summer vacation.
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits support for them. Politicians, parents, and educators increasingly view these programs as an important developmental contributor in the lives of young people and a necessary component of public education. One indication of their importance is funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLCs), a federal program providing out-of-school-time care: it rose from zero in 1994, to $40 million in 1998, to $1 billion in 2002 (U.S. Department of Education, 2003). In 2007, the House of Representatives voted to increase funding to $1.1 billion (Afterschool Alliance, 2008). Society has also witnessed changes in the workforce, resulting in a greater proportion of homes in which all adults are employed and an increase in student participation in out-of-school-time programs and other care arrangements. In 2005, 40 percent of all students in grades K-8 were in at least one weekly nonparental out-of-school-time care arrangement (National Center for Education Statistics, 2006). School-based or center-based programs were the most common care arrangement. Out-of-school-time programs have the potential to provide large-scale enrichment opportunities that were once reserved for wealthier families. In fact, at the 21st CCLCs, more than half the participants are of minority background and from low-income schools. The students who attend most frequently are more likely to be black, from single-parent homes, low-income, and on public assistance. This means that out-of-school-time programs often serve the most vulnerable populations. One consequence of this demographic structure is that much of the research on learning in out-of-school-time programs focuses on nondominant groups, a feature that will be seen in the evidence cited throughout this chapter. Evidence of Science Learning Despite its long history, research on learning in general in out-of-school programs is controversial and inconclusive (Miller, 2003; Dynarski et al., 2004; Bissel et al., 2003). However, a range of evaluation studies show that out-of-school programs can have positive effects on participants’ attitudes toward science, grades, test scores, graduation rates, and specific science knowledge and skills (Gibson and Chase, 2002; Building Science and Engineering Talent, 2004; Archer, Fanesali, Froschl, and Sprung, 2003; Project Exploration, 2006; Ferreira, 2001; Harvard Family Research Project, 2003; DeHaven and Weist, 2003; Jarman, 2005; Campbell et al., 1998, as cited in Fancsali, 2002; Brenner, Hudley, Jimerson, and Okamoto, 2001; Johnson, 2005; Fusco, 2001; Jeffers, 2003). Yet there is little evidence of a synthesized literature on out-of-school-time science programs. Program goals, outcome measures used to evaluate them, and research methods vary tremendously in this area. Some researchers, drawing on social psychology and youth development traditions, are primarily concerned with the development of positive attitudes, skills, and social relationships. Other
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits BOX 6-1 The Relationship Between School and Out-of-School Programs Historically, relationships between school and out-of-school programs—particularly community-based out-of-school programs—have often been characterized by mutual mistrust and conflict. In a report based on 10 years of research studying approximately 120 youth-based community organizations throughout the United States, McLaughlin (2000) explains, “adults working with youth organizations frequently believe that school people do not respect or value their young people. Educators, for their part, generally see youth organizations as mere ‘fun’ and as having little to contribute to the business of schools. Moreover, educators often establish professional boundaries around learning and teaching, considering them the sole purview of teachers. If we want to better serve our youth, there is an obvious need for rethinking the relationship between schools and out-of-school programs, particularly for out-of-school programs that have an academic focus such as science.” In Afterschool Education, Noam, Biancarosa, and Dechausay (2003) outline different models of relationships between school and out-of-school programs in an effort to create better relationships, management connections, and interesting curricula and materials. At one extreme, there is the model of “unified” programs that are the equivalent of what is now called extended-day programming. Under this model, out-of-school programs can become essentially indistinguishable from school, since they take place in the same space and are usually under the same leadership (the school principal). At the other extreme lie “self-contained” programs, which intentionally choose to be separate from schools. Taking place in a different location, they often provide students with an entirely different experience from school. Between these two extremes lie three other models: “associated,” “coordinated,” and “integrated,” each connecting out-of-school programs with schools at different levels of intensity. Noam and colleagues also outline the different ways these researchers are more concerned with academic skills and improved academic achievement, as measured by standardized test scores, grades, graduation rates, and continued involvement in school science (Campbell et al., 1998; Building Engineering and Science Talent, 2004; Brenner et al., 2001). Given these different approaches (and the concerns we noted in Chapter 3 about relying on solely academic outcomes), we cannot provide definitive conclu-
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits connections can take place, dividing them into interpersonal, systemic, and curricular domains. The curricular domain is perhaps the most significant one in the discussion of relationships between out-of-school science and school science, although it is obviously influenced by such factors as physical location, philosophy, and interpersonal relationships. These models of relationships between out-of-school programs and school can be used as a foundation for more specific models describing the spectrum of relationships between out-of-school science and school science. With the associated model, the out-of-school curriculum is closely connected to the school curriculum. Out-of-school coordinators and staff know on a week-by-week basis the material teachers are covering in class and can directly connect it to out-of-school activities. Out-of-school science is essentially an extension of school science, but with a more informal feel. The benefit of this model is that out-of-school and school science are connected, and the connection between the two is explicit. In the coordinated model, out-of-school science programs connect their activities to the general school science curriculum and standards but not to what students are learning in class on a daily or weekly basis. This model avoids some of the conflicts between science in schools and out-of-school programs, while allowing out-of-school programs to support students’ learning in schools. It also has logistical benefits, since it does not require the same level of planning and day-to-day communication between schoolteachers and out-of-school staff. Finally, in the integrated model, out-of-school science is entirely disconnected from school science. Out-of-school programs make sure that participants are engaging in high-quality science experiences, but consider it undesirable for students to connect out-of-school science to school science. By keeping the two worlds separate, integrated out-of-school programs say they can provide students with an alternate entry point into science if they have already been turned off from school science. sions about what learning outcomes can be achieved. Our goal here is to organize the evidence of science-specific learning outcomes in a way that can provide a foundation for exploring two questions more thoroughly in the future: To what extent are the types of science-specific goals described in this report reflected in the evidence base? How do the commitments of
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits BOX 6-2 Learning Goals for Science Learning Programs There is an ongoing debate about the goals of out-of-school programs and appropriate measures for evaluating them. On one side of the debate are those who view out-of-school time as an extension of regular school time. They argue that, in an age of accountability, when many students are failing to meet state and national academic standards, out-of-school time should be used to further the academic goals of schools. On the other side of the debate are those who view out-of-school time as part of the broader realm of development. In their view, out-of-school programs should ensure healthy development and well-being for participants by developing personal and social assets in physical, intellectual, psychological, emotional, and social development domains (Institute of Medicine, 2002). The focus in programming is less on the acquisition of specific academic skills and knowledge and much more on providing a physically and psychologically safe environment with supportive relationships and a sense of belonging. Adding a science focus does not conflict with these nonacademic outcomes. Learners informal education, such as learner choice and low-stakes assessment, shape the program and evaluation agenda in out-of-school settings? In many cases, the dominance of a youth development, academic accountability, or science-specific perspective is evident in program goals and outcome measures. In an effort to integrate the findings and identify patterns of strong evidence with respect to science-specific outcomes across studies, we integrate the evidence across these varied perspectives. We examine evidence in light of the strands of science learning—some but not all of which are evident in the research base on out-of-school-time programs. Strand 1: Developing Interest in Science Promoting interest in science is a common goal of out-of-school science programs (e.g., Brenner et al., 2001; Building Science and Engineering Talent, 2004; Gibson and Chase, 2002; Archer et al., 2003; Project Exploration, 2006). A number of evaluations that have examined this outcome suggest that sustained engagement in out-of-school science programs can promote science interest. For example, a comparison study by Gibson and Chase (2002) exam-
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits must feel safe with science and find value in it if they are to make progress along the strands. A science focus does call for careful attention to the specificity of socioemotional and cognitive outcomes—that is, to the ways that out-of-school programs may contribute specifically to the learning outcomes described in the strands. In fact, out-of-school settings may provide a place where science learning can have a greater impact through higher “dosage” than incidental experiences in designed settings without losing an informal feel. Lucy Friedman, president of The After-School Corporation, writes, “While both the afterschool and science fields are at a crossroads, association with the other enhances the potential for each to flourish” (Friedman, 2005, p.75). It has also become more important to find new venues for science learning as time spent on science in schools decreases (Dorph et al., 2007; McMurrer, 2007). Schools classified as “in need of improvement” under the No Child Left Behind Act, in particular, have limited science instructional time; 43 percent of these schools have cut science to an average of 91 minutes per week (McMurrer, 2007). ined the effects of a two-week summer science program for middle school students that employed inquiry-based instruction. Using stratified random sampling, the researchers selected a group of 158 students to participate in the summer program; of these 79 participated in the study. In addition, a group of 35 students who applied for the program but were not selected to participate in the summer program and a group of 500 students who did not apply to participate in the summer program served as comparison groups. Two surveys were used to gauge students’ interest in science, and qualitative interview data were collected from 22 students who attended the summer program. There was complete longitudinal data for only 8 of the 35 students who applied for the program but were not selected. By following these three groups over a five-year time period, the researchers were able to determine not only if the two-week program had an immediate effect on participants’ attitudes toward science, but also if this interest was sustained over time. In all three groups, interest in science decreased, but students who participated in the two-week science program retained a more positive attitude toward science and higher interest in science careers than the other two groups. Although outcomes were not tightly linked to program features or components, the study focused on the role
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits of an inquiry-based approach to teaching science in increasing students’ long-term interest in science. In interviews conducted several years after completion of the program, program participants pointed to its hands-on, inquiry-based nature as what they best remembered and most enjoyed (Gibson and Chase, 2002). A large number of other studies also indicate that participation in out-of-school programs focused on science and mathematics can support more positive attitudes toward science, particularly among girls. For example, several noncomparative studies of Operation SMART, an out-of-school-time program for girls ages 6-18, showed increased levels of confidence and comfort with mathematics and science immediately after the program (Building Science and Engineering Talent, 2004). Operation SMART’s curriculum also consists of hands-on, inquiry-based activities. Project Exploration, an out-of-school-time program that primarily serves students from groups that are typically underrepresented in the sciences—80 percent low income, 90 percent minority, and 73 percent female—has remarkable statistics on participants’ sustained interest in science: 25 percent of all students and 35 percent of female students major in sciences in college (Archer et al., 2003; Project Exploration, 2006). Project Exploration serves students in the Chicago public schools, and an alliance with the school district appears to be strategic in allowing its services to reach a traditionally underserved population. When compared with the graduation rate of students attending the same schools, Project Exploration alumni graduate from high school at a rate 18 percent higher than their peers. These data suggest a positive result, but the basis for selection into the program is not explained in the evaluation reports, other than the statement that “academic achievement is not a requirement for selection into Project Exploration programs…. [I]t is not known whether the students are exactly representative of their respective schools. Additional data [are] needed to increase confidence in this measure” (Project Exploration, 2006, p. 6). In a program in which African American middle school girls worked on projects with female engineers, participating girls held more positive attitudes toward science class and science careers after participation in the program (Ferreira, 2001). This study emphasized the importance of female mentors in changing the girls’ attitudes toward science (with the caveat that, to be most successful, mentors must have subject matter expertise as well as pedagogical knowledge of cooperative learning strategies). Two other studies of summer science programs for girls showed similar positive results. A three-year evaluation of Raising Interest in Science and Engineering, a program aimed at increasing middle school girls’ confidence in mathematics and science and decreasing attrition in secondary-level mathematics and science classes reported that 86 percent of participants planned on pursuing careers in mathematics and science, and 52 percent had changed their career plans after participating in the program (Jarvis, 2002).
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits An important component of the program was that each participant was given a female mentor, most of whom were Latina and African American college students studying engineering. The Girls Math and Technology Program placed a similar emphasis on female role models for middle school girls and also showed increased confidence in mathematics based on pre- and post-test data (DeHaven and Weist, 2003). These studies also support the observation made in Chapter 2 and elsewhere that the strands must be understood as interrelated. For example, here the evidence indicates that interest (Strand 1) can be sustained over many years. At some point, a sustained interest in science is likely to change the ways in which individuals understand the concepts in a domain (Strand 2) and how they view themselves in relation to science (Strand 6). Strand 2: Understanding Scientific Knowledge Several studies have examined students’ learning of science concepts and explanations by relying largely on academic outcome measures—test scores, grades, and graduation rates. One program exception is an evaluation of Kinetic City After School (Johnson, 2005). Kinetic City includes a variety of investigations, hands-on activities, and games, as well as an interactive website with science adventures, all organized to support particular standards drawn from the Benchmarks for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993). The evaluation included a pre- and post-test based on the program’s learning goals, which included concepts pertaining to animal biology (e.g., classification and adaptation). Students also completed a creative writing activity that incorporated their understanding of the scientific concepts covered in the program. Mean scores for both components of the evaluation (pre/post-tests and the writing task) increased after completion of the program, suggesting that students acquire content knowledge through participation. Johnson also compared the effects on program participants who had access to an additional computer-based component of the program (the Kinetic City website) with those who did not. She found that the inclusion of the website component led to significantly greater positive impact on students’ science knowledge. Three other programs—Gateway; Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA); and the Gervirtz Summer Academy—have shown positive effects using academic outcome measures. Gateway is an out-of-school-time mathematics and science program for high school students from nondominant groups. It includes an academic summer program and separate mathematics and science classes during the school day that involve only Gateway students (Campbell et al., 1998). The study of the impact of Gateway included a matched comparison group of students who were not in the program. It found that participants had better high school graduation rates, better SAT scores, and were more likely to complete high school
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits mathematics and science classes than students in the control group. And 92 percent of students who completed the Gateway program attended college, and the colleges they attended had mean SAT scores higher than the students’ own scores. Although the Gateway results show that programs supporting science and math can have significant effects on important school-based measures, it is important to note that, because Gateway consisted of many different forms of support (e.g., summer and in-school), it is unclear whether to attribute impact to one or another component or to a synergy among the program components. The MESA Schools Program is designed to improve middle and high school students’ success in mathematics and science and increase the numbers of students from nondominant cultural backgrounds who pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The program includes academic tutoring and counseling, peer supports (e.g., study groups, scheduling cohorts of participants in common courses), field trips, summer internships, and campus-based summer programs. The results of a study conducted in 1982 showed that MESA students had higher grade point averages than non-MESA students and, by senior year, the MESA students had taken more mathematics and science courses (Building Engineering and Science Talent, 2004). The Gevirtz Summer Academy is an experimental five-week academic enrichment program. The curriculum reflects the local district curricular standards and takes an experiential and integrated instructional approach. The academy uses science as a unifying theme to teach language arts, mathematics, and science. A pre- and post-test evaluation examined the program’s effect on student attitudes as well as on standardized test scores (Brenner et al., 2001). A total of 94 students participated in the evaluation the first year, and 120 students participated in the second and third years. A matched comparison group was recruited from the same schools as the study participants. Comparing pre- and post-measures, evaluators found significant increases in students’ interest in science and in science careers and in their confidence and motivation in science. There were also improvements in students’ science test scores, but not in their mathematics test scores. The Gervitz evaluators (Brenner et al., 2001) also pointed to the limitations of using standardized tests as a measure of the learning that took place in the program. They explain: “It was mandated by the school district and the funding agencies that we had to use standardized test scores as documentation of the benefits of the program. It is somewhat unrealistic that a five-week program would be able to greatly influence the scores on a test that is designed to measure a school year of learning.” They also point to the fact that the SAT 9 tests that they used, particularly the mathematics test, focused on basic skills, whereas the program curriculum was geared toward conceptual learning and the integration of mathematics, science, and language arts.
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits The problem of using standardized test scores as a measure of out-of-school-time learning is also noted by Kane (2004). He discusses the question of what are reasonable expectations of test impact for out-of-school-time programs. He points out that an entire year of classroom instruction is estimated to raise achievement test scores a quarter of a standard deviation. By this measure, an out-of-school-time program providing students with an hour of instruction five days per week could be expected to raise test scores 0.05 standard deviation (assuming there is 100 percent attendance every day). The Gervitz program chose to focus on a limited number of curricular standards, given the short amount of time that they had (five weeks), and as a result only a few questions on the standardized test pertained to the material that was covered. In the third year of the program, the teachers decided to design a mathematics test based on their own curriculum and found positive gains in the students’ scores. It is also important to note that the Gateway, MESA, and Gervitz programs all use elements beyond those typically used in after-school programs (e.g., extended day, integrated school subject matter). Similarly, the Kinetic City follow-up study found that an added media environment improved outcomes (for more on the impact of media, see Chapter 8). There is no conclusive finding here about how environments should be integrated or about the optimal relationship between out-of-school and school curricula, however, the positive outcomes for learners of integration is important to note. At the very least, these results support the assertion that helping learners extend their experiences across settings through multiple representations of concepts, practices, and phenomena is a promising design. Strand 3: Engaging in Scientific Reasoning We identified no clear emphasis on Strand 3 in out-of-school programs, nor studies that evaluated the effectiveness of program emphasis on Strand 3 skills. However, in some instances, Strand 3 skills are clearly a part of programs. For example, the Service at Salado Program, described under Strand 5, is an environmental education and remediation program that introduces students to writing up scientific protocols, which typically includes testing and prediction, key elements of scientific reasoning. Strand 4: Reflecting on Science Although we turned up little research that focused on reflection on science as an outcome of out-of-school programs, there is clearly some program emphasis in this area. For example, the Kinetic City evaluation (Johnson, 2005) described how participants were asked to write an essay requiring them to recall certain aspects of the program from the perspective of a creature in the rain forest and to integrate information acquired over the course
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits PROGRAMS FOR OLDER ADULTS Older adults are a unique population to which informal institutions are increasingly attending. Their abilities, needs, and interests—like those of other learners—require special attention in order to create programs that serve them. Although there have been few studies of older adult science learners in informal settings, a review of the general literature on learning in older adults is useful for understanding what issues in science learning might be best explored. Like other populations and groups (discussed in Chapter 7), older adults are often misunderstood. One aspect of older learners that gets little attention, but which is especially important for thinking about educational programming in informal environments, is their extensive experience base and knowledge. Older adults have a long history of family life, occupational experiences, and leisurely pursuits. In contrast to children, who are “universal novices” (Brown and DeLoache, 1978), older adults draw on decades of experience. They have rich histories and knowledge that they can elaborate on and from which they can draw analogies to access new concepts and insights. Older adults can also be stereotyped as suffering from memory decline and other aspects of mental slowing, and this tends to lead to an erroneous assumption that they lack ability. Such stereotyped views are often conveyed and upheld broadly, including by older adults themselves (Parr and Siegert, 1993; Ryan, 1992). Craik and Salthouse (2000) have reviewed the literature and report that older adults do face a steady loss in what is called fluid intelligence or processing capacity. This decline can adversely affect the performance of everyday tasks and learning through a weakened capacity for attention (Salthouse, 1996), processing speed (Madden, 2001), and various types of memory performance (Bäckman, Small, and Wahlin, 2001). Because older adults often also face declines in hearing, vision, and motor control, these deficits in fluid intelligence can appear exaggerated. Studies by McCoy et al. (2005) concluded that the extra effort expended by a hearing-impaired listener in order to successfully perform a task comes at the cost of processing resources that would otherwise be directed at memory encoding. Studies of declines in fluid intelligence on computer use in older adults indicate that older adults make more errors and perform at a lower level than younger people on a variety of common tasks (Charness, Schumann, and Boritz, 1992; Czaja, 2001; Czaja and Sharit, 1993; Echt, Morrell, and Park, 1998). In addition, they demonstrate a relative difficulty with editing out unnecessary information (Rogers and Fisk, 2001). As the baby boom generation ages, its familiarity with computers and the web will increase, and the majority of boomers in the United States will use the web on a regular basis (Czaja et al., 2006). Website designers and web-assisted programmers who serve these aging populations should strongly consider these findings and make adjustments.
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits Not all human functions decline with age. The discovery that humans continue to generate new neurons throughout life in the hippocampal region and that new neuronal connections are constantly being formed in response to life experience should help reshape thinking on lifelong learning (McKhann and Albert, 2002). Knowledge of general facts and information about the world (crystallized intelligence) does not change with age, and experience and life skills lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the world (Baltes, 1987; Beier and Ackerman, 2005; Heckhausen, 2005; Schaie, 2005). Self-worth, autonomy, and control over emotions increase or remain stable with age (Brandstadter, Rothermund, and Schmitz, 1998; Sheldon, Houser-Marko, and Kasser, 2006). Studies indicate stabilized limbic and autonomic nervous system activity in older adults (Lawton, Kleban, and Dean, 1993; Lawton, Kleban, Rajagopal, and Dean, 1992; Levenson, Carstensen, Friesen, and Ekman, 1991). There is evidence to suggest that older adults regulate negative emotions better than young adults and experience positive emotions with similar intensity and frequency (Carstensen, Pasupathi, Mayr, and Nesselroade, 2000). Mather and colleagues (2004) showed that older people’s memory for positive imagery was strikingly better than for neutral or negative images. Functional MRI data indicate that amygdala activation increased only in response to positive stimuli (Lindberg, Carstensen, and Carstensen, 2007). Carstensen and her colleagues have developed a socioemotional selectivity theory that suggests that older adults experience an improved sense of well-being by pursuing experiences that are meaningful and are tied to emotional information. Benbow (2002) produced a useful list of implications for teaching to support effective learning by older adults: Instruction must respond to the experience, skills, and understanding of the big picture that adults bring to the learning environment. It may also require time spent correcting preexisting misunderstandings. Instruction should include how older learners can encode information and new processes to stimulate recall. Because stereotypes about memory loss can impact the ability to learn, instruction should be directed to reinforce the belief that people can remember and should be strengthened by practice opportunities. As people age, there is an increased interest in connecting learning to an impact on society. Instruction should therefore be designed to relate to both simple and complex situations in real life. Instruction should build on the strong emotional bonds toward people, objects, and beliefs that develop as people age. Jolly (2002) reminds the informal science education community that it must make a bid to educate the large group of older adults who will begin to avail themselves of opportunities in museums and science centers between
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits 2010 and 2030 by developing programs that result in “sustainable diversity.” This will require a deep integration of policies and practices that incorporate diversity into institutional frameworks. He enumerates some important goals for consideration by the community: Building boards of trustees and hiring staff that can represent the appropriate perspectives of the aging community. Addressing issues of age-related disabilities in all program design (i.e., vision, hearing, mobility, and fine motor coordination). Programs resulting from this process will end up appealing to learners of every age. Producing more on-the-go and virtual programming that can travel to populations that cannot come to museums and science centers. Increasing collaboration between the informal science community and the local network of aging services. This will foster the development of programming tailored to the culture of the older adults in the area and result in incorporation of experiences that increase trust and respect from them. Incorporating assistive technology and equal access to all possible venues, including field sites, to increase participation by adults with age-related disabilities. Although there is scant empirical analysis of programs designed for older science learners, several driving propositions derived from practice, basic human development research, and several current programs instantiate (to varying degrees) these principles. Although untested, the following practices are worthy of further development and empirical scrutiny: Develop and foster dialogue and partnerships with local and area networks of aging services. Incorporate representation from this community in program and exhibit design. Use the principles of universal instructional design in exhibit and program materials. Incorporate findings about the adult learner in program design. Seek funding for assistive technology to support learning. Design and structure outcomes and evaluations that will provide data to inform the informal science community. Some programs designed for older adults are taking first steps toward addressing these concerns. We mention two of these here.
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits Explora Explora, a museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico, runs a science club for 30 members, ages 54 to 101, at the Laguna Pueblo. The club is part of an outreach exploration program offered at several senior, assisted-living, and nursing care centers. Explora has produced a guide containing 44 science, technology, and art programs for middle-aged and older adults. They have hosted adults-only nights for people 18 and older and altered space to include ample seating, wheelchair access, assistive technology, and modified materials. Older adults from all local communities are included in program design, and Explora hires seniors as educators in the programs and on the museum floor (Leigh, 2007). Meadowlands Environment Center Project SEE (Senior Environmental Experiences), at the Ramapo College of New Jersey, is supported by a grant from NSF and represents a partnership between the Meadowlands Environment Center, Ramapo College, and regional aging community services, including the Bergen County Division of Senior Services. The project is using interactive videoconferencing technology to educate and enhance science learning among senior citizens in assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and senior community centers in the Meadowlands District of New Jersey and in facilities in the northern area of the state. Participants gather information and take part in an ongoing dialogue with environmental scientists. SEE provides videoconferencing equipment, staff to set up and take down the technology and conduct all program activities, and pre- and post-conference materials. CONCLUSION The potential of programs for science learning is great, given the broader population patterns in society. Two demographic issues are relevant to science learning programs. One is a vast demand and infrastructure for quality programs for children and youth in out-of-school time. The other is the aging of the baby boom generation. These demographic issues warrant careful consideration. To understand the full potential of out-of-school programs to function as a large-scale delivery system for science learning outside schools, tools and resources are needed to that end, and their development would benefit from empirical research. As we have observed one of the limitations in this area of inquiry is that the literature is primarily made up of evaluations, which are not necessarily built upon a peer reviewed body of evidence and linked to other inquiries. It would be constructive to integrate findings from across
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits studies of science learning and perhaps with the broader evidence base on non-science-specific out-of-school and adult programs. There is also a specific need for examination of the type of science learning occurring in programs for older adults. These learners will require special accommodations to serve their science interests and needs, and it will be necessary to plan learning experiences that are accessible to them. Developing and improving programs for older learners will require substantial growth in research. Currently the knowledge base consists of general cognitive and developmental research and descriptions of programs designed for older learners. In a broad sense, adults of all ages need to understand that the science learning resources are intended to serve them, not just children. There is evidence that programs can result in scientific learning and understanding across the strands. For the types of programs we reviewed, we found science-specific learning outcomes for school-age participants and a few studies on adults. However, there is no clear, organized and synthesized body of knowledge on science-specific program effects or on qualities of effective programs for science learning. In this chapter we have begun to organize some of the relevant studies. There may be more evaluation reports that examine science-specific outcomes than we reviewed in this chapter. It would be helpful to further integrate the literature in future research. In the long run, identifying a set of best practices that can be applied across programs would also be beneficial. This task would involve a complex set of issues: curricular choices, staff training, management issues, space, and many others. Given the potential to vastly increase the participation of children, youth, and adults in these programs, it seems a worthwhile investment. Finally, we urge the field to attend carefully to the goals and measures used in program development and evaluation, drawing and building on the strands as an important resource. Identification of goals can make it possible for staff, participants, and evaluators to approach their experiences and work with greater focus and can facilitate efforts to build strong empirical bases for theory and practice. REFERENCES Abbott, S., Renfrew, M.J., and McFadden A. (2006). “Informal” learning to support breastfeeding: Mapping local problems and opportunities. MIRU No: 2006.28. Maternal and Child Nutrition, 2(4), 232-238. Afterschool Alliance. (2008). 21st century learning centers providing supports to communities nationwide. Available: http://www.afterschoolalliance.org/researchFactSheets.cfm [accessed October 2008]. Albright, L. (2006). Summative evaluation: Bringing CoCoRaHS to the central great plains. Colorado State University. Available: http://www.informalscience.org/evaluation/show/89 [accessed October 2008].
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