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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
These findings suggest the barriers that exist to engaging those from nondominant groups in science. It is critical to consider diversity issues and the science learning of nondominant groups for several reasons: to ensure equitable treatment of all individuals; to continue to develop a well-trained workforce; to develop a well-informed, scientifically literate citizenry; and to increase diversity in the pool of scientists and science educators who can bring new perspectives to science and the understanding of science.
Scientific discourse, teaching, and learning are not culturally neutral, although people tend to see and represent them as acultural or neutral or, in the case of science, as representing a unique culture unto itself. An important perspective on science learning in informal environments emphasizes that, although treating the construct of culture as a homogeneous categorical variable is problematic, people nonetheless do “live culturally” (Nasir, Rosebery, Warren, and Lee, 2006; Gutiérrez and Rogoff, 2003). From this perspective, a key object of study is the wide, varied repertoire of sense-making practices that people participate in, especially in everyday contexts.
Gutiérrez and Rogoff (2003) point out that “individual development and disposition must be understood in (not separate from) cultural and historical context” (p. 22). All people engage in sophisticated learning shaped by the cultural and contextual conditions in which they live. In this sense, all people learn, but a given group may learn different knowledge and practices and may organize its learning differently. This chapter addresses diversity issues related to learning science in informal environments. Among the many dimensions of diversity, here we take a cultural-historical perspective on learning and illustrate the implications for science learning and the structuring of informal environments where science learning takes place.
Before we review the research literature on the experiences of diverse populations with science and their access to it, we first define culture and equity. We then focus on science learning in four nondominant groups for which a research tradition has developed: girls and women, American Indians, individuals from rural communities, and individuals with disabilities. In reviewing the research involving these groups, we explore such issues as engagement, identity, self-efficacy, and border crossing, which are related to diversity and science learning. We end with a set of guiding principles to develop culturally responsive and effective informal environments for science learning.
CULTURE AND EQUITY
Culture is a complex concept that is difficult to define succinctly. Most scholars agree, however, that culture includes the symbols, stories, rituals, tools, shared values, and norms of participation that people use to act, consider, communicate, assess, and understand both their daily lives and their images of the future (Brumann, 1999). Disagreements arise concerning the