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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits 2 Theoretical Perspectives Public discussions of learning usually focus on the experiences and outcomes associated with schooling. Yet a narrow focus on traditional academic activities and learning outcomes is fundamentally at odds with the ways in which individuals learn across various social settings: in the home, in activities with friends, on trips to museums, in potentially all the places they experience and pursuits they take on. The time that children spend pursuing hobbies of their own choosing—in such activities as building, exploring, and gaming—often provides them with experiences and skills relevant to scientific processes and understanding. Adults faced with medical conditions typically learn what they can do to manage them from a wide variety of information sources. Families spend leisure time at science centers, zoos, and museums engaged in exploration and sense-making. Communities defined by linguistic and cultural ties maintain science-related practices and socialize their children into their routines, skills, attitudes, knowledge, and value systems as a part of their daily activities and rituals. For all these pursuits, the range of learning outcomes far exceeds the typical academic emphasis on conceptual knowledge. Across informal settings, learners may develop awareness, interest, motivation, social competencies, and practices. They may develop incremental knowledge, habits of mind, and identities that set them on a trajectory to learn more. The ongoing connections among experiences, capabilities, dispositions, and new opportunities to learn continue throughout a person’s life. The fundamental influence of early childhood experiences is increasingly recognized as providing the foundation for discipline-specific learning (National Research Council, 2007). As the population ages, demographic shifts heighten the need to understand the ongoing role that science learning has in the lives of adults, including the elderly.
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits The informal education community pursues a range of learning outcomes. The idea of lifelong, life-wide, and life-deep learning has been influential in efforts to develop a broad notion of learning, incorporating how people learn over the life course, across social settings, and in relation to prevailing cultural influences (Banks et al., 2007). Lifelong learning is a familiar notion. It refers to the acquisition of fundamental competencies and attitudes and a facility with effectively using information over the life course, recognizing that developmental needs and interests vary at different life stages. Generally, learners prefer to seek out information and acquire ways of doing things because they are motivated to do so by their interests, needs, curiosity, pleasure, and sense that they have talents that align with certain kinds of tasks and challenges. Life-wide learning refers to the learning that takes place as people routinely circulate across a range of social settings and activities—classrooms, after-school programs, informal educational institutions, online venues, homes, and other community locales. Learning derives, in both opportunistic and patterned ways, from this breadth of human experience and the related supports and occasions for learning that are available to an individual or group. Learners need to learn how to navigate the different underlying assumptions and goals associated with education and development across the settings and pursuits they encounter. Life-deep learning refers to beliefs, ideologies, and values associated with living life and participating in the cultural workings of both communities and the broader society. Such learning reflects the moral, ethical, religious, and social values that guide what people believe, how they act, and how they judge themselves and others. This focus on life-deep learning emphasizes how learning is never a culture-free endeavor. Taken together, these concepts of lifelong, life-wide, and life-deep learning help bring into view the breadth of human learning and emphasize the broad reach of informal settings. Figure 2-1 is a conceptual diagram that depicts the prevalence of lifelong and life-wide learning in formal and informal learning environments. Although there is significant variation for individuals, the diagram gives a rough estimation of the amount of time people routinely spend in informal (nonschool) learning environments over the life course. In addition to focusing on how learning is accomplished in specific informal settings, we consider how learning is accomplished across multiple settings—across shifting material and social resources, in the variety of ways people participate in and make use of their knowledge, their various social groupings, and their evolving purposes and expectations. The idea of lifelong, life-wide, life-deep science learning informs the committee’s approach to the charge. Thus, we explore a wide variety of places and social settings, which we refer to as venues and configurations. We defined a broad set of valued learning outcomes and examined the evidence related to each. Finally, we examined research on learners of all ages from very young children to the elderly.
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits FIGURE 2-1 Estimated time spent in school and informal learning environments. NOTE: This diagram shows the relative percentage of their waking hours that people across the life span spend in formal educational environments and other activities. The calculations were made on the best available statistics on how much time people at different points across the life span spend in formal instructional environments. This diagram was originally conceived by Reed Stevens and John Bransford to represent the range of learning environments being studied at the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) Center. Graphic design, documentation, and calculations were conducted by Reed Stevens, with key assistance from Anne Stevens (graphic design) and Nathan Parham (calculations). SOURCE: Stevens (no date). In this chapter we begin by discussing some general theoretical perspectives of learning and exploring how some prominent frameworks used in research on learning in informal environments build on them. We then describe an ecological model of learning that provides multiple lenses for synthesizing how people learn science across informal environments. Building from the ecological perspective, we define the venues and configurations for learning and science learning strands that frame the remainder of this volume. INTEGRATING VIEWS OF KNOWLEDGE AND LEARNING Research on learning science in informal environments reflects the diversity of theoretical perspectives on learning that have guided research. Over a century ago, scientists began to study thinking and learning in a more systematic way, taking early steps toward what are now called the cognitive sciences. During the first few decades of the 20th century, researchers focused on such matters as the nature of general intellectual ability and its distribution in the population. In the 1930s, they started emphasizing such
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits issues as the laws governing stimulus-response associations in learning. Beginning in the 1960s, advances in fields as diverse as linguistics, computer science, and neuroscience offered provocative new perspectives on human development and powerful new technologies for observing behavior and brain functions. The result during the past 40 years has been an outpouring of scientific research on the mind and the brain—a “cognitive revolution,” as some have termed it. With richer and more varied evidence in hand, researchers have refined earlier theories or developed new ones to explain the nature of knowing and learning. Three theoretical perspectives of the nature of the human mind have been particularly influential in the study of learning and consequently in education: behaviorist, cognitive, and sociocultural. The relative influence of these perspectives over time has changed. Each emphasizes different aspects of knowing and learning with differing implications for educational practice and research (see, e.g., Greeno, Collins, and Resnick, in press). Behaviorism describes knowledge as the organized accumulation of stimulus-response associations that serve as components of skills (Thorndike, 1931). People learn by acquiring simple skills which combine to produce more complex behaviors. Rewards, punishments, and other (mainly extrinsic) factors orient people to attend to relevant aspects of a situation and support the formation of new associations and skills. Cognitive theories, in contrast, focus on how people develop, transform, and apply structures of knowledge in relation to lived experience, including the concepts associated with a subject matter discipline (or domain of knowledge) and procedures for reasoning and solving problems. One major tenet of cognitive theory is that learners actively construct their understanding by trying to connect new information with their prior knowledge. This theoretical approach generally focuses on individual thinking and learning. Sociocultural theory builds on cognitive perspectives, but emphasizes the cultural origins of human development and explores how individuals develop through their involvement in cultural practices (e.g., Cole, 1996; Heath, 1983; Rogoff, 2003). In this view, individuals develop specific skills, commitments, knowledge, and identity as they become proficient in practices that are valued in specific communities. From the perspective of educational practice, there are complementarities between cognitive and sociocultural accounts. The cognitive perspective, with its interest in characterizing an individual’s knowledge structures, can help educators identify what a learner understands about a particular domain. This can be important for gauging where and how to initially engage a learner and what aspects of understanding require instructional support. Meanwhile, the sociocultural perspective can orient educators to patterns of participation and associated value systems that are important to learning. These may include analyses of expert practice in a particular domain such as how scientists communicate ideas to one another or forms of participation that are comfortable
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits or culturally important to learners (e.g., how learners tend to communicate with one another). Identifying common ground between learners’ practices and practices in the domains of interest may be a productive route to experiences that move learners toward deeper understanding and capability in the domain. For example, individuals learn to reason in science by crafting and using forms of notation or inscription that help represent the natural world. Crafting these forms of inscription can be viewed as being situated within a particular (and even peculiar) form of practice—creating representations and models—into which students need to be initiated. All three theoretical perspectives have had some influence on the design of informal environments that support science learning. As a result, a number of theoretical views are in play in the research and they are not particularly well integrated. This limits the degree to which the study of learning science in informal environments functions as a field. In Box 2-1 we describe a few examples of perspectives on learning science in informal environments. We note that most draw on the cognitive and sociocultural traditions rather than behaviorism. Also, the list in Box 2-1 is intended to illustrate the range of perspectives and is not exhaustive. An Ecological Framework for Understanding Learning Across Places and Pursuits A broad theory, or set of complementary perspectives, which could be refined through empirical testing, could help integrate the range of theories and frames currently in use (as represented in Box 2-1) and help generate core questions. To move in that direction, we propose an “ecological framework for learning in places and pursuits” intended to highlight the cognitive, social, and cultural learning processes and outcomes that are shaped by distinctive features of particular settings, learner motivations and backgrounds, and associated learning expectations. The term “ecological” here refers to the relations between individuals and their physical and social environments with particular attention to relations that support learning. The framework draws mainly from cognitive and sociocultural theories. Our proposal is consonant with other calls for using an ecological perspective for accounts of human development and learning that can accommodate a range of disciplinary perspectives as well as the diversity of life experiences in a global society (Barron, 2006; Lee, 2008). It builds on a tradition of scholarship on the ecological nature of human development. This tradition has long recognized and taken into account the compound set of influences on learning and development originating from a person’s experiences across myriad institutional contexts and social niches (family, school, playground, peers, neighbors, media, etc.) (Bronfenbrenner, 1977). Within the ecological framework, we describe three cross-cutting aspects of learning that are evident in all learning processes: people, places, and
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits BOX 2-1 Perspectives on Informal Environments for Science Learning A variety of perspectives have been developed to understand, define, or evaluate science learning in informal settings. Most of these perspectives have attempted to provide a broader frame for learning outcomes yet are compatible with the nature of learning in informal environments. These frameworks are based on or framed in terms of cognitive and sociocultural theories. The Contextual Model of Learning (Falk and Dierking, 2000) is a general framework for understanding informal or free-choice learning (see also Falk and Storksdieck, 2005, for an application and quantitative validation of the model). The model focuses on 12 key personal, sociocultural, and physical dimensions of learning. The model stresses visitor agenda, personal motivation, the sociocultural nature of learning, the importance of physical context, and long-term outcomes. The Multiple Identities Framework, grounded in situated cognition, explores factors associated with deciding what kind of person one wants to be or fears becoming and engaging in activities that make one part of the communities associated with a particular identity. It has been used to examine women negotiating the worlds of science and engineering, as well as race and gender in workplace settings (Tate and Linn, 2005; Packard, 2003). Third Spaces is a theoretical construct that lends itself to nonschool learning (e.g., Gutiérrez, 2008; Eisenhart and Edwards, 2004). Third spaces are outside the two typical spheres of existence: home and work or home and school for children. For telecommuters, for example, a coffee shop where they spend the work day could be construed as a third space. Third spaces are places where participants’ everyday and technical (or scientific) language and experiences intersect and can be the site for fascinating accounts of informal learning. Situated/Enacted Identity (Falk, 2006; Rounds, 2006) focuses on audience expectation and audience agenda in terms of true, underlying interests that are intimately linked to the audience’s enacted identity during a visit or free-choice learning experience. This framework is based on a large body of literature that considers the entry narrative of the visitor as a key factor in understanding motivation and learning from an informal learning experience. Family learning, though not a theoretical framework per se, has been an important way of reframing informal learning experiences, changing the focus from any single individual in a learning group, such as the child, to the entire
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits family (Bell, Bricker, Lee, Reeve, and Zimmerman, 2006; Ellenbogen, Luke, and Dierking, 2004; Astor-Jack, Whaley, Dierking, Perry, and Garibay, 2007; Ash, 2003; Crowley and Galco, 2001; Ellenbogen, 2002, 2003; Borun et al., 1998). In this context, learning is defined as “a joint collaborative effort within an intergenerational group of children and significant adults.” Outcomes include learning science concepts, attitudes, and behaviors and also learning about one another and the members of the group, as well as shaping and reinforcing individual and group identity. Family learning approaches are grounded in sociocultural theories and are currently transforming the way some museums and science centers are reorienting their missions, educational strategies, and experiences. Other perspectives have been used to inform evaluation studies of learning in informal environments. Community of Practice (see Lave and Wenger, 1991) is a framework used to guide development and assessment of community-based efforts and professional development projects. This framework offers insight into participants’ trajectories from science novices (peripheral members of the science community) to more active and core members, engaging in authentic science and sometimes even participating in apprentice-like activities with scientists, engineers, and technicians. Positive Youth Development and Possible Selves frameworks have been used primarily in assessing youth programs (Koke and Dierking, 2007; Luke, Stein, Kessler, and Dierking, 2007). They are grounded in sociocultural theory and address the broader developmental needs of youth, in contrast to traditional deficit-based models that focus solely on youth problems, such as substance abuse, conduct disorders, delinquent and antisocial behavior, academic failure, and teenage pregnancy. Positive Youth Development describes six characteristics of positively developing young people that successful youth programs foster: cognitive and behavioral competence, confidence, positive social connections, character, caring (or compassion) and contribution, to self, family, community, and ultimately, civil society. Possible Selves (Stake and Mares, 2005) proposes that individuals’ perceptions of their current and imagined future opportunities serve as a motivator and organizer for their current task-related thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors, thus “linking current specific plans and actions to future desired goals.”
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits cultures. Using each as a lens to examine learning environments enables us to tease out various factors at play in the learning process and better identify potential leverage points for improving learning. People-Centered Lens This lens sheds light on the intrapsychological phenomena that are relevant to the purposes and outcomes of science learning in informal environments including: the development of interests and motives, knowledge, affective responses, and identity. Some of the relevant principles for the people-centered frame are encapsulated in How People Learn (National Research Council, 1999). These principles include the influence of prior knowledge on learning, how experts differ from novices, and the importance of metacognition. Other principles highlight the learning benefits of having experiences that provide one with a positive affect and that help identify personal interests, motives, and identities that can be pursued. From early childhood onward, humans develop intuitive ideas about the world, bringing prior knowledge to nearly all learning endeavors. Children and adults explain and hear explanations from others about why the moon is sometimes invisible, how the seasons work, why things fall, bounce, break, or bend. Interestingly, these ideas develop without tutoring and are often tacit (individuals may remain unaware of their own ideas). Yet these ideas often influence behavior and come into play during intentional acts of learning and education. Thus, a major implication for thinking about informal science learning is that what learners understand about the world is perhaps as important as what we wish for them to learn through a particular experience. Accordingly, efforts to teach should not merely be about abstractions derived in knowledge systems like science, but should also focus on helping learners become aware of and express their own ideas, giving them new information and models that can build on or challenge their intuitive ideas. Experts in a particular domain are people who have deep, richly interconnected ideas about the world. They are not just good thinkers or really smart. Nor are novices poor thinkers or not smart. Rather, experts have knowledge in a specific domain—be it chess, waiting tables, chemistry, or tennis—and are not generalists. Their ability to identify problems and generate solutions is closely connected to the things that they know, much more so than once believed (National Research Council, 2007). At the same time, expertise is not just a “bunch of facts”; the knowledge of experts resides in organized, differentiated constructs with which the expert works and applies fluidly. Research has documented how expertise development can begin in childhood through informal interaction with family members, media sources, and unique educational experiences (Crowley and Jacobs, 2002; Reeve and Bell, in press). One way that experts work with their knowledge is through metacognition or monitoring their own thinking. Much of this work is done in the head
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits and is not naturally accessible to others, although researchers have found it useful to ask knowledgeable people to talk aloud about their thinking while they engage in tasks. Metacognition, like expertise, is domain-specific. That is, a particular metacognitive strategy that works in a particular activity (e.g., predicting outcomes, taking notes) may not work in others. However, metacognition is not exclusive to experts; it can be supported and taught. Thus, even for young children and older novices engaged in a new domain or topic of interest, metacognition can be an important means of controlling their own learning (National Research Council, 1999). Accordingly, as a means of controlling learning, metacognition may have special salience in informal settings, in which learning is self-paced and frequently not facilitated by an expert teacher or facilitator. At the individual unit of analysis, people-centered analyses might focus on the details of mental processes and evidence of acquiring knowledge, affective responses, or interest development. It may also attend to changes in the individual as a result of broader social and cultural processes. It is important to note that a people-centered analysis is not the same as a cognitive perspective. Although both tend to examine individuals as the unit of analysis, a cognitive perspective is concerned with mentation, whereas people-centered analysis could also explore people’s social actions, practices, and emotional worlds. Thus, within a people-centered analysis, shades of sociocultural and cognitive perspectives are evident. Many approaches to designing informal science learning experiences reflect a people- or individual-centered approach to learning. For example, many museum experiences are designed to juxtapose museum goers’ prior knowledge with the formal disciplinary ideas that can explain the natural phenomena they engage with in an exhibit or activity. This approach to design, focused on stimulating cognitive dissonance, is presumed to help learners question their own knowledge and more deeply reconstruct that knowledge, so that it comes to resemble that of the discipline in question. One example of a framework that could be considered people-centered was developed by George Hein (1998). It allows for classification of museum-based and similar learning experiences along dimensions of the thinking they support or promote for participants. Hein’s framework can be represented in a diagram depicting two orthogonal lines on a plane (see Figure 2-2). One plane represents the theory of knowledge (epistemology) embodied in an exhibit or museum. This ranges from realism (the world exists independently of human knowledge about it) to idealism (knowledge of the world exists only in minds and doesn’t imply anything about the world “out there”). The second plane represents a theory of learning, which moves from a transmission model to a constructed model. This reflects a range from behaviorist commitments (e.g., knowledge is transmitted) to the variability in cognitive perspectives with respect to the extent to which knowledge is learner-constructed. Hein’s simple diagram can be used to classify the pedagogical approach
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits FIGURE 2-2 Educational theories. SOURCE: Hein (1998). of a museum or exhibit into one of four quadrants, on the basis of the kinds of learning environments they offer visitors. For example, quadrant 1 experiences are “didactic expository.” They assume scientific knowledge should be conveyed as factual and confirmed and that learners should be driven through this body of knowledge (rather than invited to think about and apply knowledge). In contrast, quadrant 2 is exemplified by experiences in a “discovery museum,” in which understanding emerges through self-directed interactions with the world and representations of the world. Quadrant 3, exemplified by the “constructivist museum,” portrays an environment in which individuals construct their knowledge of the world through integration of existing and new conceptions, making personal sense of what they learn. Quadrant 4, which Hein refers to as behaviorist, defines environments in which learners build knowledge of an external world by mastering “pieces” of knowledge incrementally. Place-Centered Lens In important ways, learning can be thought of as happening within and across particular places. Sociocultural perspectives argue that the physical
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits features, the available materials, and the typical activities associated with specific places centrally influence learning processes and outcomes. The expert use of artifacts (e.g., an apparatus in a museum exhibit, a scientific representation of data) for responding to problems or accomplishing projects that people engage in can be viewed as a desired form of intelligent human performance in its own right (Hutchins, 1995). For example, researchers have studied how science-related interests are pursued across different physical settings, social groups, and hobbyist endeavors associated with amateur astronomy (Azevedo, 2004). There are specific tools (e.g., telescopes, astronomical databases), locations (e.g., hillsides, hobbyist group meetings), and activities (e.g., conducting observations, building computer models) associated with learning science in these informal environments and experiences. Analysis centered on the use of artifacts that mediate learning and desired performance in specific contexts and places is regarded as a “practice turn” in theoretical and empirical accounts of human learning, development, and performance (Jessor, 1996; Shweder, 1996; Lave and Wenger, 1991; Rogoff, 2003). This turning away from studying internalized mental learning outcomes to analyzing social practice is evident in the science studies literature as well—in accounts of sophisticated scientific activities that emerge or develop as a result of particular arrangements of resources in specific places like labs or field sites (Latour and Woolgar, 1986; Rouse, 1999). In this view, the material and technological objects, including visual representations of data and technological tools, constitute the foundational resources through which people individually and collectively engage in learning activities. Hutchins summarizes the role of artifacts in distributed cognition as follows: “The properties of groups of minds in interaction with each other, or the properties of the interaction between individual minds and artifacts in the world, are frequently at the heart of intelligent human performance” (Hutchins, 1995, p. 62). The ubiquity of human interaction with artifacts in the shaping of learning and thought has been documented for many decades in ecological research focused on understanding human activity in physical settings (Gibson, 1986; Shaw, Turvey, and Mace, 1982). A group of visitors on a museum floor makes sense of exhibits through forms of talk and physical activities that are fundamentally shaped by the nature of the material and technological objects they encounter in those places (Heath, Luff, von Lehn, Hindmarsh, and Cleverly, 2002). Scientists and other professionals conduct their measurements and engage in practical “intelligent routines” in concert with the features of the specific material objects and representations with which they work (Latour, 1995; Pea, 1993; Scribner, 1984; Traweek, 1988). Archaeologists conducting fieldwork, for example, go through sophisticated sequences of interaction and gesturing around the physical objects of their inquiry to develop their theoretical inferences about past cultures and local settings (Goodwin, 1994). Children working as street vendors know how to perform sophisticated arithmetic operations in conjunction with the specific currencies and retail products (Saxe, 1988; Nunes, Schlieman, and Carraher,
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits on its potential to support a broad range of science-specific learning outcomes and intersect with related institutional players and broader societal interests. Here we introduce, and in Chapter 3 we expand upon, six interweaving strands that describe goals and practices of science learning (see Box 2-2). It is important to note that while these strands reflect conceptualizations developed in research, as a set they have not been systematically applied and analyzed. The strands are interdependent—advances in one are closely associated with advances in the others. Taken together they represent the ideal that all institutions that create and provide informal environments for people to learn science can strive for in their programs and facilities. Strand 1: Developing Interest in Science Strand 1 addresses motivation to learn science, emotional engagement with it, curiosity, and willingness to persevere over time despite encountering challenging scientific ideas and procedures over time. Research suggests that personal interest and enthusiasm are important for supporting children’s BOX 2-2 Strand of informal Science Learning Learners who engage with science in informal environments… Strand 1: Experience excitement, interest, and motivation to learn about phenomena in the natural and physical world. Strand 2: Come to generate, understand, remember, and use concepts, explanations, arguments, models, and facts related to science. Strand 3: Manipulate, test, explore, predict, question, observe, and make sense of the natural and physical world. Strand 4: Reflect on science as a way of knowing; on processes, concepts, and institutions of science; and on their own process of learning about phenomena. Strand 5: Participate in scientific activities and learning practices with others, using scientific language and tools. Strand 6: Think about themselves as science learners and develop an identity as someone who knows about, uses, and sometimes contributes to science.
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits participation in learning science (Jolly, Campbell, and Perlman, 2004). Tai and colleagues’ nationally representative study of factors associated with science career choices, in fact, suggests that an expressed interest in science during early adolescence is a strong predictor of science degree attainment (Tai, Liu, Maltese, and Fan, 2006). Even though early interest does not guarantee extended learning, early engagement can trigger the motivation to explore the broader educational landscape to pursue additional experiences that may persist throughout life. Youth-focused hobby or interest groups, designed exhibits, and after-school programs are commonly organized and planned to support this strand of science learning. They allow for the extended pursuit of learning agendas, the refinement of interests, the sharing of relevant learning resources and feedback, access to future learning experiences, and opportunities to be identified as having science-related interests. Adults, including older adults, choose to learn science in informal environments often because of a personal interest, a specific need for science-related information, or to introduce children in their care to aspects of the scientific enterprise. Strand 2: Understanding Science Knowledge Strand 2 addresses learning about the main scientific theories and models that frame Western civilization’s understanding of the natural world. Associated educational activities address how people construct or understand the models and theories that scientists construct by generating, interpreting, and refining evidence. Concepts, explanations, arguments, models, and facts are the knowledge products of scientific inquiry that collectively aid in the description and explanation of natural systems when they are integrated and articulated into highly developed and well-established theories. Strand 3: Engaging in Scientific Reasoning Asking and answering questions and evaluating evidence are central to doing science and to successfully navigating through life (e.g., looking at nutrition labels to decide which food items to purchase, understanding the impact of individual and collective decisions related to the environment, diagnosing and addressing personal health issues, testing different possible causes of malfunction in technological systems). The generation and explanation of evidence is at the core of scientific practice; scientists are constantly refining theories and constructing new models based on observations and experimental data. Understanding the connections, similarities, and differences between evidence evaluation in daily living and the practice of science is an important contribution that is easily introduced and delivered in informal everyday settings. We also note that this strand is related to engineering design process,
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits which is parallel to, but distinct from, scientific inquiry. Although engineers apply scientific concepts and mathematics in their work, they also apply engineering design principles, such as the idea of trade-offs, the recognition that most problems have several possible solutions, and the idea that new technologies may have unanticipated effects. These ideas can also be communicated through experiences in informal settings. As described in Chapter 4, connecting natural types of evaluation to everyday experience—such as posing and answering commonsense questions and making predictions based on observational data concerning interesting phenomena—can support learners in developing an understanding of science. Deepening these experiences to include mathematical and conceptual tools to analyze data and further refine the questions, observations, and experimental design may also result in participants’ developing strong understanding of the practice of science. Strand 4: Reflecting on Science The practice of science revolves around the dynamic refinement of scientific understanding of the natural world. New evidence can always emerge, existing theories are continuously questioned, explanatory models are constantly refined or enlarged, and scientists argue about how the evidence can be interpreted. The appreciation of how profoundly exciting this is has attracted some of the best and brightest minds to the practice of science. Strand 4 focuses on learners’ understanding of science as a way of knowing—as a social enterprise that advances scientific understanding over time. It includes an appreciation of how the thinking of scientists and scientific communities changes over time as well as the learners’ sense of how his or her own thinking changes. Informal learning environments and programming seem to be particularly well suited to providing opportunities for children, youth, and adults to experience some of the excitement of participation in a process that is constantly open to revision. Understanding of how scientific knowledge develops can be imparted in museums and media by creative reconstruction of the history of scientific ideas or the depiction of contemporary advances. Because the stakes can be high and scientists are human, there are many compelling personal stories in science (e.g., Galileo Galilei, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, James Watson, Francis Crick, and Barbara McClintock). Creating and delivering opportunities for participants to assume the role of a scientist can be a powerful way for them to come to understand science as a way of knowing, though learners require significant support (e.g., to stimulate reflection and facilitate knowledge integration) to do so. Engaging in scientific practice can create the recognition that diverse methods and tools are used, there are multiple interpretations of the same evidence, multiple theories are usually advanced, and a passionate defense of data often
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits occurs in searching for core explanations of an event or phenomena. With guidance, this process can lead participants to reflect on their own state of knowledge and how it was acquired. Rich media representations (e.g., large screen documentaries) and digital technologies, such as simulations and immersive environments (e.g., visualizations, interactive virtual reality, games), can expand more traditional hands-on approaches to engage the public in authentic science activities. Strand 5: Engaging in Scientific Practice Because scientific practice is a complex endeavor and depends on openness to revision, it is done by groups of people operating in a social system with specific language apparatus, procedures, social practices, and data representations. Participation in the community of science requires knowledge of the language, tools, and core values. Changing the inaccurate stereotype of the lone scientist working in isolation in his laboratory to the accurate perception of groups of people interacting with each other to achieve greater understanding of a problem or phenomenon is critical to creating a positive attitude toward science learning. Strand 5 focuses on how learners in informal environments come to appreciate how scientists communicate in the context of their work as well as building learners’ own mastery of the language, tools, and norms of science as they participate in science-related inquiry. Strand 6: Identifying with the Scientific Enterprise Not only can educational activities develop the knowledge and practices of individuals and groups, they can also help people develop identities as science learners and, in some cases, as scientists—by helping them to identify and solidify their interests, commitments, and social networks, thereby providing access to scientific communities and careers. This strand pertains to how learners view themselves with respect to science. Strand 6 is relevant to the small number of people who, over the course of a lifetime, come to view themselves as scientists as well as the great majority of people who do not become scientists. For the latter group, it is an important goal that all members of society identify themselves as being comfortable with, knowledgeable about, or interested in science. We note that in the strand framework in Taking Science to School (National Research Council, 2007), the development of identity was not a separate strand but was construed as a component of participation in science (Strand 5 here, Strand 4 in the previous volume). While we do not disagree that participation and identity development are closely related, we see identity as worthy of its own focus here with particular importance to informal settings, which engage learners of all ages. Identity is developed
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits over the life span and so incorporates the dimension of time. We urge the community of informal science education to support identity development over time by creating opportunities for sustained participation and engagement over the life span. VENUES FOR SCIENCE LEARNING We are interested in a broad array of settings that can capture lifelong, life-wide, and life-deep learning. We organize our discussion of environments across three venues or configurations for learning: everyday informal environments, designed environments, and out-of-school and adult programs. All learning environments, including school and nonschool settings, can be said to fall on a continuum of educational design or structure (see Figure 2-3). Although what makes a learning environment informal is the subject of much debate, informal environments are generally defined as including learner choice, low consequence assessment, and structures that build on the learners’ motivations, culture, and competence. Furthermore, it is generally accepted that informal environments provide a safe, nonthreatening, open-ended environment for engaging with science. In this report we limit our analysis to nonschool informal environments out of a felt need to promote careful analysis and research in this area, which has often taken a back seat to research in school settings. Everyday and Family Learning Everyday learning is pervasive in people’s lives and includes a range of experiences that may extend over a lifetime, such as family or peer discussions and activities, personal hobbies, and mass media engagement and technology use. The agenda and manner of interaction in the environment are largely selected, organized, and coordinated by the learners and thus vary across and within cultures. Assessment is most often structured as immediate feedback through situated responses. Doing, learning, knowing, and demonstrating knowledge are typically intertwined and not easily distinguished FIGURE 2-3 Continuum of learning environments.
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits from each other. In these environments, demonstrating competence often results in a more central role in the learning configuration. For example, as children who grow up in an agricultural society develop greater knowledge and skill, their duties may shift. Feeding animals and cleaning stalls may give way to tending animal wounds and monitoring well-being. Designed Environments Examples of designed environments include museums, science centers, botanical gardens, zoos, aquariums, and libraries. Artifacts, media, and signage are primarily used to guide the learner’s experience. While these environments are structured by institutions, the nature of the learner’s interaction with the environment is often determined by the individual. Learners enter these environments primarily by choice, either their own personal choice or the choice of an adult (e.g., parent or teacher). Learners also have significant choice in setting their own learning agenda by choosing to attend to only exhibits or aspects of exhibits that align with their interests. Typically, learners’ engagement is short-term and sporadic in the setting, and learning takes place in peer, family, or mentor interactions. However, there is increasing interest in extending the impact of these experiences over time through post-visit web experiences, traveling exhibits, and follow-up mail or e-mail contact. After-School and Adult Programs Examples of after-school and adult programs include summer programs, clubs, science center programs, Elderhostel programs, volunteer groups, and learning vacations. Often program content includes a formal curriculum that is organized and designed to address the concerns of the sponsoring institutions. The curriculum and activities are focused primarily on content knowledge or skills, but they also may focus on attitudes and values and using science to solve applied problems. Activities are often designed to serve those seen to be in need of support, such as economically disadvantaged children and adults. Like designed spaces, individuals most often participate in these activities either by their own choice or the choice of a parent or teacher. They attend programs that align with their interests or needs. Experiences in these environments are typically guided and monitored by a trained facilitator and include opportunities for hands-on, collaborative experiences. The time scale of these learning experiences ranges from being sustained, long-term programs with in-depth engagement to brief, targeted, short-term programs. Assessments are often used, and may affect the participants’ reputation or status in the program, however they are not typically meant to judge individual attainment or progress in comparison to institutional expectations.
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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits Heterogeneity Within Each Venue Assessment, choice, and design characteristics define each type of informal learning venue. Yet it is important to note that there is great variability within each of the types of venue we have described. Consider everyday learning environments—which also frequently include use of materials and activities designed (or repurposed) to support science learning (e.g., commercially available science kits, locally fashioned and commercially available products associated with hobbies, collections of science-related media). Everyday learning environments are the most learner-driven and least externally structured of the three. Yet everyday learning can also be heavily structured by someone other than the learner, such as a parent or sibling. Others play a critical role in facilitating learning—asking questions, providing resources. It is also important to note that what may begin as one learner’s incidental inquiry, say about insects, can turn into something fundamentally different. For example, it is easy to imagine a parent or older sibling turning a child’s curious musing about the insects she has seen into a mini-assessment of the child’s technical knowledge of insect names or body parts. In this case, with the purpose and structure of the activity defined externally, the event can easily shift the learning focus and shut down the original inquiry and the child’s learning. CONCLUSION In this chapter we have argued science learning should be viewed as a lifelong, life-wide, and life-deep endeavor that occurs across a range of venues focused on multiple outcome strands of interest. We have observed that there are a range of perspectives in research on learning science in informal environments which, despite clear similarities and areas of overlap, have not been well integrated into a common body of knowledge. We see this as a critical goal for the advancement of learning science in informal environments as an area of educational practice and inquiry. We described an ecological framework that might hold some potential for researchers, designers, and educators to collectively view the informal learning of science as relating to the details of learning processes, mechanisms, and outcomes associated with people, places, and cultures. We have also introduced the organizational scheme of this report, which reflects the theoretical commitments we have introduced. Our analysis spans diverse venues and configurations, and a broad array of science learning outcomes and processes as indicated in the strands. The strands also reflect an effort to integrate the range of learning practices and outcomes used in prominent sociocultural and cognitive studies of learning and to focus these in science-specific ways. We hope that these perspectives may serve as the kernel of a shared framework to guide the accumulation of research findings on science learning and the design
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