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Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments
Project Exploration balances dual goals: promotion of positive social and emotional goals for the girls and support of science learning. The opportunities to work with unfamiliar scientific instruments, observe animals in the wild, and engage in scientific experiments and to be successful in these endeavors not only resulted in science learning but also boosted their self-confidence and sense of their own competence. The program is also consistent with the emerging needs of adolescents for greater independence from their parents and more interaction with their peers.
Looking at the program in terms of the strands, it becomes clear how it provided a multifaceted science learning experience. The program succeeded in getting students involved in science by providing a hook—a trip to Yellowstone that included interesting hands-on experiences based in the real world (Strand 1). By learning how to use such tools as thermometers and tracking scopes (Strand 5), students increased their understanding of scientific concepts (Strand 2). The girls also were expected to write down their observations and the results of their experiments; both of these activities helped in the development of scientific reasoning skills (Strand 3). By discussing their experiences and writing down their thoughts in the form of poems, narratives, and drawings, the participants also revealed that they were reflecting on the expedition and highlighting what they learned (Strand 4).
What’s particularly compelling about this example is evidence that the girls themselves recognized their own accomplishments. They are proud of themselves, especially since many never thought they would have an opportunity to travel and have these experiences, let alone succeed at them. The girls’ ownership of their success lays a foundation for future endeavors in which they are willing to take risks and try new things in college and into adulthood (Strand 6).
INFORMAL SCIENCE LEARNING EXPERIENCES FOR ADULTS
As individuals move into adult roles, they usually reserve a reasonable amount of time for leisure pursuits. Those with hobbies related to science, technology, engineering, or mathematics are especially likely to continue with intentional, self-directed learning activities in that area.18 Science learning may also continue in more unintentional ways, such as watching television shows or movies with scientific content or falling into conversation with friends or associates about science-related issues. Some adults may focus especially on scientific issues related to their occupation or career, and in many cases their pursuit of scientific topics will be