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Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments
An important aspect of the strands is that they are intertwined, much like the strands of a rope. Research suggests that each strand supports the others, so that progress along one strand promotes progress in the others. It is important to note that, although the strands reflect conceptualizations developed in research, they have not yet been tested empirically. Nonetheless, they provide a useful framework for helping educators, exhibit designers, and other practitioners in the informal science education community articulate learning outcomes as they develop programs, activities, exhibits, and events.
Strand 1: Sparking Interest and Excitement
The motivation to learn science, emotional engagement, curiosity, and willingness to persevere through complicated scientific ideas and procedures over time are all important aspects of learning science.5 Learners in informal settings experience excitement, interest, and motivation to learn about phenomena in the natural and physical world. Interest includes the excitement, wonder, and surprise that learners often experience. Recent research shows that the emotions associated with interest are a major factor in thinking and learning, helping people learn as well as helping them retain and remember.6 Engagement can trigger motivation, which leads a learner to seek out additional ways to learn more about a topic. For example, after a field trip to the local planetarium, young people could become so excited that they decide to join a local astronomy club. In that setting, not only will they learn more about this topic, but also they will meet other people with similar interests.
Strand 2: Understanding Scientific Content and Knowledge
This strand includes knowing, using, and interpreting scientific explanations of the natural and physical world. Learners in informal environments come to generate, understand, remember, and use concepts, explanations, arguments, models, and facts related to science. Learners also must understand interrelations among central scientific concepts and use them to build and critique scientific arguments. While this strand includes what is usually categorized as content, it focuses on concepts and the link between them rather than on discrete facts. It also involves the ability to use this knowledge in one’s own life.