By Charlie Walter
On April 11, 2014, John Falk, Sea Grant Professor of Free-Choice Learning at Oregon State University and Director of the OSU Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning, spoke to the New Mexico Informal Science Education Network (NM ISE Net) as part of a SENCER-ISE funded initiative. Dr. Falk presented an overview of what is currently known about when, why and where the public learns science, and shared the results from a variety of recent large-scale investigations of science learning to document the significant role that informal educational experiences have in building a scientifically-informed public.
During his presentation, Falk noted that collectively many factors – years of schooling, quantity of childhood free-choice learning experiences, work experiences, privilege and quantity of adult free-choice learning experiences – significantly contribute to adult science literacy. His research results indicate a coefficient of determination (denoted R2). These factors are:
Schooling R2 = 17%
Childhood Free-Choice Learning R2 = 17%
Workplace R2 = 20%
Privilege R2 = 23%
Adult Free-Choice Learning R2 = 39%
Falk stated, “We need to broaden our mindset when we think of public education. We should consider the whole ecosystem of learning including schools, museums, zoos, nature centers, state and national parks, television, after school programs and the internet.”
Seventy-five individuals ranging from museum directors, educators and board members, university faculty members and students, state park interpreters and a member of the state’s Public Education Department attended the program. Twenty members of NM ISE Net shared information about their institutions and thoughts about the Network with Falk at a luncheon before the program. Falk noted, “This network seems to be uniquely poised to make a real impact on statewide STEM learning. Keep up the great work.”
NM ISE Network member, Gordon McDonough, from the Bradbury Science Museum stated, “As museum education practitioners, we spend so much of our time dealing with the demands of serving our audiences that we don’t often have time to wrestle with big ideas. John’s talk gave us the opportunity to step back from our day-to-day challenges and engage in the big questions about the value of museums and where we fit in the big picture of public education.”
Two additional national speakers will come to New Mexico as part of this SENCER-ISE project: James Bell, Director of the Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education and Mark St. John, President of Inverness Research Associates (dates have not been set for these talks yet). The goal of these sessions is to build capacity of the network members though dialogue with national thought leaders in informal science and learning research.
To watch a recording of Dr. Falk’s April 11th presentation, click here.