Impact on Student Learning

Informal Science Education and Its Impact on Student Learning

Beyond Science Literacy: Science and the Public
International Journal of Environmental and Science Education
Xiufeng Liu

The author sets out a new conception of “science literacy,” stressing science’s importance as a major part of human culture and the increasing importance of science understanding both to economics and to personal and community decision-making regarding modern civic issues. He argues for two approaches to achieving this concept of science literacy, bridging the gap between formal and informal science education and training science and public educators through graduate programs. The author justifies the former in particular by stressing the obsolescence of exclusively classroom-based forms of science education, as science is encountered outside the classroom at least as much as inside, in museums and via media of various types.

Interest-Driven Learning Among Middle School Youth in an Out-of-School STEM Studio
Journal Of Science Education & Technology
Michael A. Evans, Megan Lopez, Donna Maddox, Tiffany Drape, & Rebekah Duke

The authors discuss the prospects for making use of informal “connected learning” strategies, which aim to expand the range of entry points and pathways to educational and workforce opportunities, in order to create more engaging and motivating experiences in the context of informal Studio STEM learning. The authors particularly concentrate on three characteristics of these, the use of problem-based learning that appeals to students’ individual interests, the employment of new digital and social media, and peer interaction. By leveraging students’ personal interests and enjoyment, the authors hope to encourage deeper, more engaged, learning in STEM among middle school students. The article includes a discussion of two case studies and suggests integrating these strategies into formal educational contexts.

Learning Science Through Computer Games and Simulations
National Research Council
Edited by Margaret A. Honey and Margaret Hilton

The National Research Council was tasked with creating an ad hoc committee to create and conduct a workshop exploring connections about what is known about science learning and computer gaming simulations, the potentially unrealized role cpu and gaming simulations could play in assessing learning, and the means by which they could be used on a large scale; the committee agreed that this endeavor merits future investment and investigation as a means to improve science-based learning. Despite the growing amount of evidence-supported claims (and the general consensus among science professionals) about games and simulations having the potential to advance multiple science learning goals, the evidence is currently inconclusive and stands on a very limited research base. The book offers a research agenda that takes very systematic approach to research and development of this topic. In later chapters the committee’s research agenda recommends targeted research to increase understanding of the apparent connection between simulations and scientific learning and offers suggestions for further improvement. While this research agenda is intended as a guidance tool for prospective researchers, the authors recognize that this agenda is not static and will have to adapt to the imminent changes of this sect of technology and remain as evolutionary as the idea of educational growth via scientific simulations and gaming.

Reexamining connections: Museums as science learning environments
Science Education
Linda Ramey-Gassert & Herbert J. Walberg III

This article provides an overview of the literature relevant to education in science museums, identifying and describing their usefulness in arousing student interest through their hands-on and experiential– rather than abstract– approaches that encourage student discovery. It also notes the particular strength of museums as environments that allow for participatory exploration in a non-threatening, non-evaluative environment, in contrast to the social norms present in the traditional classroom, particularly with respect to gender. The authors go on to propose collaborations among schools, universities, and informal learning environments such as museums to encourage science learning.

SENCER-ISE: Establishing Connections between Formal and Informal Science Educators to Advance STEM Learning through Civic Engagement
Science Education and Civic Engagement
Alan J. Friedman and Ellen Mappen

The document recapitulates a conference held in March of 2011 to develop working frameworks in various communities who could work together and advance STEM learning through the broad focus of civic engagement. “SENCER-ISE: A conference to Create Partnerships between Formal and Informal Science Educators to Advance STEM Learning through Civic Engagement” was a transnational consociation that provided a space for a diverse range of informal and higher education associations to foster meaningful partnerships. Lead by NCSCE faculty and staff, conference participants (comprised of more than fifty informal science educators, including several participants from Canada, Chile, and Israel coming from a multiplicity of informal scientific learning and discovery centers) built upon mutual learning goals and educational pursuits within science-based inquiry. The participant driven conference gave educators the opportunity to work in teams and develop ideas for partnerships and potential future collaborations. Conference proceedings revealed that most (formal) higher education participants recognized the causational relationship between civic engagement as a means towards achieving science learning; meanwhile informal science education participants mostly looked at civic engagement as a valuable end to the means in itself. Immediately following the report is an interview with Alan Friedman. In a conversation with Ellen Mappen, SENCER-ISE Project Director, the late Alan Friedman, SENCER-ISE Founding Project Director, offers his insightful opinion about informal science, civic engagement, and the importance of being able to clearly communicate science to informal audiences.

Surrounded by Science
National Acadademics Press

This video is about broadening our perception of scientific learning spaces. It is an undeniable fact that an awful lot of science learning happens outside of classrooms and classroom-like settings. Despite this, people generally still do not completely recognize that where they learn science does not matter, so long as they develop concepts and link these thoughts together cohesively.  Unlike formal education settings, such as schools, which thrive on teaching discrete facts, informal science education settings provide a space in which people may approach knowledge as a socially lived experience. As this video shows, by engaging in scientific activities in places that encourage conversation, not dictation, the public can spark an interest in scientific learning, expand their knowledge of scientific content and language, use the tools and the language of science to engage in scientific reasoning, and identify how the fruitful benefits of scientific learning can be applied to different aspects of their actual lives.

Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments
National Research Council
Edited by Marilyn Fenichel and Heidi A. Schweingruber

This book acknowledges the “great deal of science learning” that takes place in nontraditional learning centers, such as museums, after-school programs, nature-centers, and even the dinner table. The benefits of in-school learning are indisputable, conversely, the advantages of informal learning environments have yet to be fully explored and capitalized upon. The authors address the major issues involved with understanding and accepting that meaningful learning experiences stand to be gained in these settings, as well as familiarizing these settings with educators, students, and professionals alike.


Understanding and Engagement in Places of Science Experience: Science Museums, Science Centers, Zoos, and Aquariums
Educational Psychologist
Alejandro Grajal, Doris Lewalter, & Stephen Schwan Schwan

In this article, the authors focus on the means by which informal science institutions, such as museums, science centers, zoos, and aquariums (collectively referred to here as MCZAs), mediate scientific knowledge. It analyzes the strategies they pursue and identifies a number of salient characteristics. Among these are the heterogeneous target audiences of these institutions (which vary considerably by age, levels of prior knowledge, and individuals’ particular goals), their strategies to inform and entertain through direct, hands-on experience, their physical layouts (in which different exhibits compete for attention), and the particular social component involved in how individuals may interpret the exhibits for each other (particularly adults for children). Through this analysis, the authors seek to identify “blind spots” in traditional, classroom-centered education research as well as to illustrate the importance of an “ecology of learning,” in which the specific conditions in which science learning takes place are taken into account.

Council, N. R. (2010). Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Council, N. R. (2011). Learning Science Through Computer Games and Simulations. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Evans, M. A., Lopez, M., Maddox, D., Drape, T., & Duke, R. (2014). Interest-Driven Learning Among Middle School Youth in an Out-of-School STEM Studio. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 23(5), 624-640. doi:10.1007/s10956-014-9490-z

Friedman, A. J., & Mappen, E. F. (2011). SENCER-ISE: Establishing Connections between Formal and Informal Science educators to Advance STEM Learning through Civic Engagement. Science Education and Civic Engagement, 3(2), 7.

Gassert, L., & Walberg III, H. J. (1994). Reexamining connections: Museums as science learning environments. Science Education, 78(4), 345-363. doi:10.1002/sce.3730780403

Grajal, A., Lewalter, D., & Schwan, S. (2014). Understanding and Engagement in Places of Science Experience: Science Museums, Science Centers, Zoos, and Aquariums. Educational Psychologist, 49(2), 15.

Liu, X. (2009). Beyond Science Literacy: Science and the Public. International Journal Of Environmental And Science Education, 4(3), 10.