Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Learning Science Outside the Classroom

I attended a webinar, sponsored by Education Week, entitled, “Learning Science Outside the Classroom.”  I’ve been meaning to share a few points that were made for museum folk who work in science museums, zoos&aquariums, botanical gardens, and any other museum where scientific discovery takes place – and I’m fully aware that this occurs in history-based museums on a regular basis as well. The webinar opened with a question: “When and why do people learn science and what sources do they use?” The answer is increasingly driven by technology and accessibility of information, and the answer to that question has changed greatly over the last 20 years. Some points that were made:

• 3-5% of our time is spent in “formal” education
• Learning is lifelong.
• Traditional ‘gatekeepers’ of knowledge hold less control as access to information widens.
• The boundaries between when/where/why we learn is disappearing.

Why do people learn science? Perhaps you can add to this list:

• Curiosity
• Necessity / satisfy a need
• To educate children
• Job
• Hobby
• Training

One particularly encouraging fact is that the probability of a person entering a career in the sciences is heavily correlated to that person’s expectation of entering such a career as the of the 8th grade (this correlation was stronger than any correlation between test scores and future science careers. The webinar also pointed out that after-school programs make a significant impact on science learning, and that impact is most pronounced for high-risk youth involved in such programming. This has implications for museum programming and partnerships with community organizations and school systems.

The second section of the webinar focused more specifically on informal learning centers, including science museums. It pointed out that there are now 350 science museums in the US alone, with several new ones opening each year. This represents 177 million visits in the US per year. Additionally, a large number of teachers visit such centers for professional development each year. If your museum is involved in science education, know that you are making an impact. Also, if you are not reaching out to special audiences such as teachers, and seeking community-based partnerships, you are missing an opportunity to magnify your impact.

Additionally, you may want to check out the following websites that were shared:

Science Inquiry on the Web Find just about every science museum on the planet; dozens of vetted activities from science museums for use on or off-line; in 9 languages Proof of the democratization of knowledge! Individuals, families, students do data collection and analysis for real science research Exquisite simulation activities of real experiments, inspiring stories, and more Hundreds of inquiry science fair projects, way beyond that model volcano; career advice and more The TV show is cool, but even better are teens doing engineering for delight at school or at home The tagline reads Making Science User-Friendly. Millions listen, but even more get it through the Web, Podcasts, Blogs, Tweets ….

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