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New report on science learning at museums, zoos, other informal settings
Date:1/14/2009

WASHINGTON -- Each year, tens of millions of Americans, young and old, choose to learn about science in informal ways -- by visiting museums and aquariums, attending after-school programs, pursuing personal hobbies, and watching TV documentaries, for example. There is abundant evidence that these programs and settings, and even everyday experiences such as a walk in the park, contribute to people's knowledge and interest in science, says a new report from the National Research Council.

"Learning is broader than schooling, and informal science environments and experiences play a crucial role," said Philip Bell, co-chair of the committee that wrote the report, and associate professor of learning sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle. "These experiences can kick-start and sustain long-term interests that involve sophisticated learning. Think of the child who sees dinosaur skeletons for the first time on a family trip to a natural history museum, and then goes on to buy dinosaur models and books, do Web searches about dinosaurs, write school reports on the subject, and on and on."

The report notes that experiences in informal settings can significantly improve science learning outcomes for individuals from groups which are historically underrepresented in science, such as women and minorities. Evaluations of museum-based and after-school programs suggest that these programs may also support academic gains for children and youth in these groups.

More broadly, there is strong evidence that educational television can help people learn about science, although few studies have been done on the effects of other media, including digital media, video games, and radio. There is also some evidence that participation in informal science learning -- for example, volunteering in the collection of scientific data -- can promote informed civic engagement on science-related issues such as local environmental concerns, says the repor
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Contact: Sara Frueh
news@nas.edu
202-334-2138
National Academy of Sciences
Source:Eurekalert

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