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

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The report offers recommendations for people who design programs in these settings, such as the creators of museum exhibits. The programs and environments should be interactive and designed with specific learning goals in mind. They should provide multiple ways for learners to engage with concepts within a single setting. And they should prompt visitors to interpret what they have learned in light of their prior experiences and interests.

In addition, educators should partner with local communities to develop exhibits and experiences. When possible, such exhibits and environments should be rooted in scientific problems, ideas, and activities that are meaningful to these local communities.

The report also offers recommendations for those on the front line -- the professional and volunteer staffs of institutions and programs who interact with the public about science. In discussing new science concepts, they should draw on learners' experience and knowledge by using everyday language, referring to common cultural experiences, and using familiar tools.

There are few good outcome measures to assess science learning in informal settings, and efforts to develop relevant measures have often been controversial, the report notes. Some people have advocated using the same standards as for school settings, while others have urged measuring outcomes based on peoples' perceptions of whether they have learned something. It is not productive to blindly adopt either purely academic goals or standards that are personally subjective, the report says. Evaluations should not be limited to factual recall or other narrow cognitive measures; rather, they should assess the range of capabilities that museums and similar settings are designed to nurture.

The report outlines six "strands" of science learning that can happen in informal settings, and these strands could help refine evaluations of how well people are learning in th
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Contact: Sara Frueh
news@nas.edu
202-334-2138
National Academy of Sciences
Source:Eurekalert

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