Saturday, April 23, 2011

Formalizing informal science

I got an email from Education Week this morning that prompted this.

Conclusion 1: Across the life span, from infancy to late adulthood, individuals learn about the natural world and develop important skills for science learning.

I'm taking my lambs to Sandy Hook in a month to watch horseshoe crabs mate, to hold a few fiddler crabs, to seine the bay and see what they find, and to pick up a little trash while they're there.

For at least one day, I do not fret over my biggest classroom fear--killing curiosity. (I fret over a bazillion other things--bleeding, sunburned, and drowning dreams will haunt me for the next month.)

A 2009 National Resource Council report suggests that informal science--going to museums, watching Mythbusters, or looking under rocks in the backyard--matters if the goal is to spark lifetime interest in science.

But we have a problem--no immediate way to measure the effects of informal science, at least in a way that compels the data-driven drones who have co-opted our schools:
Without a common framework specifying outcomes and approaches, it is difficult to show gains in learning that occur across localities or across time frames, and attempts to portray the contributions of infrastructure for science learning that exists across varied institutions and activities will continue to be hindered

Our data-driven ed culture does not  accept what it cannot effectively ostensibly measure. So we continue to do what we know doesn't work! How do we know? We have a decade's worth of NCLB data....

Conclusion 8: Designers and educators can make science more accessible to learners when they portray science as a social, lived experience, when they portray science in contexts that are relevant to learners, and when they are mindful of diverse learners’ existing relationships with science and institutions of science learning.

Conclusion 14: Learning experiences across informal environments may positively influence children’s science learning in school, their attitudes toward science, and the likelihood that they will consider science-related occupations or engage in lifelong science learning through hobbies and other everyday pursuits.
Here's an idea--why not try this inside the school building? We have the students for a good chunk of their awake hours.

Every science teacher, and every school administrator, should read the report. You can read it free online.

The conclusions were lifted directly from the 2009 report Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits,


Mary Ann Reilly said...

A really important research text that I shared with staff where I work. So appreciate the idea that science isn't something exclusive to schools and separated into discrete subjects. I hated biology as a high school student as it was so disconnected from living (and yes I get the irony). It wasn't until after high school that I began to read Loren Eisley and others that science and life merged. As an artist, so many of the critical dispositions we think of as being scientific, are what I know of as "living a wide awake life." science are

doyle said...

Dear Mary Ann,

I don't even remember bio in high school. Part of that may be from a pretty good concussion, but I suspect the way it was presented may have played a role as well.

The separation between art and science has had disastrous consequences. Each enhances the other--though "other" itself suggests a false dichotomy there.