[on] how people learn science - Learning Research and ...


[on] how people learn science - Learning Research and ...

Education WEEk

A Special Report on Informal Science Education www.edweek.org/go/ScienceReport

ScieNce learNiNg

A Supplement to the April 6, 2011, Issue

Vol. 30 • No. 27

Outside the Classroom

This report was underwritten by a grant from the Noyce Foundation



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eDUcaTiON WeeK

SPecial rePOrT:

Science learning

Outside the classroom

aPril 6, 2011

Copyright ©2010 by

Editorial Projects

in Education, Inc. All

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Kitty Clark Fritz for Education Week

Kitty Clark Fritz for Education Week

S2 awareness grows of

importance of learning

Science Beyond School

S2 Science Though the TV Screen

S6 researchers Playing catch-Up

in gauging Beyond-School



For more on informal science education:


read Staff Writer Sarah D. Sparks’ story that delves into

the growing world of online communities where science

is the topic and see videos of the science experiments she

writes about. www.edweek.org/go/experiments

Then, join an online forum to post your favorite videos of

experiments and share how you use these videos in the



View a photo gallery of the explora science center.


S8 Science-rich institutions

Provide Venues For children to

enjoy exploration

S10 Science Competitions

integrated into classroom


S12 games and Simulations

Draw children into New

Vistas for accessing Science

S13 independent Play Fosters

Discovery in Youngsters

S14 National Science Foundation

Seen as leader in advancing

informal learning

S15 Environmental Issues

inspire children

To Dig into Science

Join assistant editor erik W. robelen and guests for

a free Webinar on the evolving field of informal science

education—what we know about its impact, what it

looks like in practice, the potential, and the


Sabrina reyes, a 2nd grader at

east San Jose elementary

School, investigates the effect

of airstream on a group of

pinwheels during Family

Science Night at explora,

a science center in

albuquerque, N.M.

explora regularly hosts the

event to promote informal

science learning for area

students and their families.

Read the digital (PDF) edition of the informal


science education report and forward copies

John H. Falk, professor of free-choice learning at

to your colleagues.

Oregon State University and founder and director INFORMAL SCIENCE EDUCATION

emeritus of the institute for learning innovation


alan J. Friedman, former director and ceO of the


New York Hall of Science, consultant in museum

development and science communication, and member

of the National assessment governing Board

Date: Tuesday, april 19, from 2 to 3 p.m. eDT


cOVer iMage:

Jackeli Queli views her

multiplying faces inside a giant

kaleidoscope at explora. The

5th grader and her classmates

at Tomasita elementary School

brought family members to the

science center to explore its

many exhibits.

Kitty Clark Fritz for Education Week


on the

Digital Edition

awareness grows of importance

Of learning Science Beyond School


eriK W.


When a fresh

round of


and international

data on





came out recently, the results—

widely seen as disappointing—

prompted familiar hand-wringing

from political leaders and

education experts about the steps

needed to improve science instruction

in the public schools.

What’s often missing from the

national dialogue on the issue is

a concerted focus not simply on

what happens in the classroom,

but also on the opportunities to

learn about scienceand to inspire

a passion for the subject—

that come outside the school day



Through the

TV Screen

PhotoS by AP ExCEPt WhERE IndICAtEd

and the formal curriculum.

But many leaders in the field

often referred to as “informal science

education” say that is beginning

to change. There are signs

that this sector is garnering wider

attention and starting to be included

in broader discussions on

how to improve science learning

among young people.

David A. Ucko, a former senior

official at the National Science

Foundation, said the field now

has greater external recognition

of its impact on public awareness,

understanding, and engagement

with science and related subjects.

“There is definitely momentum

building,” agreed John H. Falk, a

professor of free-choice learning

at Oregon State University, in

Corvallis. “The good news is that

the field is of late being invited to

some tables and being taken seriously

as important, but it’s still

roughly an order of magnitude

less than formal education.”

One boost to the cause was the

2009 release of a major National

Research Council report, “Learning

Science in Informal Environments.”

With the prestige of the

National Academies behind

it, the nrc document served

as a clarion call.

“Efforts to enhance scientific capacity

typically target schools and

focus on such strategies as improving

science curriculum and teacher

training and strengthening the

science pipeline,” the report said.

“What is often overlooked or underestimated

is the potential for

science learning in nonschool settings,

where people actually spend

the majority of their time.

“Beyond the schoolhouse door,”

it said, “opportunities for science

learning abound.”

Indeed, they do. Visits to sciencerich

cultural institutions, such as

zoos, aquariums, science centers,

and natural-history museums

immediately come to mind. But

it’s really a host of opportunities.

Astronomy and robotics clubs. After-school

programs and science

competitions. Collecting rocks or

taking a walk in the woods. Watching

television programs such as

“MythBusters” or turning to the

Internet to learn more about cancer

or global warming. The list

goes on and on.

President Barack Obama, who

has aggressively used his bully

pulpit to promote education in the

s t E m fields of science, technology,

engineering, and

mathematics, seems to

BY SaraH D. SParKS

In one of the best-remembered tv science

experiments, donald J. herbert, aka mr. Wizard,

and one of his student-helpers peered over a

waist-high acrylic box filled with set mousetraps,

representing fissionable material in an atomic

bomb. on each perched a pingpong ball,

representing the neutrons. When one additional

ball dropped into the mix, the entire box went up in

an explosion of white plastic.

When mr. herbert died in 2007, after more than

a half-century in educational entertainment,

science television shows had exploded more fully

than his ping-pong balls. the national Research

Council’s 2009 landmark study of informal science

highlighted evidence that children’s shows such

as “bill nye the Science guy” can increase not

just students’ interest in science, but also their

understanding of complex scientific concepts.

here’s a look at some of the top science television

series through the years.

Education WEEK: sciEncE lEarning outsidE thE classroom l www.edweek.org/go/sciencereport l april 6, 2011

Opportunities are

plentiful, from afterschool

programs to

computer simulations

to visiting a zoo.

WAtCh mR. WIzARd (1951)

the granddaddy of all children’s science

shows, “mr. Wizard” first aired on WmAQ,

Chicago’s nbC station. It spanned more

than 600 shows during the 1950s and ’60s,

and another 78 shows, as the cable-based

“mr. Wizard’s World,” in the 1980s and ’90s,

according to tom nikosey, the president of

mr. Wizard Studios in West hills, Calif.

share an appreciation for learning

outside the classroom. He hosted

an Astronomy Night on the White

House lawn in 2009 and, last fall,

the first White House science fair,

celebrating winners of s t E m-focused

student competitions.

“In many ways, our future depends

on what happens in those

contests,” Mr. Obama said at the

October event. “It’s in these pursuits

that talents are discovered

and passions are lit, and the future

scientists, engineers, inventors,

and entrepreneurs are born.”

NO TeSTS Or graDeS

In an increasingly data-obsessed

education landscape, one challenge

is meeting the demand for

concrete evidence on how individuals

benefit from informal learning


The n r c report found “abundant

evidence” that people of all

ages learn science across a wide

range of venues and activities.

But that report, and interviews

with experts in the field, suggest

there’s still a long way to go in better

evaluating and understanding

the impact.

Advocates for informal learning

emphasize that it’s vital not simply

to align measures for out-ofschool

learning with the focus on

standardized achievement tests

so prevalent in public education.

Instead, the idea is to gauge scientific

skills and understanding in

ways that are more appropriate to

the various settings and activities,

as well as to look at interest in

science topics and a person’s selfidentification

as someone knowledgeable

about science.

nAtIonAL gEogRAPhIC (1964)

the first television specials by the national

geographic Society aired on CbS and have since

spawned innumerable documentaries, additional

television series like “national geographic

Explorer,” and, in 2001, a full cable channel

dubbed natgeo.

“If we allow the things that are

easy to measure in school districts

as the only definitions of learning

we’re going to consider, we are

leaving off the table an awful lot

of things,” said Kevin J. Crowley,

the director of the University of

Pittsburgh’s Center for Learning

in Out-of-School Environments

and an associate professor of education

and psychology. “We need

to have compelling, theory-based,

reliable measures, and we’re just

beginning to chip away at that

right now.”

The n r c report said one important

feature of informal learning

settings is the absence of tests,

grades, and other familiar approaches

used by schools to document

the effect of education.

“Assessments should not be limited

to factual recall or other narrow

cognitive measures of learning,”

it said, but instead “should

address the range of intellectual,

attitudinal, behavioral, social, and

participatory capabilities that informal

environments effectively


In fact, tools are now emerging

that show the potential to link

individuals’ learning across a lifetime

of different experiences. (See

story, Page S6.)

One domain that is seeing a

strong push to promote learning

and engagement in science is the

after-school setting. In fact, 2011

was billed as the “Year of Science

in After-School” by several leading

groups, including the Afterschool

Alliance, the National AfterSchool

Association, and the National

Summer Learning Association.

“We’re all speaking with one

voice to say this is important,” said

Anita Krishnamurthi, the director

of stEm policy for the Afterschool

Alliance, an advocacy group based

in Washington.

Meanwhile, initiatives have recently

emerged in California and

Missouri to establish sustainable

statewide systems that support

and promote high-quality afterschool

programming in the stEm

fields. The initiative in Missouri,

Project Liftoff, is working to spark


Professor of Free-choice learning

Oregon State University

There is




similar undertakings in other

Midwestern states as well. Among

the efforts planned are identifying

a menu of first-rate curricular

materials in the stEm fields, better

preparing after-school program

staff members to provide engaging

stEm activities, and supporting the

evaluation and improvement of

such after-school offerings.

The project is getting financial

backing from the Noyce Foundation,

which also underwrote this

special report, and the Charles S.

Mott Foundation, which helps underwrite

economic-stimulus coverage

in Education Week.

Some advocates have eyed policy

changes at the federal level to


CouStEAu (1966)

mr. Cousteau, the founder of the French

navy’s undersea Research group in 1946 and

a commander of the research ship Calypso,

almost singlehandedly developed underwater

wildlife documentaries with multiple cinematic

films, television specials, and the series, which

was later renamed “the undersea World of

Jacques-yves Cousteau” and ran through 1976.

gain better leverage for informal

science learning. A prime target is

the main federal source of afterschool

aid, the $1.2 billion 21st

Century Community Learning

Centers program.

Last year, a White House advisory

panel on science and technology—as

part of a larger report on

improving stEm education—urged

the government to create a setaside

in the program for those

fields. It suggested that the funding

could be pooled with other

federal aid to create a new, coordinated

initiative across agencies to

support high-quality out-of-school

activities that “inspire” students

in the stEm subjects. Such activities

could include after-school and

summer school programs, as well

as contests, the report said.

The news and entertainment

media have long served as powerful

vehicles for educating the public

about science, from newspapers

and magazines to TV and radio

programs, documentaries, and

i m a x films. Even science-fiction

movies have helped inspire young

people to learn about science. The

National Science Foundation is

a key supporter, having issued

an assortment of grants over the

years for educational programming,

including the science desk

at n p r, television programs like

DragonFly TV, and giant-screen

movies like “Tornado Alley,” which

premiered in March.

Private foundations have also

played a role. In February, for

instance, the Howard Hughes

Medical Institute, based in Chevy

Chase, Md., announced the launch

of a $60 million documentary-film

initiative to bring compelling science

features to television.

Further, new technologies hold

novA (1971)

tremendous promise to advance

science learning and interest,

with the advent of increasingly

sophisticated computer games and

simulations, among other developments.

(See story, Page S12.)

‘UrBaN aDVaNTage’

Ensuring access across the U.S.

population, especially among lowincome

and minority families,

is seen as an important goal for

many informal initiatives and

institutions, from after-school

programs to science centers and

museums, such as Explora, in Albuquerque,

N.M. Explora offers

free memberships for low-income

families and hosts Family Science

Nights in partnership with the

city school district as a way to better

acquaint such families with its

offerings. (See story, Page S8.)

The Family Science Night idea

also illustrates another theme:

the value of fostering direct connections

between schools and

informal learning environments.

Around the country, there’s no

shortage of such collaborations.

Explora, like many other science

centers, also offers professionaldevelopment

programs for teachers.

And it offers a menu of more

than 200 hourlong experiential

programs for students, called “explorations,”

pegged to the state’s

academic standards.

In New York City, Urban Advantage,

a program led by the American

Museum of Natural History,

has brought together the city

school system and an assortment

of science-rich institutions, including

the New York Hall of Science,

First launched by Wgbh in boston, the one-hour

series won the national Science Foundation’s

inaugural Public Service Award in 1998. It

repeatedly has won honors while spurring debate

in Congress for coverage of controversial topics,

such as the “miracle of Life” (1983), which earned

Peabody and Emmy awards. It spun off a news

show, “novA sciencenoW,” in 2005.

april 6, 2011 l Education WEEK: sciEncE lEarning outsidE thE classroom l www.edweek.org/go/sciencereport

PAgE 5>


Children’s television Workshop

3-2-1 ContACt


this science and technology

show developed by the

Children’s television

Workshop ran seven seasons

in a magazine format. Its

features included interviews

with scientists and popular

skits with a group of child

detectives called the

bloodhound gang, who used

scientific knowledge and

procedures to solve mysteries.

bILL nyE thE SCIEnCE guy


KIng-tv, Seattle’s nbC affiliate, first aired the

show by the Cornell university engineer while he

was moonlighting as a stand-up comic, according

to his biography site. the show won 18 Emmys

in its five years on air and has spun off several

science shows, such as the Science Channel’s

“100 greatest discoveries,” “the Eyes of nye”

on PbS, and Planet green’s “Stuff happens.”

liFelONg learNiNg

16 WAKIng houRS





voyAgE (1980)

the internationally renowned

astrophysicist Carl Sagan

presented and co-wrote both

this 13-episode series and an

accompanying book, which

PbS first aired. According to

its website, it remains the most

popular PbS series in the world.

A relatively small percentage of waking hours across the

life span are spent in formal educational environments.


18.5% 7.7% 5.1%

Grades 1-12


SouRCE: Learning in Informal and Formal Environments Center


S4 Education WEEK: sciEncE lEarning outsidE thE classroom l www.edweek.org/go/sciencereport l april 6, 2011

A link to these shows

is provided at


mythbuStERS (2003)

thE CRoCodILE huntER


this wildlife documentary hosted by the

exuberant Australian naturalist and zoo

owner Steve Irwin proved a breakout hit for

the cable channel Animal Planet in more

than 130 countries before mr. Irwin was

killed in 2006. It spun off several specials

and a children’s program, “bindi, the

Jungle girl,” hosted by mr. Irwin’s schoolage


the discovery Channel launched this series, hosted by two

hollywood special-effects designers and their assistants,

who test urban legends, Internet rumors, and historical myths

through experiments. In 2009, President barack obama asked

the team to re-create (and eventually bust) the legend that

the ancient greek Archimedes used a “solar death ray”

of mirrors to ignite invading ships in 212 b.C.

PhotoS by AP ExCEPt WhERE IndICAtEd

Formal Learning Environments

Informal Learning Environments

Postgraduates Workers Retirees

Jim henson Company

SId thE SCIEnCE KId (2008)

The Jim henson Co. and KCEt/Los Angeles developed

the program for PbS KIdS as the first science show

targeted at preschool-age children. In each show,

the title character asks a child’s typical question,

such as “Where did my snowman go?” and discovers

the answer in the course of the program.

ContInuEd FRom PAgE 3

the Queens and Brooklyn botanical

gardens, and the Bronx Zoo, to provide

rich opportunities to improve

middle school students’ understanding

of scientific inquiry.

The value of such collaborations

between schools and informal institutions

was brought into clearer

focus by a 2010 report from the

Center for Advancement of Informal

Science Education, a partnership

of several organizations that

was founded with nsf support.

The report said formal-informal

collaborations can enhance students’

and teachers’ conceptual

understanding of science, improve

student achievement, strengthen

students’ disposition toward the

field, and help teachers integrate

inquiry and new materials into the


“Despite scores of such examples,

these collaborations have generally

failed to institutionalize: In many

communities, they come and go

with changes in funding and leadership,”

it said. “The walls between

formal and informal learning professional

fields are only beginning

to crumble. There is too little transfer

of practice, learning, and community.”

‘a MODeST cHaNge’

Even as informal science education

is gaining more prominence,

people who know the field say

insufficient money remains a big

barrier to expanding its role.

In a recent essay, Mr. Falk from

Oregon State University, along

with Lynn D. Dierking, also a professor

of free-choice learning at

that university, noted that far more

funding goes to public schooling in

science than informal learning opportunities.

“Even a modest change in this

ratio could make a huge difference”

to Americans’ science literacy, they

wrote in the December issue of

American Scientist magazine,

though they emphasized that they

were not suggesting lessening support

to schools.

Martin Storksdieck, the director

of the Board on Science Education

at the National Academies,

suggests that advocates still have

a lot of work to do in convincing

policymakers and the public that

informal science learning merits

increased investment.

He points to a telling illustration.

The federal economic-stimulus

legislation enacted in 2009

included on a short list of institutions

barred from receiving funds

not only casinos, golf courses, and

swimming pools, but also zoos and

aquariums. (The Senate-passed

bill sought to add museums, theaters,

and several other

categories to the list,

but that language

was removed.)

“At the end of

the day, we haven’t

made the value

proposition in the

political arena or to

consumers as much as we

should,” Mr. Storksdieck said, “of

just how fundamentally beneficial

these learning spaces are, and how

much we as a society and as individuals

benefit when we take part

in what they have to offer us.” l

SPecial rePOrT 2011

iNFOrMal ScieNce eDUcaTiON



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Erik. W. Robelen covers

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covers education research

for Education Week.

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for Education Week

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mary-Ellen Phelps deily

covered out-of-school learning

for Education Week and is deputy

editor of its Commentary section.

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covers higher education

for Education Week.

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esearchers Playing catch-Up

in gauging Beyond-School effects


SaraH D.


Emerging research shows the science

school-age children learn in

informal settings—from museums

and clubs to online communities

and television shows—can have a

big impact on their lives. Yet the

open format and distinct structures

of informal science make it next to

impossible for researchers to evaluate

the quality of those experiences

in the same way they can gauge

formal schooling.

School assessments generally

focus on cognitive measures, such

as what a student knows and can

demonstrate about particular content.

In contrast, informal learning

is dominated by noncognitive

measures such as motivation, interest,

and identity, according to

Larry E. Suter, the National Science

Foundation’s program director

for informal science education.

Moreover, traditional “gold standard”

research methods such as

randomized controlled trials can

be detrimental to activities that

base their strength on people’s

choosing to participate, rather

than being assigned.

Such research raises the risk,

Mr. Suter said, that “if you touch

it, you’re going to kill that thing

you’re trying to study.”

That has led to some creative

research alternatives. Alan J.

Friedman, a former director and

chief executive officer of the New

York Hall of Science and the editor

of the n s f’s 2008 framework

for evaluating informal science

education, recalls judging the effectiveness

of an astronomy exhibit

by the number of visitors

who chose an astronomy poster

over a different prize. Barbara N.

Flagg, the director of the Multimedia

Research consultant

group in Bellport, N.Y., said

she has used smudged museum

walls indicating where

visitors have touched exhibits,

changes in Google and Amazon

search terms over time, and phone

interviews with parents and children.

“If you’re comparing this to other

education research, you’ve got to


turn back the clock 30 or 40 years,”

said Kevin J. Crowley, the director

of the University of Pittsburgh’s

Center for Learning in Out-of

-School Environments and an associate

professor of education and

psychology. “We are just now in the

Wild West frontier, and people are

just starting to gear up the longitudinal

studies on how this will coalesce

into a coherent narrative of

how people learn science.”

Now, the tools being born of that

creativity show the potential to

link children’s education across a

lifetime of different experiences,

and in the process uncover more

of how and what children learn

than has ever been measured in a

school test alone. Children, after

all, spend more than 80 percent

of their waking hours outside the


“The research has evolved,” Mr.

Crowley said. “In the past, the

great flaw of the informal-learning

science was we looked at it in situ-

“ We’re

just now in

the Wild



... [on]

how people

learn science.”

KeViN J. crOWleY

associate Professor of education and Psychology

University of Pittsburgh

ations; we weren’t really

looking at a lifelong trajectory

in science learning. For

the first time, we’re asking questions

about how learning and participation

are moving across place

and across time.”

“Brenda’s” school performance,

for instance, didn’t really show her

scientific achievements or level of

interest in the subject. Teachers

reported the first-generation Haitian

daughter of a single mother

in Seattle had little interest in

science and consistently “failed to

engage” with the chemical-mixing

tasks in her school lab.

Yet because researchers at the

University of Washington, in Seattle,

had been observing the 4th

grader across formal and informal

settings for more than 2,000 hours,

they knew that school didn’t tell

Brenda’s whole story. Not only did

she regularly measure and mix

chemicals and record the results

for her perfume-making hobby,

but she also had told the researchers

she was considering becoming

a chemist when she grew up.

“School science underrepresents

her developing expertise,” Philip

Bell, an associate professor of

learning sciences at the university

and the director of ethnographic

and design-based research at the

Everyday Science and Technology

Group there, said during a recent

lecture. “Just in terms of how people

learn, our literatures don’t do

justice to the varied pathways that

people take through their experiences

to make progress on things

they care about.”

iNTereST VS. graDeS

That’s a dangerous disconnect,

experts say, because

mounting evidence shows

that early engagement,

even through informal pathways,

eventually can lead to

careers in the stEm fields of science,

technology, engineering, and

mathematics more surely than top

grades in school.

In a 2006 study published in

the journal Science, Robert H. Tai,

an associate professor at the University

of Virginia’s Curry School

of Education, in Charlottesville,

tracked thousands of students via

the National Educational Longitudinal

Study. He found that

students who had only average

grades in middle school but expressed

interest in science were

two to three times more likely to

earn bachelor’s degrees in a science

or engineering field 12 years

later than high-achieving students

who did not voice interest.

The landmark 2009 study that

Mr. Bell co-wrote, “Learning Sci-

Education WEEK: sciEncE lEarning outsidE thE classroom l www.edweek.org/go/sciencereport l april 6, 2011

What’s measured in the

classroom—what students

know and can do— differs

from what’s currently measured

outside—such as motivation

and interest.

ViTal liNKS

learning Science in informal environments: People, Places,

and Pursuits (2009)

The National Research Council of the National Academies,

Edited by Philip Bell, Bruce Lewenstein, Andrew W. Shouse, and Michael

A. Feder

this landmark study by the National Academies’ Committee on

Learning science in Informal Environments documented evidence

that children and adults do learn science outside of direct school

instruction. Both designed science settings such as zoos or

museums and spontaneous settings such as a walk in the park can

help children understand science. the book laid the foundation for a

more evidence-based approach to informal science education.

Surrounded by Science: learning Science in informal

environments (2010)

National Academies, Marilyn Fenichel and Heidi A. Schweingruber

A follow-up to the National Academies’ Learning science in Informal

Environments, this practitioner-focused guide provides case studies,

framework tools, and other examples of how high-quality informal

science education programs and exhibits can look.

Framework for evaluating impacts of informal Science

education Projects (2008)

National Science Foundation, edited by Alan J. Friedman

Based on an NsF workshop on informal science education, this

framework lays out the criteria for measuring informal science, based

on a participant’s awareness, knowledge, or understanding of a

science topic; engagement or interest in science; attitude toward

science or careers in the field; changes in scientific behavior such

as inquiry; and the improvement of specific skills related to science,

such as experimenting or data analysis.

Measuring the impact of a Science center on its

community (2011)

Journal of Research in Science Teaching, John H. Falk and Mark D.


By studying Los Angeles residents and museum-goers before and a

decade after a massive overhaul of the city’s California science Center,

researchers showed that the museum had increased the public’s

understanding of and interest in the science covered in the new

exhibits. the researchers used public understanding of homeostasis as

a conceptual marker to track improved scientific understanding.

soURCE: Education Week

Links to these reports are provided at edweek.org/links.

ence in




the National

Research Council,

synthesized a

vast array of research,

including Mr. Tai’s, to conclude

that “abundant evidence”

exists that informal experiences

can effectively support learning.

What’s more, it found that those

free-choice, low-stakes pathways

can engage children from groups

underrepresented in science fields:

students in poverty, those from ethnic

and language minorities, and


Still, while the number of research

proposals submitted to the

n s f about informal education has

doubled in the past five years, from

300 to 600 annually, Mr. Suter said,

the vast majority have been and

continue to be from practitioners

evaluating their individual programs,

clubs, and exhibits, often

using self-made assessments.

BeTTer aligNMeNT

In 2008, the Program in Education,

Afterschool, and Resiliency at

Harvard University and McLean

Hospital in Boston found that of 64

widely used informal science evaluation

tools, none met all five of

the nsf’s five domains of informal

learning: engagement and interest,

attitude toward science and behavior,

content knowledge, competence

and reasoning, and career knowledge

and acquisition.

Program founder Gil G. Noam

and Rick Bonney, the director of

program development and evaluation

at the Cornell University Ornithology

Lab, in Ithaca, N.Y., and

the creator of several nationwide

citizen-science projects, are working

to change that. Mr. Noam has

established the Assessment Tools

in Informal Science database of

existing tests. He said that he and

Mr. Bonney are about a year away

from using the tests to develop a

single, unified assessment of informal

science learning.

“Our big goal in all this is to

bring into this field some proof

that the informal science work

makes a difference,” Mr. Noam


Likewise, Mr. Crowley’s organization,

ca i s E, has gathered five

years’ worth of evaluation reports

from n s f informal science projects—many

never published—and

has started to cull best practices

and other lessons learned from

across the many types of informal


“Only recently has the learning

theory caught up with those

hunches, and now we’re at a place

where we really can test design

hypotheses based on what we

know about the science of learning,”

he said.

Ultimately, John H. Falk and

Lynn D. Dierking, both professors

in free-choice learning at Oregon

State University, in Corvallis,

hope the field will move toward

more “synergy” studies, like Mr.

Bell’s longitudinal work, that can

Did You Know?

80% of new jobs in the next

decade will require some

form of math or science.

National Science Foundation, 2004

explore how people learn science

across the formal and informal

experiences of their lives.

The Oregon State researchers

now are monitoring how children

in Portland, Ore., come to learn

scientific concepts across the

city’s many formal and informal

science offerings during a fouryear

period. Portland provides

a perfect microcosm for science

Teachers are trained on:

• The importance of STEM education to all students

• What the research says about when students

disengage and why

Research-based classroom strategies and resources to

bring science to life, make it more meaningful, and

enable students to envision themselves doing science

• How to incorporate these strategies into existing

curriculum, including science, math, and language arts

learning, Mr. Falk said, because

it has one science center, zoo, and

public-broadcasting station and

a few school districts that will

allow the researchers to track individual

students over time.

“In order to see real systemic

improvement, you have to have a

whole greater than the sum of its

parts, and now the whole is less

than the sum of its parts because

there’s no alignment among these

pieces,” Mr. Falk said. “We need to

develop ways to better integrate

practitioners across formal and informal

education. We don’t understand

how people navigate, make

sense of, and make use of the resources

in their community.” l

Links to the studies in this article

are provided at edweek.org/links.


Sally Ride Science

Bringing science to life

Professional Development

Classroom Materials

Classroom Programs

Sally Ride Science Professional Development—designed

to help teachers fuel students’ interest in science and

make the study of science more meaningful.

This research-based training has been shown to be e�ective in changing both teacher

practices and student attitudes—providing elementary and middle school teachers the

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For more information, please call 800.561.5161 or visit www.sallyridescience.com

LEARn moRE About thIS AdvERtISER

“At Sally Ride Science, we believe that

every student deserves the encouragement

and the tools to explore his or her interests

in science. We see the excitement in the

eyes of young students when they

understand a concept or discover

something for themselves.”

- Dr. Sally Ride

april 6, 2011 l Education WEEK: sciEncE lEarning outsidE thE classroom l www.edweek.org/go/sciencereport S7

Science-rich institutions Provide Venues

For children to enjoy exploration


eriK W.


Albuquerque, N.M.

On a recent evening,


of children and

their families

climbed off

school buses

and filed into a

science center

in this city’s historic

Old Town

neighborhood. The event that drew

them, dubbed Family Science Night,

was no invitation to hear a lecture

on climate change or quantum

physics, or to catch a documentary

on a gigantic i m a x screen.

Instead, families from two highpoverty

public schools dived into an

array of hands-on, interactive exhibits

separated into small alcoves

in a place aptly named Explora,

Spanish for “explore.”

And explore they did. Children got

their hands wet—literally—as they

manipulated objects in water-based

displays in the Water of Life, Life of

Water exhibit area. They tapped on

a keyboard in the Shapes of Sound

section that produced not tones but

deep vibrations felt through the

bench on which they sat. Over in

the Moving Air section, they sliced

up paper cups to see how different

sizes and shapes would float

or twirl when placed atop a barrel

with a fan inside blowing air toward

the ceiling.

“Hey, Daddy, come and look at

this!” a young boy blurted out as

his paper creation in the Cup Copter

exhibit danced in the air.

Amid concern that the United

States is failing to adequately prepare

young people with the knowledge

of science and related fields

they need to thrive as individuals

and keep the nation globally

competitive, recognition is

growing that the vast American

landscape of science-rich

institutions can play a powerful

role in addressing the situation.

Science centers and museums,

botanical gardens, zoos, aquariums,

and natural-history museums,

among others, help the public gain

a better understanding of science.

They also excel at inspiring curiosity

and a passion for science-related

topics in ways that experts say are

all too rare in the classroom.

Such organizations have a big

audience. In 2008, a majority of

Americans said they had visited an

informal science institution such as

a zoo or natural-history museum

over the past year, according to a

report from the National Science

Board. About one in four had visited

a science center like Explora.

Science centers and museums,

in particular, have mushroomed in

recent decades, both in the United

States and abroad, notes Alan J.

Friedman, a former director and

chief executive officer of the New

York Hall of Science in New York

City. Still uncommon in the 1960s,

they can be found today in virtually

every major metropolitan area of the

country—and plenty of smaller communities,

too—from Liberty Science

Center in Jersey City, N.J., to the

Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum in

Michigan, to one of the pioneers, the

Exploratorium in San Francisco.

The most explosive growth occurred

during the 1970s and 1980s,

according to Mr. Friedman, who said

there are now more than 350 science

centers, museums, and related institutions

across the nation.

“That’s just astonishing to

build cultural institutions

at that rate,” he said.

Experts say most science

centers and museums, like

schools, have a core mission of

educating the public, but plenty of

big differences exist. Perhaps most

obvious, they are “free choice” environments:

People can take them

or leave them. And visitors decide

where to linger and what to ignore.

Also, most visitors come only on

rare occasions.

The forte of these institutions is

highly engaging, and usually handson,

activities and exhibits that try

to bring theoretical concepts to life

with power and immediacy.



Explora, with a stated mission of

“creating opportunities for inspirational

discovery and the joy of life-

long learning through interactive

experiences in science, technology,

and art,” was born in 1995 as a result

of the merger of a small science

center and a children’s museum. Financial

support comes from several

sources, including earned income,

public dollars from the city and

the state, and corporation and

foundation grants.

With about 20,000 square feet

of exhibit space, Explora is on

the small end among science

centers and museums, dwarfed

by venues such as the California

Science Center in Los Angeles

and the Museum of Science and

Industry in Chicago, which, according

to its website, is home to

some “35,000 artifacts and nearly

14 acres of hands-on exhibits.”

Indeed, while some of these institutions

have significant collections,

and even house full-fledged

natural-history museums, Explora

does not.

Its exhibits are essentially learning

activities, said Paul Tatter, the

associate director.

“The place is organized into clusters

of very small exhibits,” he said.

“Most of the exhibits are things that

you can hug. You can get your arms

around them. They fit on tabletops.”

Visitors are invited to investigate

with their hands, rather than spend

a lot of time reading explanatory

text. One kindergarten teacher

visiting recently with her class

gushed that her students “get

to touch everything.”

At the Cup Copter display,

visitors experiment with how

changing variables about the

paper cups, such as modifying the

wing length and angle or changing

the weight, alter how they

float or spin.

“Part of it is the process of investigation,”

said Betsy Adamson, Explora’s

exhibits director. “Visitors get

experience with scientific concepts

even if they don’t get the names.”

Mr. Tatter, previously the center’s

executive director, said Explora is

not designed to teach specific content:

“We don’t determine ahead of

time what the experience is supposed

to be.”

Staff members say that great

care is taken in providing materials

that will foster meaningful

exploration and learning. In addition,

the members of the floor staff

are seen as integral to facilitating

the experience.

S8 Education WEEK: sciEncE lEarning outsidE thE classroom l www.edweek.org/go/sciencereport l april 6, 2011



Explora offers a host of

programs and initiatives

to promote science learning

and engagement.


staff is

part of the

exhibit in a sense,”

said Kristin W. Leigh, the

director of educational services.

The Albuquerque center has

drawn national notice for its work.

Explora is on the “innovative

edge” among science centers and

museums, said Mr. Friedman, who

now consults with such facilities

around the country. “One [example]

is the physical arrangement on the

floor to encourage families to stay

longer and get deeper into each activity,”

he said. “Another is the use

of on-floor staff who pose questions

more than answer them.”

Like many science centers, Explora

has developed a big menu of

educational offerings and activities

that go beyond the exhibit floor. For

example, it runs after-school clubs

and summer camps and provides

professional development for teachers.

It’s established an extensive

youth-intern program that provides

support and training for high school

students who help with various educational

programs—and, in some

cases, run them—and interact with

visitors on the exhibit floor.

Explora also offers a selection

of some 200 hourlong, hands-on

classes, called “explorations,” both

on site and in public schools, community

centers, and senior-living

facilities, that are run by the center’s

staff of full-time educators.

The explorations are benchmarked

to New Mexico’s state standards in

science, math, or art.

Experts say most science centers

try to ensure a diverse audience—

including minority and low-income

families who ordinarily may be less

growing a Scientist

A biweekly program in which

children ages 2-4, accompanied

by an adult, explore basic science

principles together through

playful experiences.

Science to grow On

Children from K-3 learn about

science through questioning,

experiencing, and investigating

in this biweekly program.

Helping Hand

Free annual museum memberships

for low-income families.

Teacher Professional


offers half-day workshops for educators

on topics such as designing

learning environments, asking questions

that support cognitive growth,

and facilitating a science fair.

classroom explorations

offers more than 200 hourlong,

experiential programs, called “explorations,”

for preschoolers through

12th graders facilitated by Explora

educators and benchmarked to

state standards. Examples include

how does your Garden Grow?,

Light and shadow, and triangles

and tribulations. Also offers some

explorations for older adults.

Youth intern Program

At-risk high school students

participate in a three-year internship

in which they are trained

to help with various educational

programs —and in some cases

run them—as well as interact

with visitors on the center’s

exhibit floor.

after-School clubs

Runs clubs both onsite and in

the community, including Robo

task Force, focused on robotics;

Art/tech, which explores

science-art connections,

especially using digital technology;

and Niñas Explorando la

Ciencia (spanish for “girls doing


Portal to the Public

Local scientists, working closely

with Explora staff members, give

a presentation on the exhibit

floor with materials-based activities

to convey their research to

the public.

Spring Break

and Summer camps

offers half-day or full-day camps

focused on activities that explore

science, technology, and art.

soURCE: Explora

Kitty Clark Fritz for Education Week

alessandra chavez, a 2nd grader

at Tomasita elementary School

in albuquerque, reaches toward

a paper creation floating above a

barrel blowing air at the explora

science center’s Cup Copter

exhibit. The occasion was Family

Science Night.

apt to make use of them—whether

with regular free days, limited free

memberships, or other strategies.

The California Science Center, in

Los Angeles, is free to all comers.

Leaders at Explora take the matter

of access seriously. One strategy

is Family Science Night, which

the center offers about 20 times

a year. It’s a partnership with the

90,000-student Albuquerque public

schools funded through the district’s

federal Title I aid for disadvantaged


“We had these free family

memberships, and we saw

that not a lot of people

were using them,” said

Patrick Lopez, Explora’s

executive director and a

former school administrator.

“OK, they don’t really understand

what a science center

is, so that’s how we got Albuquerque

public schools involved.”

In addition, many Explora floorstaff

members speak Spanish, Mr.

Lopez noted, and some speak Na-

tive American languages.

“We make it a priority to hire

people that reflect the community,”

he said.

Sara Keeney, the principal of Los

Padillas Elementary School, one of

the two local public schools invited

to Family Science Night in late February,

said it’s a big hit.

“This is definitely our biggest family

event of the year,” she said. “All

the families know about it; they all

want to come.”

In December, Explora won a national

award from the Institute of

Museum and Library Services for

what the federal agency described

as its creative approach to lifelong

learning and its success in reaching

out to the community in effective

and inventive ways.

Science museum officials around

the country say connecting with

the community and serving as a

resource in multiple ways are high


“You would be hard-pressed

to find museums that only work

“ Visitors get experience

with scientific concepts even

if they don’t get the names.”


exhibits Director, explora

under their roof,” said Kirsten Ellenbogen,

the senior director of

lifelong learning at the Science

Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul.

“Museums are finding more and

more ways to make sure they’re

fully integrated into their communities

and being a resource.”

“Common to all of us is: How do

we connect to the communities

we serve and add relevance and

value?” said Nancy J. Stueber, the

president and chief executive officer

of the Oregon Museum of Science

and Industry, in Portland. “We want

to go from being ‘nice’ to being really

necessary and seen as integral

to advancing stEm learning.”

‘a PereNNial cHalleNge’

To be sure, Explora looks a lot

different from many science centers

and museums, especially

the bigger ones. For example, it

doesn’t have an i m a x theater, nor

does it feature the traveling exhibits

popular at many such centers.

One current touring exhibit

that’s drawn plaudits is Race: Are

We So Different?, put together by

the American Anthropological

Association in collaboration with

the Science Museum of Minnesota.

The exhibit, which got support

from the National Science

Foundation, explores the science,

history, and everyday experiences

of race in America through

interactive exhibits, historical

artifacts, photographs, and multimedia

presentations. Another

recent exhibit, Charlie and Kiwi’s

Evolutionary Adventure, which

debuted in 2009 at the New York

Hall of Science, uses a childfriendly

story line to help young

people discover the link between

dinosaurs and modern birds.

Experts say an issue among science

museums is tension between

the educational mission and the

pressure to bring in revenue.

“This is a perennial challenge for

science museums, because most are

funded to a large degree by earned

income,” said David A. Ucko, a former

senior official at the nsf.

On average, only 17 percent of the

operating revenue for U.S. science

centers and museums comes from

public funds, compared with about

50 percent from earned income, according

to recent survey data from

the Association of Science-Technology

Centers, based in Washington.

And the recent recession has created

still more budgetary pressure,

with at least some museums getting

fewer public dollars and seeing a

decline in visitors, such as students

on field trips.

Few would argue that there’s

anything wrong with science centers’

featuring fun activities that

draw visitors and sell tickets.

But Ms. Ellenbogen from the Science

Museum of Minnesota said

she’s among those who worry that

some blockbuster exhibits, particularly

those sponsored by private

companies, may be high on gloss

and entertainment but thin on

educational value.

She points, for example, to Harry

Potter: The Exhibition, which has

been featured at several major science

museums. “It’s not designed to

be a science learning experience,”

she said.

Mr. Ucko suggests there’s a

larger public-policy matter at issue:

“Should informal science institutions

be getting more dollars from

the large amount of money that the

nation spends on education?”

One emerging area of work in the

science museum world that could

help make the case for expanded

public financing is research, driven

in part by the n s f, to gauge more

carefully and in more sophisticated

ways the impact of museum exhibits

and activities. Some institutions,

such as the Oregon and Minnesota

science museums as well as the

Exploratorium, even employ substantial

in-house research teams

to continuously evaluate their offerings

and conduct broader studies

to advance the field of informal

science learning.

An ongoing challenge is figuring

out ways to better connect museums

and other informal learning

institutions to the formal school

world. Plenty of examples of such

partnerships exist. But a recent report

suggests such endeavors have

generally failed to “institutionalize,”

and experts caution that forming

such ties can be tricky.

“The schools have standards

and curricula and assessments,

and none of them are designed to

work with what happens outside

of school,” said Mr. Friedman, who

also serves on the governing board

for the National Assessment of

Educational Progress. “They don’t

measure a lot of things that really

matter to us, like are students interested

in science, do they improve

their interest over time?

“We offer an alternative channel,”

he added. “I cherish all the

ways we are different, and I don’t

want to lose those.” l

april 6, 2011 l Education WEEK: sciEncE lEarning outsidE thE classroom l www.edweek.org/go/sciencereport S9

hilda m. Perez for Education Week

Science competitions integrated

Into Classroom Curriculum




Competition has

brought out the

best in students

at Lyman High

School: Styrofoam


designs for airplane

wings, and

miniature rockets

built to soar

hundreds of feet in the air.

For teacher Bill Yucuis, it’s about

fun, creativity—and day-to-day

classroom instruction.

Each year, students at the Longwood,

Fla., school, outside Orlando,

take part in science and engineering

competitions, which have given

rise to a wealth of air-and-space

creations. They join thousands of

their peers across the country who

sign up for contests designed to inspire

students and allow them to

apply science skills in inventive

and fun ways.

In many schools and districts,

students prepare their scientific

projects for competitions before or

after school, or on weekends, often

as extracurricular activities, sometimes

as part of clubs.

But some teachers, such as Mr.

Yucuis, have carried those activities

a step further. The aerospace

and engineering teacher is one

of many educators who choose to

fully integrate science competitions

within their classes, curricula, and

individual lessons, rather than

treat them as one-shot events that

are won or lost and then forgotten.

The teacher, who gives students

a list of competitions to choose

from, began weaving contests into

his classes because he saw their

potential to inspire teenagers and

cultivate their scientific skills.

“The job of the teacher is to get

students interested in something,

where they can go out and do the

research and find the answers,” explained

Mr. Yucuis. Using competitions,

he said, “meets the requirements

of what I consider better


Many other educators, as well as

organizers of competitions, agree,

and they hope that more school

administrators and teachers will

find ways to follow suit. Weaving

competitions into classroom activities,

they say, provides greater opportunities

for students, including

those of different ability levels, to

delve into science and see how it

is applied.

“The change, the transformation

that happens in these students is

amazing,” said George Blanks, the

executive director of the bEst—

for Boosting Engineering, Science

and Technology—robotics competition,

a nationwide contest serving

middle and high school students.

“They’ve learned how to problemsolve,”

he said. “They’re discovering

competencies that they had no idea

they had until the competition.”


Many science educators and advocates

say schools are devoting

less time to science, as opposed

to reading and math, in the era of

the No Child Left Behind Act. As a

result, they say, blending competitions

into the classroom, or doing

anything beyond the required curriculum,

can be difficult.

Even so, in some schools, competitions

have helped shape lessons

and curricula, and even entire

programs. For instance, Mr.

Blanks, who is also the director of

K-12 outreach at the Samuel Ginn

College of Engineering at Auburn

University, in Alabama, says a

number of schools in that state

were at least partly influenced to

establish academies or programs

focused on stEm subjects—science,

technology, engineering, and mathematics—after

seeing the effects of

bEst participation.

S10 Education WEEK: sciEncE lEarning outsidE thE classrooml www.edweek.org/go/sciencereport l april 6, 2011

Students’ positive experiences

in the competition played a strong

role in administrators’ and teachers’

decision to launch the Engineering

Pathways Integrated Curriculum,

an academy at Davidson

High School in Mobile, Ala.

Seven years ago, teacher Mike

Fletcher and school officials arranged

to have a group of students

take part in the competition, which

that year challenged teams to design

and build a miniature robot

with a fixed base and a movable

arm capable of picking up a series

of balls. Mr. Fletcher ended up creating

a new, semesterlong elective

class structured around the competition.

That class had about a dozen

students. Over the course of the

semester, they spent time in class,

as well as after school and on

weekends, building the project.

Mr. Fletcher graded

students on a


of their completion




Bill Yucuis encourages his

students at lyman High School

in longwood, Fla., to

participate in science

competitions. Seniors, from

left, Brandon Kaiser, Spencer

Brint, and robert Kagel work

on a miniature rocket for an

upcoming contest.

BelOW: Team member Brian

Pavelchak, 17, checks the inside

integrity of one section of the


Taking part in

contests both inside

and outside school

enables young

people to delve

deeper into the

subject and witness

its application.

and projects related to building the


Despite a few initial hiccups, Mr.

Fletcher and school officials were

sufficiently impressed with the impact

of competition on students to

structure more classes around it.

Since then, he and other teachers at

Davidson High have made the bEst

competition a major part of several

elective stEm-related classes.


In one of the engineering-focused

electives, Mr. Fletcher devotes several

weeks to computer-aided design

and various types of programming,

topics that help students with

their bEst projects. He and fellow

teachers also weave in many stEm

concepts, from lessons on mechanics

and electricity to digital sound

and imaging, that have nothing to

do with the competition.

The challenge of competition gives

students in his class the sense that

they’re taking part in an enjoyable

yet high-stakes event, and it emphasizes

the importance of understanding

each day’s lessons and how to

apply them, Mr. Fletcher observed.

“They don’t realize at first how

great the payoff is in what they’re

learning,” he said. “There’s more at

stake than just a grade.”

The integration of competitions

into science classes is evident

among participants in the Toshiba/

National Science Teachers Association

ExploraVision competition,

now in its 19th year, says Arthur

Eisenkraft, a founder of the contest

who now chairs the judging panel.

A recent survey of more than 700

teachers who took part showed that

of about 290 respondents, more

than three-fourths said they had

helped teams work on their projects

both inside and outside classroom

settings, or only inside them.

Mr. Eisenkraft believes many of

the teachers who had integrated

competitions into their classroom

work were elementary or middle

school teachers, rather than high

school teachers, who generally face

more specific curricular demands.

Blending science competitions

into the classroom has become

easier with the growth of classes

focused on intensive scientific research

and project-based learning,

said Mr. Eisenkraft, a professor of

science education at the University

of Massachusetts Boston. In many

cases, teachers may allow or urge

students to take part in competitions

as independent projects.

When he speaks to former participants

in the ExploraVision contest,

Mr. Eisenkraft is often surprised at

how many details about those projects

they can remember years later.

That recall, he said, is probably a

sign of competitions’ power to moti-

“ They’re discovering

competencies they had no idea they

had until the competition.”

geOrge BlaNKS

executive Director, BEST

vate and shape learning.

“There’s a pride, a motivation, a

commitment” among participants,

he said, “and a level of retention.”

At Lyman High School, Mr.

Yucuis’ students are motivated, and

busy. One recent day, as the teacher

answered a reporter’s questions,

students in one of his senior-year

classes worked in small groups on

individual competition entries. The

teacher excused himself periodically

to help them. One group asked permission

to head off to the carpentry

shop to sand down a piece of wood

they needed to design a miniature


Mr. Yucuis allows his students to

choose from a number of competitions.

They are taking part this year

in the Internet Science and Technology

Fair, the Team America Rocketry

Challenge, and the Real World

Design Challenge, among others.

His freshmen also take part in the

No Boundaries National Competition,

directed by the National Aeronautics

and Space Administration

In the right hands,

a little knowledge can

go a very long way.

and USA Today Education, a developer

of school programs owned by

the national newspaper. The competition

asks student teams to devise

strategies for marketing stEm

careers, such as those at the federal

space agency, to teenagers.

SUcceSS BY FailUre

As the students work through

various competitions, Mr. Yucuis

gives them individual and team

grades, and evaluates them on

written and oral reports documenting

their work. He does not

grade them on how well they fare

in the competitions. To do so, he

says, would miss the point.

“I tell them, you probably learn

more by failing than by succeeding,”

the teacher said.

Senior Robert Kagel is working

with a group of fellow students

on a project for the Team America

Rocketry Challenge. They’re

charged with building a

rocket capable of flying to

a height of 750 feet and staying

airborne for 40 to 45 seconds—

while carrying a single raw egg. It’s

supposed to return to the ground

with the help of a parachute and

the egg intact.

The team started the project at

the beginning of the school year;

it’s supposed to be completed by

the end of April. The students have

had to clear numerous hurdles. Designing

the rocket on a computer

was one thing, he said, but crafting

its various components, from

the nose cone to the motor, has required

continuous readjustments.

Mr. Kagel, who plans to study

computer engineering and software

at the University of Florida next

year, said students are motivated

by factors that are stronger than

the desire to get good grades. They

want a rocket that can hold up to

scrutiny in the competition. Members

of his group don’t want to let

each other down.

“I like winning,” he said. “It

does make everybody want to

do a lot more. It makes you realize

you’re not going to be able

to skate by on the work of others.

You have to do it.” l

Visit www.wallacefoundation.org. Reliable research

and information to help you effect change.

We know high-quality after-school and summer

learning programs could benefi t more children. A

new three-part report, Hours of Opportunity, offers

ideas for making that a reality. You’ll fi nd all three

volumes online as free downloads, along with other

research on out-of-school time (OST) and summer

learning, educational leadership and arts education.

Volume I: Lessons from Five Cities on

Building Systems to Improve After-

School, Summer School, and Other

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Volume II; The Power of Data to

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Volume III: Profi les of Five Cities

Improving After-School Programs

Through a Systems Approach


25_12_3_EdWeek_HoursOppor_9.86x6.5_Mar_2011_04.indd 1 3/14/11 4:18 PM

LEARn moRE About thIS AdvERtISER

april 6, 2011 l Education WEEK: sciEncE lEarning outsidE thE classroom l www.edweek.org/go/sciencereport


With all the time

today’s youths

already spend on

computers and

mobile devices,

technology can

serve as a familiar

vehicle for


Players of WolfQuest take

the role of the animal and

are presented with options

when they encounter

certain situations, such

as the presence of other


Whyville residents may

have to battle against the

infectious ‘WhyPox’ or they

can visit a bioplex to

conduct research.


games and Simulations Draw children

into New Vistas for accessing Science




Wa nt to

know what

it’s like to

stalk elk,

or a mate,

from the


point of a

wild animal?

Educators at the Minnesota Zoo,

located in a suburb south of the

Twin Cities, created just such an

online game a few years ago that

has proved immensely popular—

and educational. Called WolfQuest,

it allows players to learn about wolf

ecology by exploring Yellowstone

National Park as that creature.

“We’ve always been interested

in reaching out beyond our walls,

educating people no matter where

they are, and for us, we felt like the

Internet was a great tool to provide

access to educational resources and

connect with kids where they’re at,”

said Grant Spickelmier, the zoo’s assistant

director of education.

High-tech games and simulations

are second nature to today’s students.

For educators and researchers,

those virtual worlds offer the

freedom to create innovative digital

tools that tap into children’s motivation

outside the classroom and generate

excitement about science.

As prominent an authority as

the National Research Council has

extolled the potential of computer

games and simulations to better

engage young people in science

learning and promote a deeper understanding

of and facility with the


“They enable learners to see and

interact with representations of

natural phenomena that would otherwise

be impossible to observe—a

process that helps them to formulate

scientifically correct explanations

for these phenomena,” the nrc

said in a recent report. “Simulations

and games can motivate learners

with challenges and rapid feedback

and tailor instruction to individual

learners’ needs and interests.”

The Minnesota Zoo’s evaluation of

its own game found “that kids were

learning the science, were more interested

in wolves, and were more

interested in science as a result of

playing the game,” Mr. Spickelmier


In WolfQuest, players learn about

wolves by embarking on missions

that a wolf would typically under-

Education WEEK: sciEncE lEarning outsidE thE classrooml www.edweek.org/go/sciencereport l april 6, 2011

take, such as feeding and taking

care of pups.

Players take the role of the animal

and are presented with response options

when they encounter certain

situations, such as the presence of

other wolves.

For example, when interacting

with a potential mate, players can

choose to leave the interaction, take

a defensive stance, play, or show

interest in the wolf. They are rewarded

for choosing authentic wolf


WolfQuest is a multiplayer game

with a chat function that allows

participants to talk to one another.

Launched in 2007, it continues to

receive thousands of hits daily.

Although the game was created

primarily for children to access

on their home computers, the zoo

has increasingly been contacted by

teachers interested in incorporating

it into their classrooms, Mr. Spickelmier

said. The zoo has since crafted

curricular materials to help connect

the game with what students are

learning in class, he said.



At the New York Hall of Science,

a hands-on science and technology

center in New York City, digital tools

are helping draw the connections between

a day at a museum and children’s

lives at home and at school.

“One of the things you struggle

with in an informal science-center

environment is that kids come, they

have a blast, but they don’t necessarily

leave with anything,” said

Margaret Honey, the president and

chief executive officer of the facility.

“The potential of digital tools to

capture and then allow for playful

experimentation post-fact is really


For instance, children can enter

their height and weight into a computer

and wear radio-frequency

identification bracelets as they go

down giant slides in the science

playground. The bracelets record

data about the speed, velocity, and

friction of their journey.

They can then add other factors

into the mix—like going down the

slide on different materials, such as

vinyl or felt, and holding weights—to

manipulate the data and look at the

relationship between the changes

the children make and the read-outs

they receive.

“What underlies the whole initiative

[of the center] is really paying

attention to the dynamics of what

motivates students’ engagement,”

Ms. Honey said. “Keeping that playful

and entertaining and slightly

humorous is really important to

creating the right kind of positive

emotional residue toward science

learning. Particularly in this day of

high-stakes accountability, it’s the

joy and passion and deep motivation

for learning that we’ve lost.”

iNSiDe a VirTUal WOrlD

Whyville, a virtual-learning environment

for children started in 1999,

was created by James Bower, the

chief executive officer and founder

of Whyville.net.

“Our original intent was to build

games and network-based worlds

for use in schools and out of schools

and connecting the two,” he said.

“And we are just now crossing that

threshold, which is being accelerated

by the fact that states are deciding

to go with digital curriculum.”

Unlike games, Whyville is an

unstructured online environment

where players participate in activities

to earn “clams”—the form of

currency in Whyville.

Through partnerships with companies

and organizations, such as

Dell, Toyota, and nasa, players can

explore a host of activities.

For example, the infectious “Why-

Pox” was introduced into Whyville,

prompting a series of responses

from its residents, who covered the

outbreak in the Whyville Times, the

player-organized newspaper

“They didn’t know it was coming,”

said Mr. Bower, the chief executive

officer of Numedeon Inc., which runs

Whyville. “They just started breaking


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control

and Prevention later came in

and “vaccinated” players against

the disease.

The Texas Workforce Commission

has also partnered with the virtual

world to finance a bioplex “where

kids actually do research on how you

develop antibodies, different types

of viruses, and how they work,” Mr.

Bower said.

The power of Whyville comes from

the children’s interest in exploring

and asking questions, he said.

“We finally have the technology to

‘scale’ Socrates,” he said. “We haven’t

had the technology to do it right

until now.” l

independent Play

Fosters Discovery

in Young children



PHelPS DeilY

Over and over,

experts say, it

comes back to

this: Young children

are natural


They ask

questions, they

explore, they

touch things and

push things, and they try to figure

out what combinations have the

best chance of working for them—

even if the subject of their inquiries

is just a toy.

So, how does one nurture these

little scientists?

In some ways, it’s easy.

“When children are doing things

like playing and exploring, they’re

actually doing” science, said Alison

Gopnik, a researcher at the University

of California, Berkeley, who

has written books on young minds,

including The Philosophical Baby.

What preschoolers need, she

continued, is independent play, not

lectures on science.

“You pay attention to what

they’re interested in, you follow

their lead,” Ms. Gopnik said. “Start

out from the questions the children

are asking you.”

One key is to avoid squelching

youthful curiosity unconsciously.

Ms. Gopnik pointed to work by

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

researcher Laura Schulz

and colleagues. In one experiment,

they offered young children a box

with many buttons on it. With

some children, the adults acted

as if they didn’t know what the

buttons did; they pushed one that

made the box squeak, but didn’t let

on that they knew how the squeak

came about. However, the adults

showed other children not only

how one button on the box worked,

but also pointed out that pushing

the button in question resulted in

a noise.

When the adults handed the toy

to the first group, youngsters took

it and pushed all different buttons

in an attempt to figure out what

would make noise. By contrast,

when the children in the second

group got the toy, they pushed only

the button that the researchers

had shown them. Their curiosity,

it seemed, was not as freewheeling

as was the children’s who weren’t

told which button did what.

Such stimulating and openended

play is what young children

need, Ms. Gopnik said.

When it comes to science, much

of what very young children learn

comes through informal means.

They may get inspiration from

library programs and museum

visits, but also from parents’ and

babysitters’ encouragement to

observe and ask questions about

what they notice when they’re out

for a walk, in their homes, anywhere.

liBrarY ViSiTS

In Hartford, Conn., the city’s

librarians know that, and they

work hard to reach children

through a mix of semiformal, materials-based

programming and

informal guidance. The libraries

there are the recipients of a grant

from the Hartford Foundation for

Public Giving that, along with

state and city council funds, supports

special programming for

preschoolers in science and math.

Working with parents, children,

teachers, and child-care providers,

librarians in the city now provide

theme-oriented story times and

guided activities for children in

the grant program, as well

as training for parents

and providers on how

to encourage children’s

curiosity from a young


The Picture Book Math

and Picture Book Science

grant program is running in 10

sites across the city, reaching at

least 200 parents, 30 home-daycare

providers, and 25 day-care or

preschool classrooms, said Debra

Carrier-Perry, the Hartford li-

brary system’s associate librarian

for youth services. Some services

are provided in other languages

to reach immigrant families, of

which Hartford has a high number.

“We think that we’re making a

difference for these kids,” Ms. Carrier-Perry

said. “They enjoy it as a

story time. They like the rhymes.

They do the activities.”

Recently, librarian Rubina

Hamid led a group of children

through a picture book they loved

as part of the grant program. The

book, Guess What Is Growing

Inside This Egg, by Mia Posada,

was light on text, but included

the kinds of questions that got

the children talking about concepts

such as the different sizes of

the eggs, the animals that laid the

eggs, the habitats where the eggs

were shown, and who ultimately

would care for the different eggs

in the book.

“ When

children are doing

things like playing

and exploring,

they’re actually

doing [science].”


researcher, University of california, Berkeley

“The kids were gobbling it up,”

said Ms. Hamid, who is the assistant

youth-services librarian

in the Hartford Library’s Barbour


When she’s working with young

children, she said, she wants to

help them cultivate their questioning

minds. Comparing things

and noticing differences—What

color is this? Will it sink? Will it

float? Is it hard, or is it soft?—

encourages curiosity, she said.

Hands-on, tactile learning is

also critical.

“Observation is the key

for anything. ... Out and

about, in the house, even

in the kitchen,” Ms. Hamid


The Connecticut Science Center,

also in Hartford, is working with

the library on the grant project.

The center includes a KidSpace

gallery built specifically for children

age 6 and younger. Thanks

to the grant, the center can work

with many parents and young

children who might not otherwise

visit; it even provides free transportation

and translation services

for a parent-child day at the

museum. That is crucial in a city

where, in 2009, 39 percent of the

children were living in poverty,

according to Census data.

For all ages, the center’s goal “is

to enable all of our visitors to have

conversations about our exhibits,”

said Holly Harrick, the center’s

education director. With parents

of young children, “we want them

to help the children observe ... and

help them formulate questions.”

She added: “Young children are

naturally curious, so we really

build on that.”

That means hands-on experimenting

and touching and raising

open-ended questions. Preschoolers

“need play, they need

to interact with materials,” Ms.

Harrick said. In the science center’s

KidSpace, that might mean

tossing a ball into a funnel and

then watching the path it takes as

the funnel—which functions like

a cyclone—sends the ball through

clear plastic tubes.

Water play, Ms. Harrick added,

“is wonderful” and a natural with

small children, and questions such

as “What did you notice? What do

you wonder?” are great queries to

pose to a budding scientist.


The increased national interest

in science learning and achievement

means that some places are

putting more emphasis on formal

science learning for young children.

On that note, Ingrid Chalufour

and Karen Worth of the

Education Development Center,

a research group based in Newton,

Mass., developed the “Young

Scientist” series for preschool

classrooms with support from the

National Science Foundation. The

guides focus on teaching children

about the natural world and developing

their knowledge of life science

and physical science through

observing nature, building structures,

and water play.

Today, an E d c team is studying

ways to encourage teachers to take

a more inquiry-based approach,

said Nancy Clark-Chiarelli, a principal

investigator with the Edc.

Teachers with knowledge about

the subject matter can ask openended

questions and foster curiosity,

which helps children find

deeper meaning in their classroom

science experiences, she said.

In addition, the E d c team devised

Foundations of Science Literacy,

a professional-development

program that builds on the Young

Scientist series.

One goal is to help preschool

teachers respond to children’s inquiries

with comments designed to

fuel further discussion, not simply

to provide the right answer and

move on. Teachers should work to

engage their students with let’sthink-about-it

and what-if-wedo-it-this-way

queries, Ms. Clark-

Chiarelli suggested.

Preschool science cannot be just

about words and theory, another

researcher on the team cautioned.

“Science is more than just this

body of knowledge. Science is

about engaging in process. ... The

kids have to be engaged in that active

process,” said Cindy Hoisington

of the learning and teaching

division at the Edc.

Librarian Hamid knows that

well and tries to impart the message

with the parents and young

children she meets through the

Picture Book Science program.

“Nothing is ordinary when you

have a thinking, questioning, scientific

mind. Even the ordinary is

extraordinary,” she said. So “be observant

and catch a moment [with

a child]. Make it worth the interest

and attention of the kid.” l


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april 6, 2011 l Education WEEK: sciEncE lEarning outsidE thE classroom l www.edweek.org/go/sciencereport S13

National Science Foundation Seen

as leader in advancing informal learning


eriK W.


At the Golden

Gate Bridge, a

set of exhibits is

being built to educate

millions of

annual visitors

on the science

and engineering

behind the

San Francisco

landmark. In Washington state,

local Girl Scout troop leaders are

getting trained to teach children

about scientific inquiry. And a

giant-screen film titled “Tornado

Alley” that debuted in March—

and is being accompanied by a

comprehensive outreach program—aims

to help audiences

explore the science behind severe

weather events.

Those disparate enterprises to

advance public understanding

of science—along with hundreds

of others over the years—have

been fueled by the federal Informal

Science Education program

at the National Science Foundation.

Federal agencies have long

supplied money and overseen

initiatives that support learning

outside the classroom. They

include the U.S. departments of

Energy and Agriculture, the National

Oceanic and Atmospheric

Administration, the National

Aeronautics and Space Administration,

the National Institutes

of Health, and the Institute for

Museum and Library Services.

The U.S. Department of Education

also supplies some dollars

that reach science-focused afterschool

activities through the 21st

Century Community Learning

Centers program.

But many experts assert that

the National Science Foundation

stands apart in the role it

has played in advancing the field

often referred to as “informal science


“The heart of the federal government

that has really shown

leadership over the years is the

National Science Foundation,”

said Kevin J. Crowley, a professor

of education and psychology

at the University of Pittsburgh

who directs the university’s Center

for Learning in Out-of-School

Environments. “They’ve really

transformed the field.”

“It has been absolutely essential,”

Alan J. Friedman, the former

longtime director and chief

executive officer of the New York

Hall of Science, said of the science

agency’s role. “The growth

of the field of informal science

learning has been hugely influenced,

accelerated, and qualitycontrolled

by n s f. It has been the

single major factor.”



The n s f first launched a program

for informal science learning

in the 1950s. At the time, it

was called Public Understanding

of Science. In 1983, that initiative

was replaced by the the Informal

Science Education program, which

is the main but not only source of

“ The

growth of the field

... has been hugely


accelerated ...

by NSF.”

alaN J. FrieDMaN

Former ceO, New York Hall of Science

n s f funding in this domain.

The agency provides about $65

million a year through the program,

which supports a wide variety

of activities, including the

production of films and community

projects, traveling museum

exhibits, after-school initiatives,

and cyber-enabled learning. Of

that amount, about $25 million

is available for new awards,

while most of the rest goes

toward the continuation of

prior grant commitments.

Every project grant requires

an evaluation to assess

impact. The science foundation

also provides grants specifically

for research and has helped support

the establishment of organizations

such as the Center for

Advancement of Informal Science

Education, a partnership of several

institutions that aims to improve


practice, document evidence of its

impact, and communicate the contributions

of the field.

The emphasis of the n s f’s Informal

Science Education program

is learning outside formal school


“The way we describe informal

science education is ... anywhere,

anytime, lifelong learning,” said

Alphonse T. DeSena, a program

director at the n s f. “Sometimes it

happens in school, but it’s not part

of the curriculum.”

The agency, he said, tries to have

a broad reach in terms of content,

audience, and the nature of the

learning experience.

“In all of this, we’re trying to

promote successful interactions

with the public and improvements

in how to do that,” Mr. DeSena

said, adding that “educational innovation

is a key element for any

award that we make.”

Martin Storksdieck, the director

of the Board on Science Education

at the National Academies,

said he appreciates the way the

n s f has pushed grant applicants.

It doesn’t simply underwrite good

ideas, he said; rather, it insists

that any new grant support an

idea that somehow advances the

field and moves beyond current


“I like the idea of the n s f saying:

Make the case for me why this is

important. Build on what’s been

done before. Create partnerships

that work, and ask yourself if

what you’ve created is effective,”

Mr. Storksdieck said. “The culture

of that type of thinking has been

created by n s f.”

Observers note that the agency’s

work in informal science has

evolved over time, and that over

the past decade or so, it has ratcheted

up requirements for evaluating

the impact of projects.

Sue Allen, the director of the

n s f’s division of learning in formal

and informal settings, said

S14 Education WEEK: sciEncE lEarning outsidE thE classrooml www.edweek.org/go/sciencereport l april 6, 2011

she sees a number of important

changes over time in

the agency’s work.

“What it takes to get

funded gets harder and

harder,” she said. “Nsf has been

moving the bar higher in terms

of evaluation, disseminating and

learning from prior work, and connecting

with other research areas

and traditions.”

She added: “We’re pushing

for a more compelling

and nuanced rationale

for what



FiScal aiD

the National science

Foundation supports a wide

range of initiatives through its

Informal science Education

program, distributing about

$65 million in grants each year.

Among the new or continued

grants announced over the

past two years are:




To be sure, the n s f’s work has

faced criticism at times.

Last year, some bloggers who

have been critical of the Obama

administration blasted the science

agency for committing

$700,000 for an experimental

theater troupe in New York City

to produce a musical on climate

change and conservation. Critics

called it a questionable use of

public money, especially in light

of the severe federal budget deficit.

Mr. DeSena of the n s f defends

the project, saying that it was

highly rated by external reviewers

and that “the use of dramatic

techniques in informal science

learning has a very long and solid


Some observers

lament that

funding for the NSF

informal Science

education program

has grown little in

recent years.

engaging latino audiences

in informal Science



Addresses the low participation

rate of Latino youths and adults

in activities conducted by parks,

refuges, nature centers, and other

informal science education venues.

go-Botany: integrated

Tools to advance Botanical


$1.63 million

Integrates Web tools and mobilecommunication

devices to facilitate

learning about botany and plant

conservation, with a focus on native

and naturalized plants in New


gulf Oil Spill Disaster



supports National Geographic

television’s creation of a multiplatform

media effort to communicate the

scientific and engineering stories

unfolding in the Gulf region as a

result of the major oil spill in 2010.

Making Space Social:

exploring the educational

Potential of the Facebook

Social Network


Underwrites a pilot investigation by

the space science Institute on the

use and effectiveness of stEMrelated

games within contemporary

Web-based, multiuser socialnetworking


Mathcore for Museums

$1.71 million

develops and evaluates a set

of open-ended math exhibits

that use body motion to engage

children and their families in

learning experiences with ratio

and proportion over multiple

museum visits.

The Matter of Origins


supports the Liz Lerman dance

Exchange, in partnership with

universities and a science advisory

panel, in producing the Matter of

origins, a two-part experimental

program that engages the public

in explorations of the nature of

beginnings and the physics of

the origin of matter.

Pushing the limits: Building

capacity to enhance Public

Understanding of Math

and Science Through rural



Finds new ways of communicating

stEM concepts, with a focus on

rural libraries and adult residents

in places that are geographically

remote from typical venues such

as museums, zoos, and science



$2.60 million

subsidizes a PBs show and

multimedia project designed to

encourage and empower more

girls ages 8-13 to pursue careers

in the stEM fields.

Tornado alley


supports a large-format 2d/3d

film and comprehensive outreach

program exploring the science

behind severe weather events.

NotE: Figures reflect either total

funding or amount awarded to date.

soURCE: National science



to Mr.


dieck, some


that pursue informal

science learning

have been disappointed that the

n s f has been so focused on research

and the development of

new ideas, rather than continued

support for established programs

or practices.

“Once you develop the new idea,

you have to let go” of the federal

funding, he said. The n s f is “not

there to sustain funding.”

Moreover, he said: “There are

people who complain that spending

10 to 20 percent [of a project

grant] on research or evaluation

is a waste of money.”

Also, some observers have expressed

disappointment that

funding for the n s f’s Informal

Science Education program has

not kept pace with the fairly

robust growth over time in the

agency’s overall budget, which

climbed from about $4.4 billion to

nearly $7 billion from fiscal 2001

to fiscal 2010.

“Basically, the n s f budget for

Informal Science Education

has experienced no appreciable

growth for at least five years,”

said Anthony “Bud” Rock, the

chief executive officer of the Association

for Science-Technology

Centers, in Washington. His

group received startup funding

from the n s f that helped expand

the presence of science centers

around the country.

The Informal Science Education

budget has seen a couple

of significant bumps since the

mid-1990s, but has changed little

more recently, rising only about 5

percent over the past five budget

years. It was $66 million for fiscal


Even that growth, however,

could be reversed, given the

current push in Washington

to scale back federal

spending. For example,

the Republican-led

House approved a fiscal

2011 budget plan

in February that would

cut the n s f ’s Education

and Human Resources Directorate

budget, which includes the

Informal Science Education program,

by $166 million or about 20


helena yordan

evelyn cariño, left, Brian Ventura, and Valerie estrella take part in a river cleaning activity at the Bronx river in

New York. The students are enrolled in Heroes in conservation, an after-school program coordinated by the

committee for Hispanic children and Families.

Environmental Issues Inspire

children to Dig into Science




Students in the science

club at Pickens

Middle School

in Pickens, S.C.,

had been planning

a trip to swim with

manatees in Florida

when news of

the oil spill in the

Gulf of Mexico hit

last year.

“I was kind of worried about the

manatees,” said 12-year-old Alex

Womack, who had been studying

the marine mammals in the club

after school and in the summer. “I

thought the oil might hurt them

and make them extinct.”

In February, 54 students from

the school took that trip, traveling

12 hours by bus to see the

creatures in their winter-migration

home of Crystal River, north

of Tampa, Fla.

“You actually got to see how

pretty they are, and you feel more

for them and how much they are

endangered,” said Alex, an aspiring

marine biologist who said the

manatees looked like a cross be-

tween a dolphin and a cow and

felt like seaweed when she petted

one. “It made me like science

a whole lot more.”

That’s just why science teacher

Susan Hilyer, the faculty adviser

to the science club, along with two

other teachers—Laura Anderson

and Louise Hope—persuaded the

16,000-student Pickens school

district to overcome its concern

about exposing children to water

and wild animals. They knew the

experience would be more powerful

than a classroom lesson.

“There is no comparison to just

being outside and in the midst of

it,” said Ms. Hilyer, adding that

the experience doesn’t have to

be as extreme as swimming with

manatees. “You can get that same

‘wow’ just digging in dead logs

with little shovels. It’s real. If it’s

not real, they don’t care.”

Informal science programs that

focus on the environment often

hook young people because they

are about issues that really matter

in their lives—the quality of

the air and water and the wellbeing

of animals. If it’s relevant,

they want to learn. And often,

children are motivated, in response,

to make a difference by

cleaning up a stream, starting a

recycling program, or advocating

eco-friendly policies.

“It’s that application to reallife

experiences that brings environmental

education alive,”

said Brian Day, the executive

after-school and

summer activities

offer the flexibility

for young people

to pursue their own


the stress of


director of the North American

Association for Environmental

Education, a nonprofit group in

Washington. “It turns kids on if

they take an action component

and can make an improvement in

their school community or backyard.

Then all that education has

a focus and a purpose.”

And an after-school or summer

science experience offers time

and flexibility for children to explore

and follow their own interests,

with no stress of grades, said

PAgE 16>

april 6, 2011 l Education WEEK: sciEncE lEarning outsidE thE classroom l www.edweek.org/go/sciencereport S15

ContInuEd FRom PAgE 15

Lucy Friedman, the president of

The After-School Corp., or ta s c,

in New York City. “Science and

after-school programs have such

great synergy. Kids feel it’s OK

to take a risk,” she said. “Sometimes

there isn’t always a right


When ta s c does science training

for after-school staff members,

it emphasizes that the

leader is merely guiding the

process. “There is a tendency of

adults to explain to kids what

happens,” said Ms. Friedman.

“It’s much more powerful when

kids discover on their own and

make some of the mistakes.”

Some ta s c programs take students

to New York’s Coney Island

to measure the temperature of

the water and sand. “All of a sudden,

the beach they connect with

fun becomes a learning environment,”

Ms. Friedman said.

MaKiNg iT real

In California, water is the “new

gold,” because it’s a limited resource

in great demand, so it’s

important for children to understand

it, said Marianne Bird,

the youth-development adviser

for the Sacramento County 4-H

Water Wizards, a 12-week afterschool

program for grades 4-6.

“Young people need to be aware

that there is no new water,” she

said. “Water is always involved

in a system, and they are in the


The nearly 500 children who

take part in the program learn

about the water cycle, the watershed,

and wetlands, and they

conduct experiments. A servicelearning

piece and a field trip to

a water education center where

Sacramento’s water is held are

also part of the program.

Being outside and part of a

larger environmental project is

a big motivator for young people,

said Rick Bonney, the director

of the Cornell University Laboratory

of Ornithology program

and a co-founder of the lab’s

Citizen Science Program. Many

students participate in the lab’s

Great Backyard Bird Count and

BirdSleuth as campers or in an

after-school setting. They learn

the protocol of identifying birds

and collecting data.

“This is authentic, real science.

We are answering questions

whose answers aren’t known,”

Mr. Bonney said.

Another citizen-science initiative,

the Monarch Larva Monitoring

Project at the University

of Minnesota-Twin Cities, engages

middle schoolers. In the


summer, groups track monarch

butterflies once a week to see

how they change over time, said

Karen Oberhauser, a professor of

fisheries, wildlife, and conservation


The children all do independent

research questions and set up experiments,

Ms. Oberhauser said.

One student recorded the fate of

60 larvae that she tied to various

locations to study monarch predators.

Another studied the timing

“ There is

no comparison to

just being outside

and in the midst

of it.”

SUSaN HilYer

Science club Faculty adviser

of the arrival of monarchs, who

only lay eggs on milkweek, vs.

the availability of that milkweed

for their larvae to eat.

“In the end, when we gather

around the picnic table, I love

hearing them come up with questions.

They’re so focused,” Ms.

Oberhauser said.

Once, students observed butterflies

mating, which triggered

a discussion. “In school, it would

be a reason to be giggling and not

pay attention to the science of it,”

she said. “But they took it very



The St. Louis Science Center

takes small groups of teenagers

from its Youth Exploring Science

program to a pond at dusk armed

with flashlights to sit still, listen,

and record frog calls. Their information

goes into a larger database

as part of a project examining

the impact of climate change

on frog populations.

By participating, the youths

begin to understand the process

of science better, said Kerri

Stevison, the senior educator in

charge of the Communicating

Climate Change program. “Science

isn’t something people just

write about,” she said. “They

learn to follow strict rules and

understand the protocol.”

Over time, those inner-city

helena yordan

students—many of whom don’t

have much exposure to nature—

become more comfortable with

animals and stomping around in

the mud.

Likewise, at New York’s Captain

Manuel Rivera Public

School, in the Bronx, many K-8

children don’t have much of an

opportunity to connect with the

outdoors. The after-school program

Frontiers in Urban Science

Exploration, sponsored by ta s c

and coordinated by the Committee

for Hispanic Children and

Families, is designed to provide

that link with trips to zoos, parks,

and rivers to explore natural resources,

said Helena Yordan, the

site coordinator for the committee.

Through the inquiry-based,

hands-on activities, children get

excited about learning and the

scientific process. “Science is for

everyone. That’s our slogan,” said

Ms. Yordan.

In the program’s informal setting,

leaders can talk about careers

in science. Ms. Yordan also

keeps teachers informed about

the projects to connect the afterschool

work with what’s happening

in the classroom.

Contests such as the Siemens

Education WEEK: sciEncE lEarning outsidE thE classrooml www.edweek.org/go/sciencereport l april 6, 2011

Mikiany Pena, left, and alondra

Sanchez, foreground, examine

plants and animal tracks during

an overnight trip to the High

Bridge empowerment center, in

goshen, N.Y. The children in the

committee for Hispanic children

and Families after-school

program are expected to take on

the role of scientists.

We Can Change the World Challenge

give children a chance to

create an environmental

solution and compete for


Last year, 6th graders

Rani Iyer and Isha

Laad, both living in

Lexington, Mass., at the

time, spent 200 hours each

working on an entry for the contest.

Concerned about the harmful

impact of chemicals used in

dry cleaning, they tested a wetcleaning

process and worked to

persuade businesses to switch to

a more eco-friendly process.

The girls did testing in nearby

college labs, where they used

chemicals they wouldn’t have had

access to at school. “No one was

telling us what to do,” said Rani,

13, who has since moved to West

Lafayette, Ind. “It seemed like it

meant more than what we do in

school, where the teacher knows

the outcome of the experiment.

We don’t know what it is.”

The team was a finalist, and

each girl won a $5,000 savings

bond and a pocket camera. Rani

is considering entering the contest

again and perhaps pursuing

a career in science or math. l



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Published June 21, 2010,

in Education Week’s

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Test Items Pose


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