Scientific knowledge is acquired through both personal and social methods (Driver, Asoko, Leach, Scott, & Mortimer, 1994). The social aspect of science is based on construction, validation and communication through the scientific community. As a result, the act of learning science requires individuals to be guided or initiated through these established concepts and practices. Ultimately, the science educator fulfills this role of mediator who makes “personal sense of the ways in which knowledge claims are generated and validated.”
On an individual or personal level, scientific knowledge exists as cognitive schemes change and develop due to new experiences. Intellectual development occurs when an individual interacts with the physical environment and existing schemes are adapted and modified into new ones with these new experiences. While social interactions play a role in learning and development, learning and meaning can only occur on an individual level through the conceptual change of old schemes as a result of experience.
In the classroom environment, students are able to reflect on their own and their peers’ thoughts “in attempting to understand and interpret phenomena for themselves.” The role of the educator is two-fold: to provide novel experiences and promote reflection. These experiences include both physical experiences as well as access to scientific concepts and models that students might not yet be aware.
One avenue for educators to provide additional experience beyond the classroom is out-of-school settings like The Exploratorium in San Francisco, California. This and other informal learning environments provide opportunities for lifelong and everyday learning. Hsi (2008) states that information technology (IT) through these environments is transforming the ways in which informal learners are able to “support their curiosity and interests.” Learners are able to access and accentuate their learning through IT “before, during and after their visits.” Further, remote learners are also able to access “standalone virtual explorations” through the Web. The Exploratorium website (https://www.exploratorium.edu) offers a variety of activities, apps, blogs, videos and other websites to explore. Specifically, a learner interested in solar eclipses could, for instance, use the app on the website to further their own understanding of the concept. This way of learning allows students to experience content material from a different perspective and thus, an alternative to the traditional pedagogy teaching.
Falk and Storksdieck (2010) state that learning for performance and learning for identity-building were inversely related. They argue that learning for performance is typical of school environments however, learning can also be “motivated for purely intrinsic reasons” and have “everything to do with the process of identity-related self-satisfaction. Informal learning environments, such as the Exploratorium, afford opportunities for both learning for performance and learning for identity-building. As educators, while learning for performance is typically a primary focus, learning for identity-building should not be neglected. How do we further encourage identity-building in or out of classrooms?
Driver, R., Asoko, H., Leach, J., Scott, P., & Mortimer, E. (1994). Constructing scientific knowledge in the classroom. Educational researcher, 23(7), 5-12.
Falk, J. & Storksdieck, M. (2010). Science learning in a leisure setting. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(2), 194-212. Available in Course Readings.
Hsi, S. (2008). Information technologies for informal learning in museums and out-of-school settings. International handbook of information technology in primary and secondary education, 20(9), 891-899.