Student Well-Being

American Scientist and Out of School Science

By Mary-Ellen Phelps Deily — January 25, 2011 1 min read
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Since “informal” science learning is a hot topic in the after-school community, I’d like to point readers to a particularly relevant update on’s Curriculum Matters blog.

Last week, my colleague Erik Robelen wrote about a recent article on informal science teaching and learning in American Scientist magazine. Erik quotes from the article and then offers perspective. Here’s part of his piece:

Most policy solutions ... involve improving classroom practices and escalating the investment in schooling, particularly during the precollege years," write researchers John Falk and Lynn Dierking from the College of Science at Oregon State University. "The assumption has been that children do most of their learning in school and that the best route to long-term public understanding of science is successful formal schooling." But they note that Americans spend less than 5 percent of their lives in classrooms, and "an ever-growing body of evidence demonstrates that most science is learned outside of school." The article, from the November-December issue of American Scientist, suggests that an increased investment in informal science learning might be a cost-effective way to significantly improve Americans' understanding of the subject.

I highly recommend reading Erik’s piece and the full American Scientist article. The article itself talks about the importance of making out-of-school-time (OST) learning different from in-classroom education and also references research on the gap in summer learning experiences among children of different socioeconomic classes and the long-term negative impact on children from poor families.

Falk and Dierking write: “As the potential beneficial relationship between science learning and OST becomes better understood, there is a temptation to hand these programs over to schools. This would be a huge mistake. It is exactly because free-choice learning is not like school that it has such value. What is important is that children and youth perceive the free-choice learning experiences that often occur in typical OST programs as personally meaningful, engaging and, dare we say, fun—what educator David Alexander calls, “the learning that lies between play and academics.”

I especially like that last bit about learning “between play and academics.” What are your thoughts?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Beyond School blog.