Science Learning+ is an international initiative that aims to understand the power of informal learning experiences inside and outside of school.
In partnership with the National Science Foundation and the Economic and Social Research Council, we supported ten projects over two funding rounds.
Partnership grants were awarded in March 2017. Each project received funding of up to £1.5 million, lasting from three to five years.
Partnering for equitable science pathways for under-represented youth
Project leads: Louise Archer, UCL Institute of Education, and Angela Calabrese-Barton, Michigan State University
Access to, and opportunities within, informal science learning (ISL) remain limited for young people from historically under-represented backgrounds. However, there is evidence that ISL experiences can expand opportunities for youth agency, learning and development, both in science and more widely.
Our four-year project responds to three challenges in ISL research and practice:
- how young people from historically under-represented backgrounds perceive and experience ISL
- improving the evidence around the tools and practices that can support such young people to progress with ISL
- how ISL might be equitable and transformative for young people.
During the project, practitioners and researchers will work with young people through design-based implementation research, surveys and critical ethnography. Our goal is to develop new understandings of how:
- young people participate in ISL over time and across settings
- young people might connect ISL experiences and make pathways into science
- ISL settings (like science centres, zoos and community organisations) might develop more equitable approaches to working with young people.
Researching the impact of integrated art science programmes amongst non-dominant learners on science and technology affiliation
Project leads: Joseph Roche, Trinity College Dublin, and Bronwyn Bevan, University of Washington
An integrated art and science approach can help young people to engage with and learn about science, particularly those from low-income and under-represented communities.
Our project will develop:
- a research framework for investigating the relationship between informal art and science learning experiences and young people's engagement with science
- design principles for informal art and science programmes, drawing on programmes that have already been effective in cultivating youth engagement with science and making connections across settings
- practitioner-friendly programme evaluation tools that integrate findings from research and practice related to current art and science projects.
STEM teens: examining the role of youth educators as learners and teachers in informal STEM learning sites
Project leads: Adam Rutland, Goldsmiths, University of London, and Adam Hartstone-Rose, University of South Carolina and Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia
One way to encourage young people to pursue training in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields and enter the STEM workforce is to foster interest and engagement during adolescence. Informal STEM Learning Sites (ISLS) frequently provide opportunities to participate in volunteer programmes, internships or work.
Following youth participants longitudinally over the course of five years, we will document the impact of youth educators on visitor learning at six ISLS in the USA and UK.
The specific outcomes are to:
- measure the impact that participating as a youth educator has on teens
- explore visitors’ engagement with and learning from youth educators
- examine differences in visitor engagement based on different demographics, and compare outcomes of youth educator experiences across different types of ISLS.
We will use the results to develop best practices for implementing youth educator programs in ISLS, and disseminate them to academic and practice-based communities.
Understanding the role of embodied interaction in pre-school children's learning about science in informal settings
Project leads: Andrew Manches, University of Edinburgh, and Judy Brown, Museum of Science, Miami
Science education researchers and practitioners often face the challenge of designing and evaluating learning experiences for young children whose language skills are still emerging. Building on evidence that movement is tightly intertwined with thinking, this project will investigate how thought and movement link as embodied learning to accelerate science understanding.
During a three-year period, researcher-practitioner teams across six museum sites in the UK and USA will collaboratively investigate the links between movement and learning at selected science exhibits designed for young learners, aged 3-6 years. We will conduct research with a diverse population of children and explore the application of embodied learning to communities under-represented in science.
We will use a design-based research methodology to address three key questions:
- What elements of sensory and action experiences are key to informing the design of exhibits that aim to exploit embodied interactions for learning?
- What is the role of bodily enactment/gestures in assessing children's understanding of science concepts?
- What cultural differences in kinds of embodied engagement emerge across diverse museum settings?
The project will raise awareness of embodied approaches to learning as well as build stronger collaborations between informal science educators and learning sciences researchers.
Youth learning in public participation in science research opportunities (crowdsourcing and citizen science) facilitated by natural history museums
Project leads: Lucy Robinson, Natural History Museum, London, and Heidi Ballard, University of California, Davis
Our four-year research study is looking at citizen science projects led by natural history museums (NHMs). IWe want to establish what impact citizen science projects have on the young people that take part in them.
The study focuses on three types of citizen science experiences:
- short-term outdoor events like bioblitzes
- long-term outdoor environmental monitoring projects
- online citizen science projects such as crowdsourcing the ID of field observations.
We will use observations, surveys, interviews and learning analytics to explore three overarching questions about youth learning.
- What activities do young people engage in when participating in NHM-led citizen science?
- To what extent do young people develop an understanding of the science content, identify roles for themselves in the practice of science, and have a sense of agency for taking actions using science?
- What programme features and settings in NHM-led citizen science foster these three science learning outcomes among young people?
We will share the findings with other organisations doing citizen science projects to improve young people’s engagement with science.
Planning grants were awarded in 2014 and lasted up to 10 months. They focused on developing initial ideas and creating new partnerships.
Broadening participation in science and technology through transdisciplinary youth development activities
Project lead: Lynn Scarff, Science Gallery Dublin
Science and technology-related skills, such as computational thinking, design, data visualisations and digital storytelling, are increasingly important. Many new jobs will need a blend of skills, such as programming and design, that students who have disengaged with academic STEM pathways may already have and would be eager to develop further.
Our project investigates out-of-school time (OST) programmes that integrate epistemic practices from the arts, sciences, computer science and other disciplines in consequential activities, such as creating radio segments or building online games.We want to understand how such activities can engage young people who do not already identify as science or technology learners.
The project will involve:
- five three-year studies documenting learning in different technology-rich contexts
- a four-year longitudinal study, involving 100 young people
- the creation of practical measurement tools to monitor how programmes are leveraging the intersections of the arts and sciences to support student engagement and learning
- a professional development programme conducted at informal science education conferences in Europe and the USA to engage the informal STEM field with emerging findings.
We want to build the knowledge base in emerging 21st century transdisciplinary approaches to broadening participation.
Enhancing informal learning through citizen science
Project lead: Richard Edwards, University of Stirling
Citizen science can be described as scientific research conducted by amateur or non-professional scientists who crowdsource their contributions as part of a wider research project. Research in the USA and UK suggests that citizen science can help people to participate in and learn about science.
Our project aims to:
- explore and evaluate existing frameworks and instruments for designing citizen science projects
- examine the learning outcomes of citizen science projects, the processes through which that learning occurs and its contribution to the building of science capital and science identity
- look at the role of families and intergenerational learning within citizen science projects.
Project lead: John Durant, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Public science events range in scale from intimate group conversations to festivals for tens of thousands; from one-time events to long-term campaigns. Whatever their setting, they aim to engage the public with science in a social context.
Public science events already happen in both the US and UK, and initial evaluations demonstrate beneficial impacts for public audiences, organisations that collaborate on events, and scientists that participate.
Our project will deliver a report and website that summarise existing activity and findings related to live science events, and suggest areas for future investigation.
The contribution of natural history museums to science education
Project lead: Michael Reiss, UCL Institute of Education
Relatively little is known about how natural history museums (NHMs) and schools can complement each another to maximise young people’s learning about and engagement with science.
In this project, researchers in UK and US universities will work with practitioners in NHMs and school teachers in the UK and the US to:
- undertake a critical review of the published and grey literature that explores the contributions that NHMs have made to learning and engagement
- develop improved common instruments to determine the efficiencies of learning experiences
- map the areas of science curricula that NHMs might most valuably address
- review current pedagogical approaches employed by schools and NHMs, with a view to developing and studying new practice models.
Our project will devise validated instruments (of the sort that are increasingly used in large-scale social psychology studies) and explore whether data obtained from museum visitors can be matched to external datasets, both in the UK and in the US.
Youth access and equity in informal science learning: developing a research and practice agenda
Project lead: Louise Archer, King's College London
Our project will develop a research and practice agenda around youth access and equity in informal science learning. We will focus on addressing equity issues for young people, aged 11-14, primarily from communities from minority backgrounds who have historically tended not to engage with science outside of school.
The project will involve researchers and practitioners from three informal science learning contexts:
- designed spaces, such as museums
- community-based settings, such as afterschool clubs
- science as it appears in everyday life, such as in the media
We will document the multiple pathways young people take within/across informal science learning settings over time, the impact these pathways have on learning and development, and the influence they have on informal science learning organisations. This will help to identify the aspects of learning environments which shape youth access and development.