Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Vol. 24, No. 1, p. 93–110, (February, 2013).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This study examines science learning experiences within a formal course structure that reaches out to informal learning environments.
The specific research question explored was: How does facilitating informal explorations with friends and family outside of a physics course foster learning for the prospective teachers enrolled in the course?
The six strands of science learning (National Research Council 2009) provide a framework for interpreting the prospective teachers’ responses to the friends and family assignments.
These strands represent an effort to bring the worlds of formal and informal learning together.
The participants were prospective teachers who enrolled in the physics course when it included friends and family assignments.
The participants were mostly white female early childhood and development majors.
The assignments in the course included reflecting upon prior experiences, interviewing friends and family members, engaging them in exploring physical phenomena, and teaching them with relevant websites.
Data sources included responses to all of the friends and family assignments, and interviews near the end of the term.
The findings reveal that aspects of all six strands were evident in the responses, showing that the prospective teachers experienced increased interest and motivation, remembered and used scientific concepts and explanations, reflected on the process of learning for themselves and others, and actively participated in science activities.
Involving friends and family outside of the class created ways for learners to think about and use their science knowledge across contexts.
The friends and family assignments gave the prospective teachers the opportunity to try out their new knowledge in a safe way, creating an environment that promoted success and the positive affect to which Strand 1 refers.
Many prospective teachers who enrolled in the physics course admitted that initially they were not comfortable with science, especially physics.
The friends and family assignments enhanced the prospective teachers’ interest in learning and teaching science by giving them a great deal of choice in how, where, when and, with whom they facilitated their assignments, a condition important in fostering learning.
The assignments also enhanced interest by helping the prospective teachers to make connections to their respective cultural practices.
Every week the prospective teachers used new science concepts, explanations, and models in new settings outside of the classroom in ways similar to those described in Strand 2.
They reported using knowledge long after it was emphasized in their homework.
The prospective teachers then used similar discourse processes in helping friends and family members develop explanatory models for phenomena such as mirror images.
Thus, the assignments created opportunities outside of class for experiences of the kind advocated in the literature for reasoning and using models.
The process of reflection emphasized in Strand 4 is a key component of the friends and family assignments because, while the prospective teachers facilitated their activities, they were forced to decide what the most important pieces of information were and internalize them.
The friends and family assignments became one way to promote communication among the prospective teachers and other people in their lives through social interactions in which they used scientific language and tools as described in Strand 5.
Both inside and outside of the course, the prospective teachers talked about and explained their ideas about science, as is recommended for fostering learning.
The friends and family assignments afforded the prospective teachers with opportunities to participate in learning as a social event with others.
The friends and family assignments provided opportunities for the prospective teachers to create positive views of themselves as people who know about and use science as described in Strand 6.
Occasionally, they were apprehensive about conducting the friends and family assignments with people outside of class but after completing the activity they reported that it was fun or interesting.
Through these experiences outside, as well as inside class, they began to develop identities as both science learners and teachers.
The data represent thoughts of the prospective teachers during the time they were enrolled; long-term impacts have not been assessed.
Over more than a year that data were collected, the structure of the course changed in response to the participants’ interests and experiences.
The friends and family assignments evolved, for example, from occasional to regular weekly requirements because the experiences were so meaningful for the prospective teachers.
National Research Council (2009). Learning science in informal environments: People, places, and pursuits. (Committee Chairs: P. Bell, B. Lewenstein, A. W. Shouse, & M. A. Feder), Washington, DC: National Academies Press.