Informal Science Learning Has Important Role to Play, Says Council Member

June 19, 2009 |   | Contact: M. Daniel DeCillis

The Life Tunnel in the California Science Center’s World of Life gallery is a multimedia display using images, words and sounds to convey a sense of unity amongst widely disparate life forms. Image courtesy of the California Science Center.

A recent report from the National Research Council says that there is abundant evidence that informal science education settings, such as museums, aquariums, and after-school programs are important contributors to people’s knowledge and interest in science. But for the California Science Center, this is nothing new.

“People continue to learn their whole life,” said CCST Council Member Jeffrey Rudolph, president and CEO of the California Science Center and the president of the California Science Center Foundation. “Even school age children spend more time out of school than in school. Places like science centers provide positive experiences and opportunities to experience science and become engaged in a positive way.”

The California Science Center, a public-private partnership between the State and the California Science Center Foundation located in Los Angeles, has been actively working for years to provide the kinds of hands-on experiences recommended by the NRC study, and to form the productive collaborations with educators that the report recommends.

“Over 1.4 million people a year experience our exhibits, which include formal educational programs,” said Rudolph, a CCST Council member. “We have a partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District through which we conduct a lot of our formal programs. We also work with LAUSD on teacher professional development programs. It’s a multifaceted and very productive partnership.”

Rudolph acknowledges the challenge noted in the NRC study of measuring outcomes from informal science centers, and welcomes the validation of the center’s role in science education. “It’s hard to measure how engaged a student is. We’re not only providing understanding of specific areas of science and experimentation, but enhancing students’ attitudes about science. It’s a hard thing to measure, but important to do.”

The release of “Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places and Pursuits” is a welcome resource for educators, according to Rudolph.

“I think the concept that this report embraces, which is to look at education and learning in a broader sense – particularly in science – may help remind policymakers that it takes a wide range of learning opportunities to create the workforce that we need in the future. The best learning isn’t always happening in schools.”

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