By Aiona Bones on June 15, 2011
While most science museum educators value the importance of scientific research in untangling and illuminating the world around us, it remains the case that research on informal learning itself is not widely read by the people in a position to put the research to use. I suspect one of the reasons for this is simply how difficult it is to find relevant research and gain access to the publications. There are, no doubt, tons of informal educators just waiting for the opportunity to sink their teeth into some juicy research articles, if they only had someone to make a recommendation. If that describes you, you’re troubles are over. The Exploratorium Center for Informal Learning just came out with a beta version of a new website, Research 2 Practice, which collects, organizes and summarizes relevant research articles into an easy to find and easy to digest format. Go take a look, and when you’re done you might also try poking around at Informal Science.org for a less organized but more complete collection.
For educators who are not yet convinced that reading research is a valuable practice, here’s just a brief list of why you should try it out.
1) It’s interesting: Researchers dream up all kinds of fascinating topics to study. I’ve read papers ranging from the educational potential of comic strips to high-school baseball players ideas about curve-balls. It’s fascinating what scientists find out sometimes.
2) It’s informative: Researchers have written articles suggesting best practices for everything from training Explainers, to developing field trip materials, to talking with kindergartners about science. You probably don’t have time to try these things in every possible way and extensively interview everyone involved, so it can be very useful to find out what researchers found when they did just that.
3) It justifies your work: Studies highlighting the importance of informal science education and open ended inquiry provide evidence of how incredibly valuable our work is. Knowing about these studies can help you advocate for the work you already know is important.