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October 15, 2001

UCSC joins international collaboration to improve science education

By Jennifer McNulty

Taking a cue from the public's enthusiastic response to "informal science centers" such as science and natural history museums, zoos, and aquaria, educators in the United States and England are launching an ambitious collaboration to improve science teaching and learning.

Research studies will be conducted at San Francisco's Exploratorium, above and below. Photos: Exploratorium.
One of the world's most distinguished science museums and two of the world's leading universities are teaming up to form the Center for Informal Learning and Schools (CILS), which will integrate the best of the informal science learning with the formal learning that takes place in schools. The project is being funded by a $10.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Exploratorium, the world-renowned "hands-on" museum of science, art, and human perception in San Francisco, is collaborating with King's College London, and UC Santa Cruz to invigorate science education. At UCSC, the co-principal investigators are Lynda Goff, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, and Joyce Justus, chair of the Education Department.

During the past decade, the British and American public have embraced the proliferation of informal science centers in both countries, creating a need for educators trained in informal science instruction and prompting educators to examine the strategies that make such centers powerful learning venues. CILS aims to prepare leaders in informal science education, conduct research, support students pursuing advanced degrees in science education, and provide professional development opportunities for science museum staff. The center, headquartered at the Exploratorium, will begin operation in summer 2002 with Bronywn Bevan serving as acting director.

Participating researchers and graduate students will examine innovative methods of science teaching, as well as factors that affect the design of creative learning environments and alternative methods of teaching and learning science content. Research studies will be conducted at the Exploratorium and other science museums, zoos, and aquaria in the United States and at the London Zoo and other centers in Britain over the next five years.

CILS is one of only seven new centers funded by NSF as part of its growing effort to strengthen science in schools. The only museum-based center, CILS was established to improve the understanding of how children learn in informal science settings such as museums and zoos and how these techniques can be adapted to a school setting. Significant additional project support for educational technology was provided by the NEC Foundation of America.

Each CILS partner will provide faculty and courses under the Exploratorium's leadership:

  • King's College will enroll 12 doctoral students and two postdoctoral fellows in a fully funded program to pursue issues of learning and teaching in informal settings.

  • UCSC will accept up to 21 doctoral students and five postdoctoral fellows into psychology and education programs focused on informal science learning; the Education Department will enroll 19 students in a master's program on informal science education.

  • The Exploratorium will coordinate a 120-hour certification program for 140 museum educators to better enable them to support teachers, students, and the general public.

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