School science center collaboration

The Expand research project aims to address the issue of school-science center relations, which  influences  students’ science learning.  It will also explore methodologies for examining the impact of school trips on teaching and learning. Three key aspects of school field trips to museums and science centres have been the focus of international research :

  • The overall educational value of the trips
  • The impact of preparing for and following up on field trips
  • The complexity of elements that influence students’ learning during field trips.

Much field trip related research in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s contrasted out-of-school learning opportunities with in-school instruction (DeWitt & Storksdieck 2008). Lately, however, museum practitioners and classroom teachers have come to place more value on the positive affective and social experiences afforded by field trips (Anderson, Kisiel, & Storksdieck, 2006; Storksdieck, Werner, & Kaul, 2006). In addition “cognitive” learning outcomes of field trips are being broadened beyond facts and concepts to include process skills, awareness of lifelong learning and science centers’ and museums’ collaboration with communities (Storksdieck, Robbins, & Kreisman, 2007, DeWitt & Storksdieck 2008). Hence, learning on and from a field trip is no longer seen as simply an extension or improvement of classroom teaching, but as a valuable supplement and addition to classroom instruction (Hofstein & Rosenfeld, 1996; Orion & Hofstein, 1994; Storksdieck, 2006; DeWitt & Storksdieck, 2008)

Research indicates that the learning connected to field trips is fundamentally influenced by the design of the field trip, including the structure of the field trip itself, prior knowledge of the students, the social context of the visit, teacher agendas and actions on the field trip, and the presence or absence and quality of preparation and follow-up experiences (DeWitt & Storksdieck 2008).

In a Norwegian context the research project “Museum and school” 2006 – 2009 established collaborative efforts between museum educators, teachers and Oslo and Akershus University College (Frøyland & Langholm 2009, 2010), with the goal of exploring the school field trips to science centres (Frøyland, 2010). The Museum and school project found that the main challenge for science centre educators was to design meaningful assignments for students. Another challenge was to engage teachers in planning for pre- and post activities related to visits (Frøyland & Langholm 2009). The project implemented a collaborative approach, where museum educator and teacher jointly developed the learning program for the school’s field trip. The results from this approach were that students became more engaged, teachers participated more in the field trip and the learning program had a stronger focus on the unique character of museums as learning arenas (Frøyland og Langholm, 2010).

Expand will build on experiences from these research projects, and will involve an iterative approach informed by the traditions of design based research and design experiments in educational research, where the premise of the research approach is that understanding how people learn depends on being able to study processes of learning and teaching in real life environments. This approach, where the research proceeds in cycles, has been advocated as an alternative to formative research in museums and science centres (Schauble, Leinhardt and Martin 1997).