Where do Americans learn science? The answer seems obvious: we learn science in school.
But in a 2010 article in American Scientist, John Falk and Lynn Dierking assert that in fact
we learn most of our science outside of school.
For one thing, while American high school students trail most of the developed world in
science knowledge, American adults show better knowledge of basic science concepts than
adults in Western Europe, South Korea and Japan. It’s not because of college: only half the
population attends, and only thirty percent of those study science. So it must be something
else in our environment that is teaching us science.
Falk and Dierking argue that the difference is informal science, everything that goes on
outside of school. Americans take their young kids to science museums, zoos, and nature
centers. (Adolescents are less likely to join such family outings.) Adults garden, watch
birds, raise ornamental fish, and watch nature shows, Nova, and Mythbusters. They
use public libraries, zoos and aquaria, nature centers and science museums more often
than adults in other developed countries. They listen to Science Friday. They search the
Internet to understand their parents’ medical problems, and they read books on science
topics, explorers, and inventors that interest them. Some become amateur astronomers or
build model rockets.
It looks as if informal science, also called free-choice science, is playing a huge role in
keeping the American public up-to-date with science knowledge. One of the roles we
want to take on in Tumblehome Learning is to strengthen that informal learning bond
between parents and children. We want to delight kids with funny, action-filled books that
introduce them to bits of science not taught in schools. We want to give them easy, fun
activities that will engage them while also stretching their understanding. And we want
to build an easy, rewarding way for parents and children to interact around science they
freely choose to explore.