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Keywords:

  • informal science;
  • museum education;
  • field trips/excursions

Abstract

This article describes a 3-year study of school visits to four natural history museums and addresses the research agenda with regard to out-of-school learning. More specifically, the findings focus on the process of learning in museums. Comprehensive data collection allowed for an analysis of patterns of guided visits, the way the scientific content was conveyed to students, and the extent and types of social interactions thus enabled. Observations of 42 guided visits (grades 3–11) indicates that the main visitation pattern consisted of guide-centered and task-oriented activity. Analysis of questions asked by museum guides reveals that most of these questions required mainly lower-order thinking skills. A common questioning pattern was to ask rhetorical questions as a means of carrying on the lecture. Detailed analysis of the scientific vocabulary used by the guides indicates that they used much scientific jargon, with limited explanation. There was only limited social mediation provided by teachers and museum guides. A minority of teachers were involved in the activities or in helping the guide to clarify or in helping the students to understand the explanations. The overall data indicate limited opportunities for meaningful learning, suggesting that the museums should shift from the traditional knowledge-transmission model of teaching to a more socioculturally contextualized model. © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 44: 747–769, 2007