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Keywords:

  • Science Center;
  • free-choice learning;
  • informal;
  • science literacy;
  • infrastructure

Abstract

A range of sources support science learning, including the formal education system, libraries, museums, nature and Science Centers, aquariums and zoos, botanical gardens and arboretums, television programs, film and video, newspapers, radio, books and magazines, the Internet, community and health organizations, environmental organizations, and conversations with friends and family. This study examined the impact of one single part of this infrastructure, a Science Center. This study asked two questions. First, who in Los Angeles (L.A.) has visited the California Science Center and what factors best describe those who have and those who have not visited? Second, does visiting the California Science Center impact public science understanding, attitudes, and behaviors and if so, in what ways? Two random telephone surveys of L.A. county adults 18 years of age and over (n = 832; n = 1,008) were conducted; one in 2000, shortly after the opening of the totally redesigned and rebuilt Science Center and one in 2009, roughly a decade after opening. Samples were drawn from five racially, ethnically, and socio-economically diverse communities generally representative of greater L.A. Results suggest that the Science Center is having an important impact on the science literacy of greater L.A. More than half of residents have visited the Science Center since it opened in 1998 and self-report data indicate that those who have visited believe that the Science Center strongly influenced their science and technology understanding, attitudes, and behaviors. Importantly, Science Center visitors are broadly representative of the general population of greater L.A. including individuals from all races and ethnicities, ages, education, and income levels with some of the strongest beliefs of impact expressed by minority and low-income individuals. The use of a conceptual “marker” substantiates these conclusions and suggests that the impact of the Science Center might even be greater than indicated by the mostly self-report data reported here. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 48: 1–12, 2011