New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 13

Accepted Abstracts

The Changing Role of Museums in Advancing Science Education

Bryan Wunar, Museum of Science and Industry (United States)

Nicole Kowrach, Museum of Science and Industry (United States)


Museums, science centers, and other informal learning institutions are playing an increasingly important role in promoting science for all learners. The use of non-traditional learning environments and informal learning resources provide unique opportunities to stimulate student interest in science and to deepen their engagement. Museums can reinforce scientific concepts, develop the practices employed by scientists and engineers, and foster an appreciation for the pursuit of science both in school and outside the classroom. Recent findings identify the value of science learning in informal environments and provide evidence that these types of experiences can promote learning in ways that strengthen and enrich school science. Informal learning has been shown to provide unique opportunities for engaging students, particularly for learners from communities historically underrepresented in science.

In order to prepare the next generation to actively contribute to a global society being shaped by science and technology, the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) in Chicago, IL, USA established a vision which aims to inspire and motivate our children to achieve their full potential in the fields of science, technology, medicine, and engineering. To meet the challenge of fulfilling this vision, MSI has redefined the role of informal learning institutions in improving science education in our communities and to build a scientifically literate society. The Museum’s strategy has led to the development of a suite of education programs that place a primary emphasis on engaging underserved youth in science learning, but also building the capacity of their influencers – the communities, families and schools – who support them. 

This paper outlines a comprehensive model for using the resources of informal learning institutions to strengthen science learning both in and out of the school setting. It explores science education program strategies that target students, teachers, and families at a community-wide level, highlighting key research findings that support this work.  The paper shares practical and effective educational approaches that aim to raise interest and participation in science by students across grade levels; influence youth to choose careers in science-related fields; sustain a supportive community climate for science engagement; and facilitate high-quality science teaching and learning in schools.  


[1] National Research Council, Learning Science in Informal Environments, Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2009.
[2]  National Research Council, A Framework for K-12 Science Education:  Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2011.
[3] NGSS Lead States, Next Generation Science Standards, Washington, DC:The National Academies Press, 2013.
[4] Traphagen, K. & Traill, S., Report from the Field: How Cross-Sector Collaborations are Advancing STEM Learning, Los Altos, CA: The Noyce Foundation, 2014.
[5] Krishnamurthi, A., Ballard, M. & Noam, G., Examining the Impact of Afterschool STEM Programs, Washington, DC: Afterschool Alliance, 2014.  
[6] Schmidt, W. & Cogan, L., An Investigation of the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago’s 2012-2013 Get Re-Energized Module, East Lansing, MI: The Education Policy Center, Michigan State University, 2014.
[7] Wunar, B. & Kowrach, K., “Reinventing the Role of Museums in Advancing Science Education,” in Barsoum, N. (Ed.), STEMplanet 2014, Vol. 1, Perth, Australia: Global STEM States, 2014.
[8] Price, C.A. & Kares, F.R., “Researching Long-Term Impacts of an Out-Of-School Time Program,” Dimensions, July 2016, Washington, DC: Association of Science and Technology Centers, 2016.
[9] Ballard, M., Wunar, B., et al., “Science Centers and Afterschool Programs: Working Together for All Kids,” Dimensions, July 2016, Washington, DC: Association of Science and Technology Centers, 2016.

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