Journal of Science Teacher Education

, Volume 25, Issue 8, pp 935–952 | Cite as

“Wow! Look at That!”: Discourse as a Means to Improve Teachers’ Science Content Learning in Informal Science Institutions

  • Gary M. Holliday
  • Judith S. Lederman
  • Norman G. Lederman


Currently, it is not clear whether professional development staff at Informal Science Institutions (ISIs) are considering the way exhibits contribute to the social aspects of learning as described by the contextual model of learning (CML) (Falk & Dierking in The museum experience. Whalesback, Washington, 1992; Learning from museums: visitor experiences and the making of meaning. Altamira Press, New York, 2000) and recommended in the reform documents (see Cox-Peterson et al. in Journal of Research in Science Teaching 40:200–218, 2003). In order to move beyond only preparing science teachers for field trips, while necessary, it is also important to understand the role exhibits play in influencing teachers’ content-related social interactions while engaged in ISI professional development. This study looked at a life science course that was offered at and taught by education staff of a large science and technology museum located in the Midwest, USA. The course was offered to three sections of teachers throughout the school year and met six times for a full day. The courses met approximately once a month from September through the beginning of June and provided 42 contact hours overall. Elementary and middle school teachers (n = 94) were audio- and videotaped while participating in the content courses and interacting with the museum’s exhibits. When considering the two factors within the sociocultural context of CML: within-group sociocultural mediation and facilitated mediation by others, the use of exhibits during both courses generally did not fully take into account these elements. In this study, it seemed that teachers’ talk always had a purpose but it is argued that it did not always have a direction or connection to the desired content or exhibit. When freely exploring the museum, teachers often purely reacted to the display itself or the novelty of it. However, when PD staff made explicit connections between exhibits, content, and activities, participants were more likely to be involved in in-depth, content-related and pedagogical conversations while engaged in the course.


Professional development In-service science teacher education Informal learning environments Science education 


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Copyright information

© The Association for Science Teacher Education, USA 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gary M. Holliday
    • 1
  • Judith S. Lederman
    • 2
  • Norman G. Lederman
    • 3
  1. 1.Science Education, Curricular and Instructional StudiesThe University of AkronAkronUSA
  2. 2.Department of Mathematics and Science EducationIllinois Institute of TechnologyChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Department of Mathematics and Science EducationIllinois Institute of TechnologyChicagoUSA

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