Title: Deepening Students' Scientific Inquiry Skills During a Science Museum Field Trip (2012)
Authors: Joshua P. Gutwilla & Sue Allenab
Source: Journal of Learning Science
Research Questions: Can scientific inquiry skills be taught effectively to students in the museum context in the absence of prior preparation work by classroom teachers? Do these inquiry skills learned at museums transfer to other settings?
Study Design: Museums are informal learning spaces that provide voluntary, self-directed educational experiences and aim to spark learners' interests through exhibitions and interactive activities. However, it is challenging for museum educators to help students connect their learning in the unique context of museums with regular schoolwork. Educators and researchers at the Exploratorium Museum attempted to address this gap by designing museum field trip inquiry games with a goal of cultivating students' scientific inquiry skills during their visits.
The Exploratorium researchers used a randomized experimental design that compared two versions of the field trip games with two control conditions and recruited 184 field trip groups (5-7 students in each group) to participate in the study. Pre and post-test exhibits and tasks, and follow-up interviews were conducted to understand students' engagement and scientific inquiry skills learning.
Findings: The results indicated that students who participated in the inquiry games during their field trips spent more time to engage with exhibit objects and were better at proposing actions and interpreting results on the post-test exhibition tasks. In addition, students did apply these skills outside of the museum context. The inquiry game that was more structured and collaborative was more effective in supporting students' inquiry skills than the more spontaneous and individualized game.
Moving Forward: With thoughtful pedagogical designs, inquiry games during museum field trips can enhance students' learning of scientific inquiry skills without adding more responsibilities to school teachers or chaperones before the museum visits. However, this study was conducted in a museum laboratory rather than the regular exhibition spaces. Further research is needed to explore how this inquiry game approach can work for larger field trip groups in open floor museum environments.
Image: Science museum by Jrpvaldi via Wikimedia Commons