Cross-Contextual Learning: Redesigning the Interactions of Informal and Formal Contexts for Conceptual Change
Conceptual restructuring emerges from children’s experiences in multiple contexts. This paper explores the interactions of school-based science education and informal science education through the lens of conceptual change. The term cross-contextual learning is introduced to refer to (a) fieldtrips away from the school setting and (b) mobile programming that is implemented in the classroom by informal educators. This paper examines the literature concerning goals that educators from both contexts have for these learning experiences and the literature documenting the curricular practices that surround learners’ cross-contextual experiences. It describes experiences in local settings that evidence the barriers to cross-contextual learning, then elaborates educators’ perspectives concerning two programs that have been selected as exemplars for learning across formal and informal contexts: an environmental science laboratory program and an exhibit design challenge. The literature and experiences in local settings suggest the that opportunities for conceptual change surrounding cross-contextual events are greatly improved when: (1.)school-based and informal education practitioners plan learning experiences together; and (2.)learning from the informal setting is prefaced, reflected upon, and assessed in the context of the classroom. The final section of this paper synthesizes the implications for practice and research in the frames of learners’ opportunities for conceptual change, curricular practices that bridge learning across contexts, collaboration across school and informal contexts, and the assessment of cross-contextual learning. The role of technologies is an important area for inquiry about science learning that bridges formal and informal contexts.