Free-choice learning in school science: a model for collaboration between formal and informal science educators

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JournalInternational Journal of Science Education Part B
DateSubmitted - 14 Mar 2018
DateAccepted/In press - 5 Oct 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 26 Oct 2018
DatePublished (current) - 1 Jan 2019
Issue number1
Number of pages16
Pages (from-to)13-28
Early online date26/10/18
Original languageEnglish


The informal science education sector has been found to foster engagement with science, whereas formal science education has been criticised as disconnected from students’ lives and experiences. Consequently, there have been calls for greater collaboration between formal and informal sectors. This study aimed to create such a ‘third space’ for science education by linking a university science educator with schools to create spaces for increased student choice in learning. The community of inquiry pedagogical model was used to manage a series of discussions about cutting edge science with 507 students aged 11-14 in 20 state schools in the UK. These classes substituted for school science lessons. Studying learning in free choice environments is challenging due to the range of possible outcomes. Data was collected using participant observations, questionnaires and interviews.
Teachers’ and students’ responses were analysed using Falk and Dierking’s Contextual Model of Learning. This allowed us to consider the totality of students’ experiences whilst acknowledging the complexity of free choice spaces. Findings indicate that this third space allowed students to exercise choice and control over their learning, and to connect science with their prior knowledge and interests. However, choice can also act as a barrier to learning if students lack sufficient prior knowledge or are uncomfortable with content. Students identified the role of peers and facilitated discussion as important. This indicates that there are benefits to opening up spaces for free choice learning in school science, and we suggest the community of inquiry as a model to achieve this.

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© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.

    Research areas

  • nonformal education, , dialogue, science outreach, school/university interface, informal education, School/university interface

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