Over the years, we have tested and implemented a wide variety of free-choice learning methods, creating unique and useful  exhibits and associated research data. These are a few of our past contributions to the free-choice learning field.

Concept Maps as Research Tools

Free-Choice Learning Graduate Students and Faculty at OSU carried out a suite of projects related to using concept maps as tools for researching and evaluating learning in informal education settings. We continue to work with COSEE and other partners to present workshops on creating concept maps.

In April 2011, Sea Grant leaders Joe Cone and Shawn Rowe presented a primer presentation on concept mapping, entitled "Using Concept Maps to Make Thinking Visible in Groups". See the presentation [.pdf][HTML]

The working group project led by the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team used concept mapping to better understand the potential effects of a changing climate, and to consider what, if anything, the Port Orford community might want to do to address those effects.  Read their report [.pdf] [HTML]

Group concept mapping to help develop templates for aligning afterschool club curriculum with the Ocean Literacy Principles document.

Concept maps for documenting learning from an outdoor, volunteer-led, informal environmental education program.

Concept mapping for research on learning in a boat-based informal marine education program.

Bilingual Family Learning in Aquariums

Heidi Schmoock carried out a study designed to understand the impact of an HMSC-sponsored family learning program (Las OLAS) targeting Spanish-speaking families while she was an M.S. student in OSU's Environmental Sciences Program. The study was partially funded by the Holt Marine Education Fund.

Both parents and children behaved as learners during the program. While parents were active in teaching their children during formal learning activities, specifically focusing on language and literacy tasks, they did not focus on teaching science, nor did they focus on teaching during informal learning activities.

For both parents and children, knowledge and experiences resurfaced in new contexts, including discussions with other family members, at school, and at work. Furthermore, after the program, participants continued to learn by engaging in new free-choice learning experiences, among them, visiting the HMSC Visitor Center and reading relevant marine science materials.

For the purposes of developing and implementing bilingual family learning programs, findings suggest the need to address cultural values and expectations pertaining to learning, with specific attention to literacy.

Handheld apps

Portable Technology

During the summers of 2006 and 2007 we carried out research on the use of iPods in the HMSC Visitor Center. The findings from the 2006 study were presented at the National Association of Research in Science Teaching, and a copy of the paper is available in the conference proceedings.

This first phase addressed two main questions: 1) are visitors comfortable using handheld technology at a science center and 2) does prior experience with the technology influence visitor comfort-level?

The second phase of the study addressed more specific research questions related to the ways in which handheld technology may change or enhance group learning dynamics in the science center.

The Visitor Center continues to offer iPods for visitors to check out to enhance their learning experience as they view exhibits. (The videos used in the project are available as a Podcast here.)

Free-Choice Math Learning

The Pattern Garden exhibit at the Visitor Center helps visitors to think about patterns in data like scientists do.

Contemporary movements in science learning are based on the premise that to think like a scientist is to be able and willing to ask a question, gather adequate data, perform analysis of the data, and answer the question. Formal and informal math educators list the same skills as basic math skills.

When it comes to measurement as a part of collecting data, working with trends and probabilities in analyzing the data, and making informed conclusions, it is difficult to distinguish where science ends and mathematics begins, and vice versa.

Basic mathematics skills are crucial for those projects and are relied on, knowingly or not, by visitors and educators in informal science programs.

The Free-Choice Math Project is one of a small number of studies that looks at the place of mathematics in science centers, zoos, and aquaria, and one of an even smaller number of studies that looks at it from a visitor's point of view.