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Making the Case for Science Centers
  A museum volunteer and a young visitor investigate air flow

Science centers are resources for lifelong learning.
Photo courtesy Sciencenter

Furthering public understanding of science through experiential learning is at the heart of the science center mission. Science centers offer rich resources for lifelong learning, providing meeting places for citizens and the research community, supporting schools, and contributing to the cultural and economic vitality of their communities.

Science Centers—Resources for Lifelong Learning
Gaining Support for Your Science Center
Economic Impact of Science Centers
More Resources

Science centers—resources for lifelong learning
  • Science centers offer rich, social environments for learning— Most learning takes place in the context of meaningful activity and social interaction. Many people visit science centers in family groups. As they talk together, families have been observed to move from identifying and describing to interpreting and applying their science center experiences — evidence that learning is taking place.
  • Science centers offer significant support for schools—Science centers work directly with students through school outreach programs and field trips, reaching an estimated 39 million school children every year.
  • The hands-on approach that's the hallmark of science centers enhances learning—Students in hands-on, or activity-based, science programs have been shown to exhibit "increases in creativity, positive attitudes toward science, perception, logic development, communication skills, and reading readiness." Not only that: science center experiences are enjoyable, leading to measurable increases in motivation among students who visit.
  • Field trips and school outreach programs contribute to learning and support positive attitudes toward science— A review of research on field trips concluded that "The opportunities the museum experience can provide for students supports their learning process within formal education environments and in other facets of their lives."
  • Science centers encourage interest in careers in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology—Studies in many countries have identified out-of-school exposure to science, including visits to science centers, as a significant factor in career choice.
  • Youth programs in museums support positive development—Young people engaged in enrichment and employment programs in science centers gain self-confidence and work skills as well as interest in science.
  • Visits to science centers leave long-term memories—Learning is "constructed over time as the individual moves through his sociocultural and physical world; over time, meaning is built up, layer upon layer," and visits to science centers and museums become part of our store of long-term memories.

    For abstracts of articles and books that support these statements, see the following 2002 report (13 pages).

Making_the_Case (55 KB)| Need help?

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Gaining Support for Your Science Center
By Colin Johnson
Museums and science centers are the partners and servants of a wide range of stakeholders, including their local communities and political representatives, funders, and visitors themselves. The first challenge in advocating for the science center's educational role is to help your listener understand that informal learning is not only an outcome, but a process, which mirrors everyday life much more closely than classroom learning and which human beings undertake not only very willingly, but with conspicuous success. More

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Economic impact of science centers

Science centers contribute to the economic vitality of a community. Cultural amenities, including science centers, enhance the quality of life and make a community attractive to a knowledge-based workforce.

Arts and Economic ProsperityAssessing the Economic Impact of Science Centers on Their Local Communities

This report is the result of an international study carried out in 2004 by Questacon - The National Science and Technology Centre in Canberra, Australia in cooperation with APAC, ASTC, ECSITE, and Red-POP. The report presents data about the economic activity of 199 science centers and related institutions in 35 countries. It also contains 12 economic impact case studies from three countries, and an outline of how to carry out an economic impact study.

Download the complete report on this study (706 KB) | Need help?
You can also download individual sections of the report:

Part 1: Full list of contents plus Chapters 1-5: executive summary and key findings; introduction; project aims and project stages; discussion of what is meant by 'economic impact' (326 KB)| Need help?

Part 2: Chapter 6 and appendix 7: Case studies (140 KB)| Need help?

Part 3: Chapter 7: Planning and carrying out an economic impact study
(62 KB)| Need help?

Part 4: Chapter 8: Data collected for the project (196 KB)| Need help?

Part 5: Appendixes, acknowledgements and bibliography(263 KB)| Need help?

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More Resources

Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
Edited by Philip Bell, Bruce Lewenstein, Andrew W. Shouse, and Michael A. Feder, Committee on Learning Science in Informal Environments, National Research Council, 2009
This report by the U.S. National Research Council summarizes evidence that “Learning is broader than schooling, and informal science environments and experiences play a crucial role," according to editor Philip Bell. "These experiences can kick-start and sustain long-term interests that involve sophisticated learning." The study concluces, according to the NRC, that "learners can experience excitement and motivation to learn about phenomena in the natural and physical world. They can come to understand and use concepts and facts related to science. They can learn how scientists actually conduct their work using specialized tools and equipment. And they can develop an identity as someone who knows about, uses, and sometimes contributes to science." Read full report here

Science Centres, Research, and Science Learning
Presentation by Leonie Rennie, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia, at the 2006 Conference of the Asia Pacific Network of Science & Technology Centres (ASPAC).

ASPAC06_Rennie (1,043 KB)| Need help?

Arts and Economic ProsperityArts and Economic Prosperity:The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts Organizations and Their Audiences. This study, released in 2002 by Americans for the Arts, revealed that the nonprofit arts industry in the United States generates $134 billion in economic activity every year, including $24.4 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenues. Also available at this site is an economic impact calculator based on data collected in this study.

Making the Case for Science Centers, ASTC Dimensions, January/February 2001. An article from this issue by Walter Witschey, about "The Science Center as Community Powerhouse," is available online.

ASTC Statistics Analysis Package includes data on attendance patterns and trends; school groups, teachers, and youth; employees and volunteers; and science center finances. Order the latest edition from ASTC Publications.

The Impact of Science Centers/Museums on Their Surrounding Communities
Summary report and key references, in PDF format, from a literature review carried out in 2001 by an international group of science centers:

Impact_Study02 (75 KB)| Need help?

Impact_References02 (7 KB)| Need help?


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