Teachers' perspectives of why and how they use the resources of informal science education sites
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There has been a growing interest in fostering increased connections between schools and community resources – such as informal science sites. This is due, in part, to the recognition that museum learning has many potential advantages, including improving motivation and attitudes, and nurturing curiosity. Some teachers are using the resources of informal science sites more than others. The purpose of this study was to determine why and how some teachers have continually used the resources of informal science education sites. The study was situated within a constructivist paradigm and employed a naturalistic inquiry strategy. Emergent interviews were conducted with six elementary teachers who regularly used the resources of informal science sites. Observations of informal science use and relevant documents were also used in data analysis. Using a qualitative data analysis program, data were unitized, coded and emergent themes were identified. Findings indicated that the teachers shared many characteristics in terms of why they used informal science, and they situated this within the context of their approaches to science teaching. Yet they valued different aspects of informal science as a resource. Support, especially emotional and social support, for using informal science was also important to these teachers, although where this support came from differed among them. All of the teachers had a strong interest in science, were leaders in science education on many levels and tended to seek out science-related projects and activities. While they shared many characteristics in terms of their approach to science teaching, there was great variation in how these teachers used informal science sites and in the amount and kind of support they received. These findings support the notion that there may be many definitions of the effective use of informal science by elementary teachers.