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July 22, 2013

Living Lab Combines Research With Outreach

Kids get to participate in research, while parents learn more about how science works

It's hands-on time at the Museum of Science (MOS) Discovery Center in Boston. Kids can touch and play their way through scientific exhibits, and even take part in actual science experiments in Living Laboratory, a model for informal cognitive science education. Scientists ask visiting parents if their kids can take part in a quick exercise for one of the ongoing studies. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Becki Kipling and her team provide training that helps scientists speak one-on-one with parents and guardians. The goal is to help parents better understand the scientific process, while at the same time giving researchers the opportunity to hone their communication skills.

This research was funded by NSF's Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL) within the Education and Human Resources Directorate. DRL invests in projects to improve the effectiveness of science, technology, engineering and mathematics STEM learning for people of all ages.

DRL also promotes the broadening and deepening of capacity and impact in the educational sciences by encouraging the participation of scientists, engineers, and educators from the range of disciplines represented at NSF. The division's role in the larger context of federal support for education research and evaluation is to be a catalyst for change--advancing theory, method, measurement, development and application in STEM education.

The Division seeks to advance both early, promising innovations as well as larger-scale adoptions of proven educational innovations. In doing so, it challenges the field to create the ideas, resources and human capacity to bring about the needed transformation of STEM education for the 21st century.

Living Lab is getting good marks from parents and researchers. "Parents seem to really like it. They like watching their kids do this task and engage in funny strategies," says Kathleen Corriveau, a neuroscientist at Boston University. "It's been a great way to train my students to work with the public as well as to design really fun tasks."

Besides improving communication skills, the scientists benefit by being able to conduct their research in a dynamic setting.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Ann Kellan, Science Nation Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.