The New York Hall of Science is overseeing a complex, four-year applied research and traveling exhibit development project on "precursor concepts" to the theory of evolution. These concepts pertain to key ideas about life -- variation, inheritance, selection, and time (VIST) -- and are organized around the principle that living things change over time. The central research question is: Can informal, museum-based interventions prepare young children (5 -12) to understand the scientific basis of evolution by targeting their intuitive pre-evolutionary concepts? The work involves many collaborators -- museum personnel around the country, university researchers, exhibit designers and evaluators, web designers, the Association of Science-Technology Centers and a number of advisors in the biological sciences, psychology and in informal and formal education. The products include applied research studies that will add to the conceptual change knowledge base in cognitive psychology, a 1,000 square-foot exhibit plus discovery boxes, a section on the UC-Berkeley Understanding Evolution web site, extensive on site and online staff training opportunities for participating museums and others, several dissemination activities including two research symposia, and bilingual (English and Spanish) exhibit materials and family guides. The project is positioned as a new model in informal science education for integrating research, development and evaluation, with applicability beyond the life sciences to other STEM fields.
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