Reconceptualizing a Lifelong Science Education System that Supports Diversity: The Role of Free-Choice Learning

  • Lynn D. DierkingEmail author
Part of the Cultural Studies of Science Education book series (CSSE, volume 8)


Science educators worldwide are concerned about decreasing engagement in school science and declining enrollments in university science courses, a situation affecting societal vitality and informed democratic participation in science. I share these same concerns, however, suggesting that the primary issue is the way in which schools and universities approach diversity seems problematic. I posit that the practice of science education itself needs to become more diverse, embracing innovative approaches to learning. Findings from a US National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded retrospective study of the long-term impacts of gender-focused, free-choice science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning experiences build a case for developing a lifelong science learning system that supports diversity broadly, acknowledging the diverse places in which learning happens, the variety of forms of learning employed, and the multitude of reasons why someone might be interested and engaged in STEM. Two hundred and thirteen young women from diverse backgrounds underrepresented in STEM who had taken part in programs 10–20 years before participated in a web-based survey. Findings indicate that participation contributed to lasting impacts in interest, engagement, and participation in science communities, hobbies, and careers, influencing women’s identities and relationship to and with science. Programs also helped participants become more interested in STEM, appreciate the diversity of disciplines and practices embodied within it; build social capital, such as long-term mentors and friends who could further interest and persistence in STEM; and increased agency, influencing future careers, education, and hobbies/pursuits. Effects were particularly significant for women living in urban areas. Results reinforce free-choice science learning as a critical player in a comprehensive, whole life approach to science education reform for diversity.


Science Learning Science Education Reform Informal Science Education Citizen Science Project Rural Girl 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Science and College of EducationOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA

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