Research and Design of Informal Science Learning
(Winter 2013)




Seminar/Discussion:    Wednesdays: 12:00 - 1:00 pm (bring lunch!)

Site Visits:                     Wednesdays: 8:45 - 11:45 am
Location:                      Kearny High School (website)

                                      7651 Wellington Way, San Diego,  CA  92111(map)

Instructor:      Robert Lecusay (email)

Office hours:   Social Sciences Research Bldg #305 TBD


Course websites


Field note database:              

KHS AP Environmental Science:

KHS School of Science

Connections & Technology: 

KHS Calendar:                      

Requirements                Schedule          Course Materials

Course Overview

Research and Design of Informal Science Learning
is a practicum course designed to give you the skills and perspective to study human learning and development as these processes unfold in environments and situations that people commonly experience in their day to day lives (work, school, after school, as opposed to controlled laboratory settings). In this case the everyday setting is a once-a-week collaborative urban fishery project being implemented for the first time in a local San Diego high school. Your focus will be on studying how the students participating in the project learn the concepts and practices introduced to them throughout the course of the activity.

This practicum combines seminar style discussion and participatory ehnography. A sgnificant part of your training will involve learning by doing. You will join two of eight high school student teams as they are taught to build an aquaponics system. By working with the students you will be uniquely positioned to study their learning as well as your own. The course will provide you with the tools to carefully observe and document your own and other’s participation in the ongoing activities of the project

The qualitative research skills you acquire in this course will help you evaluate theories of learning, communication, and development. Furthermore, your participation in this practicum will enhance your interpersonal teaching skills as well as skills necessary for conducting qualitative research (e.g. expository & narrative writing, data analysis). The aim of this course is not only to teach you how to conduct social science field research in a skillful and ethical way, but also to connect you with the local community in a way that helps you realize that this community and the communities to which you belong are interdependent.

Course Requirements
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       Class discussion:      Wednesdays, 12:00 - 1:00 pm,  Kearny High School.
Site Visits:                  Wednesdays, 8:45 - 11:45 am, Kearny High School.


Field notes

Writing and submitting.
You are required to write field notes that document your experiences in the KHS/UCSD Extension  course. Your notes should be written and submitted within 36 hrs. of your visit. A guide for how to write your field notes (including a description of how field notes are evaluated) is available here. A guide for uploading your field notes is available here. You must go to the following website to submit your notes: Sample field notes are avaialble here: sample 1, sample 2)

Reading and Commenting
In addition to writing and submitting your field notes you are required to read your classmates field notes. You will be assigned different reading buddies over the course of the quarter. Pairing will change over the course of the quarter so that you read everyone's field notes

Assigned Readings and Leading Discussion

You are required to come to class having read the assigned readings. To help you get the most out of your readings use the guidelines for unpacking readings.

Twice in quarter you will be assigned one of the course readings and asked to lead discussion about it. You are free to lead the discussion however you like (e.g. using power point, bringing in media examples to motivate discussion, like relevant youtube videos, etc.) Prior to leading discussion, you must email me your responses to the questions included in the Guidelines for Unpacking Readings (this counts toward your participation). You can do this as late as the night before you present.

Course final project

Choose one of the following:

- Case study proposal with example based on experiences from participation in the extension course
- Mixed media project focused on developmental documentation of the project (e.g. time lapse video, documentation of one auquaponics   system over time).
- Self-reflection paper examining what and how you learned over the course of the project..

A document providing guidelines for how to prepare and produce each of these projects will be posted HERE shortly.

Final Project Portfolio

1. All submitted field notes
2. All submitted comments to field notes
3. Course Project



Advising & Email

Check the email you use for school-related purposes regularly. I frequently use email to communicate with the class about assignments, organizational work, etc.

I encourage you to email me whenever you have any questions, doubts, concerns.  Allow 48 hours for me to respond to your emails. If I don’t respond within 48 hrs., you may email me again to remind me.


Participation (including reading discussions)                                                    20%
Field Notes                                                                                                       50%
Course Project                                                                                                  30%

Course Schedule 
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Week 1     Week 2     Week 3     Week 4     Week 5     Week 6     Week 7     Week 8     Week 9     Week 10

WEEK 1 (January 9): Course introduction
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Discussion:     - Overview of the UCSD green technologies extension course at Kearny High School (KHS)
                       - San Diego-specific history of designing informal learning activities through university-community                                      collaborations
                        - How to write field notes.

WEEK 2 ( January 16 ):  What are we doing at Kearny and Why? What are we researching?(back to  top)

NOTE - CHANGE IN MEETING TIME & PLACE (this week and the following):
Social Science Reseach Building, Rm. 308, 9:30 am - 12:30 pm

Discussion:    - Education reform and the idea of the Engaged University
Defining learning, formal and informal
                       - History of Kearny High School, its surroundings, and topics covered in the extension course
                        Class slides available HERE



Livingstone, D.W. (2006). Informal learning: Conceptual distinctions and preliminary findings. In  Z. Bekerman, N. C. Burbules, and D. S. Keller (eds.) Learning in Places: The Informal Education Reader (pp. 203 - 228). New York, New York: Peter Lang Publishing. Bernadette

Rogoff, Barbara. (2003). Development as Transformation of Participation in Cultural Activities.  In B. Rogoff (ed.)        The Cultural Nature of Human Development (pp. 37 – 62).  Oxford: Oxford University Press. Bernadette

Schensul, J. J. (2010). Engaged universities, community based research organizations and third sector science in a global system. Human Organization, 69(4), 307 - 320. Thu

Strauss, C. (1984). Beyond 'Formal' vs. 'Informal' Education: Uses of Psychological Theory in Anthropological Research. Ethos, 12(3):195-222. Leela


WEEK 3 (January 23):  What are we researching (continued) and how?(back to  top)

Social Science Reseach Building (SSRB), Rm. 308, 9:30 am - 12:30 pm

Discussion:    - Continue discussion of definitions of formal and informal learning
                      - Qualitative methods for studying informal learning in situ.

                        Class slides available HERE



Powers of Ten from Heinz Legler on Vimeo.


Chapters 1 and 2 in Dyson, A. H., & Genishi, C. (2005). On the case: Approaches to Language and Literacy Research. New York, New York: Teacher’s College Press. Thu

Fine, G. A. & Sandstrom, K. L. (1988). Participant observation with adolescents. In G. A. Fine & K. L. Sandstrom (Eds.) Knowing Children: Participant Observation with Minors (pp. 59 – 71). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications. Jordan

Read Introduction, Summaries of Expert Meetings, and Conclusions and Recommendations in Lemke, J. et al. (in press). Documenting and Assessing Learning in Informal and Media-Rich Environments: A Report to the MacArthur Foundation. Leela

Read pp. 239 - 251 & pp. 264 - 272 in Vadeboncoeur, J. (2006). Engaging young people: Learning in informal contexts. Review of Research in Education, 30, 239-278. Jordan

WEEK 4 (January 30): First day at KHS; Case study in classrooms. (back to  top)

Discussion:   - First impression of the extension course
                     - Designing a case study: Logic and Methods
                     - What makes a good learning activity

                      Audio fo class discussion available HERE.

Chapters 3, 4 and 5 in Dyson, A. H., & Genishi, C. (2005). On the case: Approaches to Language and Literacy Research. New York, New York: Teacher’s College Press. Kent



There Grows The Neighborhood | Sweet Water Foundation from Sweet Water Foundation on Vimeo.

Visit the Sweet Water DML Competition Website:

WEEK 5 (February 6): Science education & Sociocultural Theory (back to  top)

Discussion:  - Sociocultural theories and science education.
                    - Mediation as a concept for thinking about thinking.
                    - Culture and cognition as mutually constitutive processes.
                    - Comparing impressions: Week 4 vs. Week 5

                      Audio fo class discussion available HERE.

Read :

Lemke, J. (2001). Articulating communities: Sociocultural perspectives on science education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38(3), 296-316. Kent

Listen to:
Learning Science in Informal Environments. A Podcast of the National Academies of Science.

WEEK 6 (February 13): Adolescent Development: Self-identity, morals, and cognition (back to  top)

NOTE: Early Exit Day at KHS

Discussion:    - The intersection of moral development, cognitive developent, and identity formation in adolesence
                      - Relating environmental science to the question of morality, cognition, identity
                      - Comparing impressions: period 1 vs. period 2; projects 1 vs. 2 vs. 3 vs. 4
                      - Thinking ahead: Course Final Project discussion

                        Audio fo class discussion available HERE.

Cole, M., Cole, S. R., Lightfoot, C. (2005). The development of children. New York: New York. Worth Publishers. Selections: Social Foundations of Adolescence (The reorganization of social life); Cognitive and psychological Achievements of Adolescence.

Dobbs, D (2011). The Beautiful Teen Brain. National Geographic Magazine

View associated photography project "Teens" here.

WEEK 7 (February 20): Learning as Action (back to  top)

Discussion:   - How we make meaning with our bodies in interaction with the material world.


Wells, G. (1998). Modes of meaning in a science activity. Linguistics and Education, 10(3), 307–334. Leslie

WEEK 8: February 27: Survey of informal science education research; The question of assessment (back to  top)

Discussion:   - The varieties of informal learning activities
                     - How do we assess informal learning?
                     - How do we design informal learning activities that are "assessable"?

                        Audio fo class discussion available HERE.


Lemke, J. et al. (in press). Documenting and Assessing Learning in Informal and Media-Rich Environments: A Report to the MacArthur Foundation. Di

March 6: Focused Cases: Transformative Communication & Learning Ecologies (back to  top)

Discussion:  - Case example 1: Transformative Communication in project-based science learning


Polman, J., & Pea, R.D. (2007). Transformative communication in project science learning discourse. In R. Horowitz (Ed.), Talking texts: Knowing the world through the evolution of instructional discourse (pp. 297–315). New York: Teachers College Press. Di


WEEK 10: March 13 (back to  top)

Discussion:    - Final Course Projects
                       - Closing Impressions.
                       - Proposals for how to develop the Extension course the following quarter and beyond.


Falk, J.H. (2005). Free-choice environmental learning: framing the discussion. Environmental Education Research, 11, 265-280.





Course Materials 
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