Mathematics in Informal Learning Environments: A Summary of the Literature
Research on mathematical reasoning and learning has long been a central part of the classroom and formal education literature (e.g., National Research Council, 2001, 2005). However, much less attention has been paid to how children and adults engage with and learn about math outside of school, including everyday settings and designed informal learning environments, such as interactive math exhibits in science centers. With the growing recognition of the importance of informal STEM education (National Research Council, 2009, 2015), researchers, educators, and policymakers are paying more attention to how these experiences might support mathematical thinking and learning and contribute to the broader goal of ensuring healthy, sustainable, economically vibrant communities in this increasingly STEM-rich world. To support these efforts, we conducted a literature review of research on mathematical thinking and learning outside the classroom, in everyday settings and designed informal learning environments. This work was part of the NSF-funded Math in the Making project, led by TERC and the Institute for Learning Innovation and designed to advance researchers’ and educators’ understanding of how to highlight and enhance the mathematics in making experiences. Recognizing that the successful integration of mathematics and making requires an understanding of how individuals engage with math in these informal learning environments, we gathered and synthesized the informal mathematics education literature, with the hope that findings would support the Math in the Making project and inform the work of mathematics researchers and educators more broadly.