This project is exploring possibilities in promoting learning activities among urban families in the informal setting of their homes. The investigation is in the context of energy management. The PIs are building a tablet-based simulation and supporting resource materials that are being integrated with smart programmable thermostats in the homes of participating families. The software is designed to promote curiosity about scientific issues related to home energy management. The PIs are following the ensuing interactions of the family -- their discussions with each other and their interactions (individual and joint) around the thermostat and the tablet-based software -- to understand family behavior around energy management and the opportunities for promoting learning activities, the challenges and possibilities of promoting science learning around energy management as a family activity, how to design software for family education around energy management and the ensuing learning, and what the implications are for promoting family education in other disciplinary domains.
Informal learning, especially learning that happens outside of formal institutions, is understudied. But learning happens regularly in the everyday contexts in which people live. Understanding better the possibilities for more systematically promoting learning in such environments will open up new ways of helping people of all ages learn science relevant to their lives and come to appreciate the role science plays in the world around us. Focusing the effort specifically on energy management issues may also lead to more sustainable energy use behaviors and greater understanding of local and global energy and climate challenges, opening the way for more of the citizenry to be informed about and become involved in policy considerations and debates.