Three or four times a day, a banana shows up at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, N.J., and complains about a pain in its side, reports the Associated Press. And that means it’s time for some visiting kids to dress up like surgeons and scrub nurses, take a scalpel, and go to work. What’s happening is that kids are learning about science and enjoying it. To education experts, this is "informal" or "free-choice" science learning, which means it’s happening outside of school. The National Academies, a congressionally chartered nonprofit group that advises the federal government, this summer will release a report on what’s known about the learning of science in such informal settings, which include not only museums but also such places as zoos and aquariums. The report comes as experts bemoan a lack of scientific education and literacy among Americans. They warn of a shortfall in homegrown engineers and scientists to keep the nation competitive, a general work force ill-equipped to function in an increasingly high-tech workplace, and a citizenry struggling to grasp complex public issues such as stem-cell research. While that has led to calls for changes in schools, science museums also can play a huge role in teaching and promoting science to both children and adults, expert say…

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