This Education Week article about a new report put out by the the National Research Council discusses recent findings that informal science activities—such as visiting a museum, watching TV shows, and even conversations with family members—have the potential to improve students' learning and appreciation of science.
Although it is difficult to assess how much accurate information students do pick up from informal science activities, the researchers broke up the study into six categories:
They include building motivation to learn about the natural world; understanding scientific arguments, concepts, models, and facts; manipulating, testing, exploring, and questioning; understanding the nature of scientific knowledge, institutions, and processes; using scientific language and tools and working with one another; and thinking of themselves as science learners who can contribute to the field.
One point I found interesting was that educational TV shows were much more effective at conveying information about science than digital devices, games, or radio, although one science education expert said that conclusion makes sense, since research on those mediums is fairly new. He also said that it was hard to measure the "spark" that occurs when a student comes to a new understanding of what science is and what it is to think scientifically, which is the ultimate goal of many of these programs.
In my opinion, although it may be difficult to pinpoint, the more ways there are to generate that spark, and the more students are exposed to those opportunities—both in and out of school—the better.