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    This issue, we return to the topic of "attention," which Beverly Serrell addressed in the June newsletter, this time from the point of view of Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Jacksonville State University Stephen Bitgood, in a Visitor Studies Association-commissioned article called “An Attention-Value Model of Museum Visitors”. Stephen centers his model around five key questions: What is “visitor attention”? To what do visitors pay attention while viewing exhibitions? Why do visitors attend? What are the processes and mechanisms that explain the phenomena associated with attention? What factors interfere with paying attention? He goes on to explain what he calls the “visitor attention continuum,” which includes the stages of “capture,” “focus,” and “engagement."

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  • 11/30/10--14:33: Science Festivals
  • Over 100 science and technology festivals were celebrated this year around the world. While the concept is relatively new in the US, there were over a dozen festivals held here in 2010, and that number will double in 2011. Each science festival is unique, but all grew from the conviction that science and technology deserve their place on the cultural stage. Fueling this growth from behind the scenes is the National Science Foundation-funded Science Festival Alliance (DRL-0840333).
    The Science Festival Alliance formed in 2009 at an inflection point in the evolution of science festivals in the US. The Alliance is a consortium dedicated to fostering more and better science festivals throughout the country, and is the product of four founding institutions: the University of California, San Diego; the MIT Museum; the University of California, San Francisco; and the Franklin Institute. Over the past year the Alliance has created an online clearinghouse for festival information, conducted multi-site evaluation of the festival format, arranged for peer-to-peer mentoring of new festival efforts, and worked with national collaborators looking for a strategic approach to festival involvement.

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    Informal science education as we know it today didn’t begin from national mandates, the continuation of long-standing practices, or a coordinated effort of a large group. It arose at various places and times from the enthusiasms of individuals and small groups wanting to share a subject they loved and respected. Each science radio program, museum, community program, aquarium, and website has its unique origin story. Then partnerships were formed, professional organizations assembled, funders emerged, and popular practices became traditions. Those traditions became policies, often without the kind of formal adoption and review one sees in formal education or other cultural schemes. 

    Informal Science Education Policy: Issues and Opportunities describes, various policies, internal and external, written and implicit, which now encourage or constrain informal science education. The issues discussed in this CAISE Inquiry Group report are intended to spark conversation and awaken us to the policy contexts around us.

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  • 02/18/11--11:57: CAISE Initiatives
  • The Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) works to strengthen and connect the informal science education (ISE) community by catalyzing conversation and collaboration across the sectors of the ISE field—including film and broadcast media, science centers and museums, zoos and aquariums, botanical gardens and nature centers, digital media and gaming, science journalism, and youth, community, and after-school programs. CAISE focuses its work on supporting current and future Principal Investigators of National Science Foundation-funded projects in the interest of improving practice, documenting impact and communicating the contributions of informal science education.

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  • 03/08/11--09:02: Making Stuff
  • Making Stuff is a four-part NOVA television series that highlights current advances in the field of materials science. The series showcases the importance of materials science through a historical perspective and demonstrates how this field is shaping the future. Major funding for Making Stuff was provided by the National Science Foundation (DRL-0610307) with additional funding from the Department of Energy and American Elements, and the cooperation of the Materials Research Society.

    Beyond the broadcast, Making Stuff includes a robust outreach campaign with partners in museums, schools, universities, labs, and businesses across the country. These partners have united to form local and regional coalitions, creating opportunities for youth, families, educators, and engineers and scientists to engage in a range of educational activities that explore various aspects of materials science, widening the exposure to a field that affects all of modern society.


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  • 03/28/11--08:46: Connecting Cultures
  • The Latino population is one of the fastest growing in the U.S., but one of the most critical challenges facing educators is how to engage this audience in informal science education. Environment for the Americas (EFTA), in partnership with the National Park Service and Colorado State University, is working to identify the barriers to Latino participation and to provide the tools educators need to better connect with this audience.

    To accomplish these goals, EFTA surveyed 1,000 Latino community members at six sites across the U.S. Business owners, parents, teachers, and other adults 18 years old and up provided details about their home countries, family size, income, ability to pay for programs, and much more.  Among the survey findings is that respondents expressed a very high interest in nature-based, informal science education programs and placed a high value on education programs about the environment. However, the survey also revealed that most of these respondents were unaware of the programs available at our nation's parks, refuges, and other natural areas.

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  • 05/04/11--10:01: EARTH The Operators Manual
  • EARTH: The Operators’ Manual(ETOM), is a new approach to climate change education, deploying broadcast television, web resources and on-site outreach at science centers and other venues nationwide. ETOM, supported by funding from the National Science Foundation(DRL-0917564),presents an objective, accessible assessment of the Earth’s climate challenges and explores the possibilities for renewable energy; it is designed to leave viewers and project participants informed, energized and optimistic.

    ETOM premiered a one-hour PBS special in April, 2011. Throughout the program (the first of three planned broadcasts), Penn State geologist Richard Alley—contributor to the United Nations panel on climate change and former oil company staffer—leads the audience on a high-definition film trip around the globe. The program gives viewers a thorough grounding in Earth’s climate history and an overview of current dilemmas, but its main message is an upbeat assessment of viable options for sustainable energy.

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  • 06/07/11--07:57: Science Firsthand
  • In 2005, First Hand Learning, Inc., partnered with the St. Louis Science Center, the National Wildlife Federation, and eNature to create a unique collaborative program that enables young people to participate in long-term scientific investigations in life, earth and physical sciences, and technology. Supported by funding from the National Science Foundation (DRL-0452246), Science Firsthand has provided hundreds of urban, underserved youth (10 – 15 year olds) with opportunities to explore the world around them in afterschool settings. Adult mentors have been weekly co-investigators, participating in a wide range of youth-directed explorations: comparing snow samples under microscopes; dismantling simple appliances; blowing bubbles; dissecting root systems; and collecting insects. Through a carefully designed support system, this project has made individual and small group mentoring the catalyst for youth doing science in afterschool, community-based settings including museums, community centers, churches, and Boys & Girls Clubs in Buffalo, NY, St. Louis, MO, and Albuquerque, NM.

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    NSF's Informal Science Education program supports innovation in "anywhere, anytime, lifelong learning," through investments in research, development, infrastructure, and capacity-building for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning outside of formal school settings. The NSF ISE program is one of several grant programs in NSF's Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL). 

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  • 09/16/11--07:58: HowToSmile
  • How to SmileFunded by the National Science Foundation, is the informal education pathway of the National Science Digital Library (NSDL). Hosted by the University of California, Berkeley Lawrence Hall of Science in partnership with science museums and the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), the website is an online collection of thousands of hands-on interactive science and math activities designed especially for those who teach school-aged kids in non-classroom settings.

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    The Golden Gate Bridge Exhibit Model

    The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District is the recipient of a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF #0840185) to establish a permanent outdoor exhibition in the south visitor area at the San Francisco end of the Bridge. The exhibits will explain the engineering and construction of the Bridge. Included within the scope of the project is a conference on the theme of using civil engineering works as educational opportunities for the public, titled “Public Works for Public Learning,” to be held June 20-22, 2012.

    Hosted by the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, the conference will present the process and outcomes of the Golden Gate Bridge project, and showcase other examples of both large and small visitor-serving programs, both international and domestic.  The keynote speaker will be G. Wayne Clough, the 12th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.  The conference will begin with an evening reception on June 20, and be followed by full days of presentations on June 21 and 22, including a field trip to the Bridge itself.  For more information and to register for the conference, please visit

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  • 02/01/12--12:37: Peep and the Big Wide World
  • Peep and the Big Wide World

    A Bird’s Eye View of Preschool Science

    How does a simple yellow circle with stick legs become an irresistible television character?  How can a “big wide world” that encompasses not much more than a pond, a bush, and a tin can, be so endlessly fascinating?  And how does a television series for children make its adult viewers laugh out loud?  The answer is the magic, wit, and wry humor of Peep and the Big Wide World, a multi-award-winning public television series teaching science to preschool children.  Funded since 2004 by the National Science Foundation, the main character (Peep) is a curious and newly hatched chick who, with his friends, Quack (an irascible blue duck) and Chirp (a red robin), explores a child-sized world of wonder, adventure, and mystery.  Along the way they learn basic science and math concepts, including the nature of the moon, shadows, water, bridges, levers, patterns, balance, and much more.

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    Art as a Way of Knowing Conference
    Still from Magnetic Movie by the artist duo Semiconductor Films, UK, participants in the Art as a Way of Knowing conference


    In March 2011, the Exploratorium hosted a conference called Art as a Way of Knowing. The conference brought together some 125 leading international thinkers—representing work in education, art and science museums, contemporary art, and interdisciplinary research. Participants gathered for two days of presentations, discussions, performances, and roundtable conversations about art as a method of inquiry and way of knowing. A report on the conference will be issued this month, and can be downloaded at

    A starting point for the conference was to move beyond the discussion about similarities, differences, or complementarities between art and science. Instead, we wanted to know how the arts expand our engagement and understanding of the natural and social worlds. In particular, we were interested in the implications of this history and practice for the field of public engagement with science.

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    The 2012 NSF ISE Program PI Meeting took place March 14-16 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. The meeting offered ample opportunities for professional networking, connecting with NSF Program Officers, learning about updates on the ISE Program, and engaging in strategic conversations about emerging themes and issues from workshops and convenings of Principal Investigators leading up to the meeting.

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  • 04/19/12--06:58: Trail of Time
  • Trail of TimeFunded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Trail of Time (ToT) is a three-mile-long and fully accessible, interpretive walking timeline trail located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Fifteen years in the making by the Grand Canyon National Park, University of New Mexico, and Arizona State University, the ToT features bronze markers scaled such that each long step (1 meter) on the trail represents one million years of the 4.56 billion-year-age of the Earth.  Those who walk the entire trail get a visceral feel for the age of the Earth and how human timescales interface with geologic time.

    Along the ToT, the bronze markers and exhibits convey wayside geologic information to help the Canyon’s 5 million annual visitors uncover stories encoded by rocks and the Grand Canyon landscape.  The project's goal is to help visitors frame their inquiry, foster a greater passion for science and geology, and gain an understanding of geologic time and key processes of the regions geologic evolution. The ToT aims to stimulate questions like, “How did something the size of the Colorado River (way down at the Canyon’s bottom) carve a 10-mile-wide and 1-mile-deep canyon?” and “How long did it take the Grand Canyon to form and how old are the rocks in the Canyon’s walls?”

    Trail of Time

    From the “TODAY” marker near Yavapai Museum, to Grand Canyon’s oldest rock, at the east end of the Grand Canyon village is a 1.1-mile-long (1,840 meters) walk along the timeline trail that covers 1.84 billion years. Amazingly, it’s another 1.7 miles (2,720 meters) along the timeline to the 4.56-billion-year-old age of the Earth, near Maricopa Point. After walking these distances visitors are heard saying: “It’s a long time, the Earth is really old!” or “I knew that the oldest rock was 1.8 billion years old, but you don’t really get a grasp of how much that is until you’ve walked 1.8 billion years!”

    In addition to building place-based wayfinding exhibits and activities for public audiences, the ToT team held an NSF-funded workshop for professional stakeholders who met to explore the topic of Innovations in Geoscience Education in the National Park System. Numerous ideas were formulated that build on the ToT exhibition’s interpretation themes of geologic time and earth processes that have the potential to impact interpretation at other sites within the National Park Service system. Ideas that emerged included construction of other Time Trails specific to the age of rocks at different parks and a “passport” system to encourage regional and national geoscience education integration across the National Park System.

    The ToT effort involved informal science education research and evaluation to contribute to our knowledge about how public audiences come to understand geologic time and methodologies for outdoor interpretation that increase interest and knowledge.

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    Advancing Informal STEM Learning is a new program name for the Informal Science Education Program at the National Science Foundation. The name of the program has changed from Informal Science Education (ISE) to Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL). AISL better emphasizes the priorities of the solicitation and the changes at NSF.

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    Outreach and Educational Support for Ongoing Research at Columbia Glacier Alaska

    Scientist Principal Investigator (PI): Tad Pfeffer – Professor, University of Colorado-Boulder, and Fellow, Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research

    Science research focus: Glacier dynamics

    ISE Partner: National Geographic photographer (Jim Balog)

    Type: Prototype of a time-lapse photographic imagery system plus a website with time-lapse photography and video of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier to illustrate impacts of sea level rise and climate change on glaciers.
    Interview with Tad

    Why did you pursue this ISE project? Tad has been taking high-quality, time-lapse photographic images since 1970s. He realized they could be used to show the public dramatic changes in landscapes. “I got involved in ISE to try to break out of what I perceived to be a closed system where scientists were working essentially for other scientists.”

    How was your ISE collaboration formed? Tad called National Geographic photographer Jim Balog, whom he heard was interested in photographing glaciers, and said, “I got this great project in Alaska.” They discussed ways to represent large-scale landscape changes with multiple time-lapse cameras. While Tad was imagining a camera here and there, Jim applied his experience and contacts in media to bring a much larger outreach vision to the project. Eventually, their team designed the prototype system, established cameras all over the Arctic, developed the Extreme Ice Survey website, and expanded to other media products include a coffee-table book, a TED talk, a NOVA program (Extreme Ice), and an award-winning movie (Chasing Ice) about their efforts. Their team continues to explore other ways time-lapse imagery can be used to capture and educate the public on critical spatial changes in our natural world.

    What challenges did you face? Tad feels that scientists are often viewed as smart but fairly inarticulate spokespersons, and thus media-makers often end up representing and testifying on important scientific issues. For example, the NOVA program Extreme Ice primarily focused on Jim’s experience and perspective as a photographer, which Tad felt limited the program’s science content. Tad acknowledged every science media production has “constant tension between scientific completeness and accuracy on the one hand and telling a simple, complete, and compelling story on the other.” He has learned when to let go of the details and when to stand his ground if important content is being compromised.

    What recommendations do you have? While scientists maintain demanding schedules (Tad’s includes participation on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), Tad believes it is critical for these researchers to make time to share their work and findings with diverse audiences. He recommends they advocate for larger roles as storytellers in these outreach efforts, sharpening and expanding their skills as necessary.

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    CAISE PI Jamie Bell

    CAISE is pleased to announce that it has received (U.S.) National Science Foundation (NSF) funding for another three years. CAISE was established in 2007 as a cooperative agreement between the NSF Informal Science Education (ISE) program and four partner institutions—the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), the Visitor Studies Association (VSA), the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments (UPCLOSE), and Oregon State University (OSU)—to create a resource center to strengthen and advance the field of informal science education.

    For the past five years CAISE's charge has been to catalyze connections across field sectors, facilitate the formation of networks, build and integrate infrastructure, and generate and disseminate resources to enhance the relevance, value, and impacts of informal science education. As CAISE enters a new phase of development and implementation, project partners, staff, and stakeholders will continue to build on these roles while expanding CAISE's audiences. STEM researchers, education and public outreach officers involved in or partnering with informal STEM learning projects, researchers and practitioners working to identify grand challenges and develop a research agenda that is informed by, and informs, informal science education practice, and the evaluation community, which is seeking to build capacity in evaluating informal science education efforts, are all audiences that CAISE will seek to serve over the next three years.

    CAISE will also continue to develop resources that inform the newly renamed Advancing Informal Science Learning (AISL, formerly ISE) program solicitations and proposal development; conduct convenings and related activities to explore and strengthen NSF investments in informal STEM learning; bring together stakeholders to think about and discuss current, important topics in the field; and convene NSF AISL-funded projects for the biennial Principal Investigator meeting in 2014. CAISE resources that have been developed over the past two years: the ISE Evidence Wiki, the InformalCommons, and the Principal Investigator’s Guide to Managing Evaluation, will continue to be improved and enhanced with input and feedback from ongoing evaluation and  the community.

    The CAISE core team going forward includes Principal Investigator (PI) and Project Director Jamie Bell, with Co-Principal Investigators Kevin Crowley, Associate Professor in the University of Pittsburgh School of Education and Director of UPCLOSE; Kirsten Ellenbogen, Senior Director of Lifelong Learning at the Science Museum of Minnesota; John Falk, Sea Grant Professor of Free-Choice Learning at Oregon State University; and Sue Ellen McCann, Executive Producer at KQED, San Francisco; Web Strategist Trevor Nesbit; and Program Manager Kalie Sacco. CAISE also benefits from a group of active senior advisors who represent a cross section of the informal science education field, and the ongoing evaluation feedback from Inverness Research Inc. As it has from the beginning, CAISE will plan, develop, and implement its work in close cooperation with program officers in the AISL Lifelong Learning Cluster at NSF and in dialogue with Principal Investigators, Co-Principal Investigators and program staff from projects in the ISE and AISL portfolios.

    Please visit for regular updates and the latest CAISE newsletter.

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  • 07/02/12--11:12: Hawaii Roots of Fire
  • Hawaii: Roots of Fire

    Scientist Principal Investigator (PI):Don DePaolo, Professor, University of California, Berkeley Professor; Energy and Environmental Science Associate Director, Earth Science Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and) Director, Center for Isotope Geochemistry

    Science research focus: Using naturally occurring isotopes to explore geochemistry questions such as origin of the deep-source Hawaiian plume.

    ISE Partner: Film directors (Doug Prose and Diane LaMacchia, Earth Image Foundation)

    Interview with Don

    Why did you pursue this ISE project? Don felt broader outreach to the public is something that scientists need to do. Furthermore, he believed his research provides the foundation of a strong story that would be valuable to share with public audiences. Finally, he reported the experience was great fun.

    How was your ISE collaboration formed? Doug and Diane were already directing a film on scientific drilling and proposed the idea to expand the story about the Hawaiian drilling project that Don was co-leading. He and his collaborator agreed. Through this project, Don formed a strong, functional, and enjoyable partnership with Doug and Diane, and this team has continue to work together on other science education media products, including working together on a 3D film production that included Don traveling to Antarctica under the “artist and writer” category.

    What challenges did you face? Like other PIs, Don noted that their support did not cover all costs of the documentary production, and he and others had to cobble together monies from various sources to complete the project. Don recalled that he did not initially like the focus on elements beyond the science research—such as links to daily life, the heroic view of the scientist, and stunning views of Hawaii—however, he grew to appreciate the need for these elements to help public audiences identify with the research story. Don also gained a deeper understanding of the documentary process, including the challenge of being interviewed on camera—talking in an articulate, straightforward, and enthusiastic way for each and every take.

    What recommendations do you have? Don reported that this production was a tremendous learning experience. He noted that scientists are often focused on the details and challenges of their research and that working on an ISE project provides an opportunity to sit back and reflect on their accomplishments and impacts on society.

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