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    The St. Louis Science Center, in collaboration with the City College of New York and the Science Museum of Minnesota, are combining their considerable expertise with youth programs to create new opportunities for after-school STEM learning.

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    What can professional online communities contribute to learning, networking, and capacity building? How do we know that our online resources have impact on the field? And what insights are being gleaned from work so far of six NSF-funded professional development web sites? Those were among the questions explored during the May 2008 meeting of a CAISE Inquiry Group on Assessing Impacts of Informal Science Education (ISE) Professional Online Communities. UPCLOSE, the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments, meeting organizer and host, has now documented the discussions in a rich website complete with slide presentations and interviews, available here.

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  • 05/22/09--12:25: ExhibitFiles
  • ExhibitFiles website

    ExhibitFiles is a community website for people who design and develop museum exhibitions. A project of the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), the site was designed by multimedia company Ideum with the advice of exhibition designer Kathleen McLean and funding from the National Science Foundation (#0540261). The project's goal was to enable science exhibition developers to more readily learn from the work of others and to encourage them to open their own work to critical review.

    The concept is simple: Anyone interested in exhibition development can join ExhibitFiles. Members can create profiles, post case studies of exhibitions they have helped to develop and reviews of exhibitions they have visited, comment on others' posts, tag and "favorite" posts, and contact others through the site.

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  • 07/15/09--13:23: NestWatch
  • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, is engaging thousands of citizens in gathering data about nesting birds—helping researchers to better understand strategies birds use to reproduce successfully while building skills and understanding of the process of science and bird biology.

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    During the past two decades, an increasing number of informal science education projects have involved the public directly in the multifaceted and iterative processes of scientific research--covering topics ranging from acid rain to backyard birds. Such projects contribute to awareness and understanding of key scientific concepts and excel in building interest in scientific activities and developing science-related skills, the evidence suggests. That's the conclusion of a CAISE Inquiry Group that has just completed a study of Public Participation in Scientific Research (PPSR) programs, often called "citizen science."

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    In January 2007, with support from NSF, the Self Reliance Foundation (SRF) launched ConCiencia, the first Spanish-language science and health news service in the United States. ConCiencia/Hispanic Science Newswire now disseminates five to six original, research-based news stories each week to over 150 Spanish-language newspapers throughout the United States and in Latin America. ConCiencia’s two full-time journalists, Karina Flores (native of Peru) and Isabel Morales (native of Colombia), write original science news stories, typically 500-600 words in length and accompanied by photos or graphics. They contact original news sources, such as research scientists, and engage readers by focusing on science topics that are of great interest and relevance to Hispanics. In a recent week, ConCiencia stories profiled Cesar Ocampo, a Colombian astronaut; discussed the use of natural dyes to kill harmful bacteria; presented recent research on anthrax; discussed the aerodynamics of insect flight; and told about how Robert Carmoga, a musician from Colombia, uses music to present science at Maloka, the largest science center in Colombia.

    SRF developed ConCiencia after surveying U.S. Spanish-language newspapers and radio and finding few science stories. Hispanics, who are already 15% of the U.S. population, make up less than 2% of the nation’s STEM workforce.

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    Latinos are the largest ethnic/racial minority group in the United States, but Latino students score lower than national averages on math and science achievement tests, enroll at lower levels, and are underrepresented in undergraduate and graduate science and engineering programs. How to increase participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) among young Latinos was the subject of an NSF-funded conference held earlier this year by the Self Reliance Foundation (SRF).

    Expanding Informal Science Education to Latinos, held March 26-29, 2009, in Albuquerque, New Mexico (#0742157), was attended by more than 100 participants from informal science and science research institutions and representatives of Hispanic organizations, media, and educational programs. Together, they helped to lay groundwork for the development of strategic partnerships for involving Latino audiences in informal science learning.

    Among these partnerships is the Hispanic STEM Initiative, which will be launched September 14 in Washington, D.C. by the National Association for Hispanic Education (NAHE). Mike Acosta, a member of the Initiative's advisory committee and national president of the Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists, points to the "urgent importance" of this initiative, "given that less than 2% of the STEM workforce is Hispanic and almost 20% of the country's youth population is Hispanic."

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  • 10/08/09--12:26: CAISE Fellows 2008-09
  • The CAISE Fellows Program aims to broaden participation by and build capacity of professionals in informal science education (ISE) who are from underrepresented groups and underrepresented regions of the United States. During 2008-2009, the program was structured around mentoring and networking events that inform participants about grant proposal writing, grant administration, NSF and its ISE Program, and the development of innovative ISE programs and services.

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    How can informal science institutions respond to major and rapid changes in science and technology? The Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network, NISE Net, is a multi-year effort to do just that, by bringing to bear the resources and ingenuity of a large and growing network of science centers, museums, and other partners working with support from the National Science Foundation (#0532536) to increase public awareness and knowledge of nanoscale science and technology and engagement with related issues. In this issue, Larry Bell of the Museum of Science, Boston, Principal Investigator of NISE Net, recaps highlights of the network's recent annual meeting and offers insights about science communication relevant for others in informal science education.—WP

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    Nanotechnology: The Power of Small is a three-part television series that provides its audiences with an opportunity to examine the implications of nanotechnology for privacy, the environment, and human health. The series, which was produced with funding from the NSF Informal Science Education program (#0452371), began airing during NanoDays 2008, a week of community-based educational outreach programs about nanotechnology organized by the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net).

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    Informal Scince Education Summit

    Washington, D.C. March 3-5, 2010

    The ISE Summit 2010 will bring together leaders from across the community to build a compelling picture of informal science education today--from the richly complex infrastructure that supports science learning outside of school, and policies that advance and limit those opportunities, to the nature of the learning that results in diverse settings across the lifespan.

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  • 10/28/09--07:08: Astronomy from the Ground Up
  • Astronomy from the Ground Up (AFGU) provides informal science educators at science and nature centers, museums, and other informal education venues with new ways to communicate astronomy content to their visitors. AFGU is a growing community of educators actively enhancing their capacity to address astronomy topics. The site was developed by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in collaboration with the Association of Science-Technology Centers and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, with funding from the National Science Foundation (#0451933).

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    Time and attention are fundamental to informal science learning. Beverly Serrell, evaluator and veteran observer of science centers and museums, public gardens, and aquariums, has analyzed studies of visitor behavior in more than 100 exhibitions. In an article titled "Paying More Attention to Paying Attention," she offers observations about the characteristics of what she calls “thoroughly used exhibitions.” As she notes, "Time spent paying attention is a prerequisite for learning, and studies have shown a positive relationship between the amount of time spent in an exhibition and learning (Borun et al., 1998)." Her observations are suggestive not only for designers of place-based science learning experiences, but for those who study learning across the informal science education field.

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    Informal science education is often seen as secondary or supplementary to formal education - even though the vast majority of our waking lives are spent outside of school. But "in fact, formal-informal collaborations fall exactly within the core activities of both schools and informal learning organizations, including museums, youth programs, and libraries." That's the conclusion of a CAISE Inquiry Group that recently completed its study of collaborations between formal and informal science education institutions. By taking advantage of "the particular affordances and strengths of different institutional types," the authors suggest, formal-informal collaborations can "meet shared goals of making science learning more accessible and compelling to young people in our communities."

    Led by Bronwyn Bevan of the Center for Informal Learning and Schools, the CAISE Inquiry Group began work during a July 2008 ISE Summit organized by CAISE. Their examination of what the authors call "the hybrid nature of formal-informal collaborations" draws on relevant theoretical perspectives and a series of case studies.

    Full Report (PDF 2.5MB)  |  Executive Summary (PDF 303KB)

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    People with disabilities all too often face barriers to full inclusion in informal science learning. In a world where knowledge of science and technology is critical to informed decision-making and a range of employment opportunities, exclusion from science learning can prevent full participation in society.

    Inclusion, Disabilities, and Informal Science Learning, a report by the CAISE Access Inquiry Group, sets forth a framework for changing this inequity. The group's investigations began in 2008, led by Christine Reich of the Museum of Science, Boston, in collaboration with Ellen Rubin (consultant and one-time advisor to the NSF-funded Accessible Museum Practices Program), Jeremy Price (formerly of CAST and the WGBH National Center for Accessible Media), and Mary Ann Steiner (now of the University of Pittsburgh, formerly head of the Youth Science Center at the Science Museum of Minnesota).

    The report offers a theoretical framework for thinking about inclusion of people with disabilities in informal science education (ISE), then reviews current practice in museums (broadly defined), in media and technology, and in youth and community programs. While "investigations located a number of projects, initiatives, and organizations that have sought greater inclusion of people with disabilities in ISE," the report concludes, "these efforts are still the exception and not the rule." At the same time, the report points to positive examples of inclusive ISE practices and programs and identifies opportunities for systemic change.

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    Nearly 450 people from across the informal science education field gathered in Washington, D.C., March 3-5, for the ISE Summit 2010. The program included a keynote address by Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of NOVA scienceNOW, and presentations by officials from federal agencies and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. There were reports from CAISE Inquiry Groups and other NSF-funded projects that are addressing issues critical to society and to the ISE field. And there were opportunities for robust discussion and emergence of proposals for future collaborative work. Extensive documentation captures the spirit and substance of the event and has been prepared as a resource for those who participated and others in the field.


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  • 04/12/10--15:47: Wild Music
  • The traveling exhibition Wild Music: Sounds & Songs of Life resulted from a partnership among the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), the Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM), and the Music Research Institute at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, with funding from NSF (DRL-0407373). An exploration of the biological origins of the musical instinct, the exhibition began its national tour in 2007.

    It was important to the Wild Music team that an exhibition about the deep roots and universality of music be broadly accessible and offer a rich and positive sonic experience. Planning an exhibition about music and sound would be a challenge, they knew. But from the beginning, they approached this as an opportunity—in particular, an opportunity to enrich the experience for visitors who are blind or have low vision.

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    NSFThe National Science Foundation (NSF) issued a new solicitation May 21 for grant applications under its Informal Science Education (ISE) program. The NSF ISE program supports "innovation in anywhere, anytime, lifelong learning, through investments in research, development, infrastructure, and capacity-building for STEM learning outside formal school settings." It is part of NSF's Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings. The division's grant programs "are central to NSF’s strategic goals of Learning and Discovery, helping to cultivate a world-class, broadly inclusive STEM workforce, expanding the scientific literacy of all citizens, and promoting research that advances the frontiers of knowledge."

    NSF ISE solicitation  |  FAQs about the solicitation  |  Current grants

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    NSF's Informal Science Education (ISE) program is one of several grant programs in the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL). DRL is part of the Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR), which is also responsible for graduate and undergraduate education. NSF encourages those interested in the ISE grant program to become familiar with other DRL grant programs, which may also apply to their work.  


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  • 06/02/10--08:54: Listen
  • Listen: Making Sense of Sound was a project of the Exploratorium that made the act of attentive listening the primary entry point for interacting with a wide variety of natural and technological phenomena. Funded in 2003 by the National Science Foundation (DRL-0307925), the project departed from the San Francisco museum's traditional focus on the physics and physiology of sound. Instead, it made the information and aesthetic pleasure derived from engaging in attentive listening a new lens through which exhibit components and activities were realized. In addition to an exhibition and public programs, the project also resulted in a Listening traveling exhibition that is part of the Exploratorium's EXNET (Exploratorium Network for Exhibit-based Teaching) collection and a web site that includes listening activities and short online videos developed collaboratively with a cadre of "Listening Guides."

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    A June 2010 report from the Exploratorium's Learning and Youth Research and Evaluation Center (LYREC) highlights trends, questions, and findings related to out-of-school-time science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (OST STEM). Based on an October 2009 meeting, the report aims "to inform the work of OST educators, researchers, and funders." The report notes that "out-of-school-time programs such as summer camps,afterschool programs and Saturday classes provide students with important opportunities to "spark, sustain, and deepen their interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)"; develop and expand their understanding of STEM"; and "advance an awareness of and commitment to pursuing academic, career, and lifelong pathways in STEM-related fields."

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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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  • 07/02/12--11:36: Beyond the Edge of the Sea
  • Beyond the Edge of the Sea: Diversity of Life in the Ocean Wilderness

    Scientist Principal Investigator (PI):Cindy Van Dover, Duke University professor and U.S. Navy-qualified pilot of the deep-diving submersible, Alvin

    Science research focus: Chemosynthetic ecosystems, including deep-sea vents

    ISE Partner: Artist (Karen Jacobsen) plus local museum (Muscarelle Museum of the College of William and Mary)

    Description:Traveling art exhibit on deep-sea ecosystems and biota (also related essays, naturalist guide, video podcast, docent training, web content)


    Interview with Cindy

    Cindy wanted the public to care about deep-sea environments (especially given future resource extraction plans), and she understood that the public doesn’t care about what they don’t know. She has found it to be “great fun to see the [deep-sea-vent] world through an artist’s eye.” She is quite committed to scientist-artist collaborations and has scheduled future cruises with Karen and other artists.

    How was your ISE collaboration formed? Karen approached Cindy with a request to join a research cruise as an artist, and Cindy agreed, recalling a successful partnership between a fellow scientist and a poet who also participated on research cruises. Together, Cindy and Karen produced a body of work, gained the support of a local museum, and successfully pitched the idea of a traveling art exhibit on deep-sea ecosystems to the NSF Communicating Research to Public Audiences program.

    What challenges did you face? As PI, Cindy had to wear many different, often unfamiliar, hats. She has had to become familiar with the language of informal science education, lead marketing efforts, identify venues for their exhibit, and manage complex transportation logistics for national and international locations. She has also spent a considerable amount of time seeking additional funds to maintain and expand this project.

    What recommendations do you have? Cindy emphasizes the importance of identifying appropriate ISE partners and notes that her project is quite successful because she has such a great collaboration with Karen. She also highlights the value of having a large ISE partner who can support the dissemination of project products.

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  • 07/02/12--12:27: Out on a Limb
  • Out on a Limb

    Scientist Principal Investigator (PI):Meg Lowman – Director, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences/Nature Research Center Director (formerly New College of Florida professor)

    Science research focus: Tree canopy ecology

    ISE Partner: Orlando Science Center exhibit designer plus local artists

    Description:Traveling forest diorama exhibit, computer kiosk, and mini-canopy-walkway on forest canopy ecosystems

    Interview with Meg

    Why did you pursue this ISE project? Meg has always integrated outreach into her ecological research, including writing popular books about her work and life high in the tree canopy. She believes broad dissemination of research findings is critical to addressing our current environmental challenges. She has found free-choice-learning experiences through ISE to be a particularly valuable way to engage public audiences in science research because it provides some “sugar with the medicine.” She will continue to support this project, as the exhibit becomes part of the new Nature Research Center.

    How was your ISE collaboration formed? Through her work at Selby Botanical Garden, Meg knew exhibit designers and artists who could help her plan and develop her NSF-funded diorama exhibit. She also involved her undergraduate students in hosting outreach events with the exhibit, even making this outreach part of the undergraduate curriculum.

    What challenges did you face? Like many other Communicating Research to Public Audience PIs, Meg immersed herself in project planning and implementation, including writing the grant, overseeing design of exhibit elements, leading marketing and distribution, and even driving the exhibit to various venues. She notes it was very challenging juggling this work with her significant research, teaching, and administrative load.

    What recommendations do you have? Meg credits the project’s success with the team’s out-of-the-box thinking and grassroots approach (e.g., integrating work into an undergraduate course). In addition to requiring a compelling topic, Meg emphasizes that you must get your ISE partner excited about the science research—ideally taking them into the field as she has done at her Amazon site. She also notes that working with ISE partners can become complicated, and you must be fully committed to the project (sometimes going above and beyond the call of duty).

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    The ZAARC project is investigating how action research efforts can be implemented in informal science settings (particularly zoos and aquariums) and in what ways it can impact both individual practitioners and institutions. ZAARC (funded by NSF, DRL-1114355) is a collaborative effort of Andee Rubin and Tracey Wright at TERC (Technical Education Research Centers, a non-profit educational R&D organization in Cambridge, Massachusetts), John Falk at Oregon State University (OSU), educators from six zoos and aquaria, and evaluator Cindy Char.

    Participants in the ZAARC project at their first Institute at the New England Aquarium in February, 2012

    Participants in the ZAARC project at their first Institute at the New England Aquarium in February, 2012

    A study of one’s own practice

    Action research is a practice that has been used primarily in formal settings, by teachers, to study and refine their pedagogical techniques. By definition, action research is the study of one’s own practice, guided by questions that arise from everyday events and dilemmas.  Traditionally, action research involves detailed documentation using field notes and/or video and collaborative discussion of gathered data, leading to a cycle of planning and implementing change. Although action research has rarely been carried out in zoos or aquaria, ZAARC project researchers hypothesize that zoo and aquarium educators might carry out similar practices to understand their visitors’ learning experiences in more detail.

    The project began with a two-day Institute designed to introduce participants to the idea of action research and to plan a first round of action research projects. In early February, teams of three educators each from the Phoenix Zoo, Saint Louis Zoo, Maryland Zoo, Aquarium of the Pacific, Woodland Park Zoo, and the New England Aquarium met for their first formal gathering at the New England Aquarium to kick off the exploration of these ideas.

    Sharing and acting-out every day events

    In a gathering packed with presentations, activities, and discussions, teacher-researcher Cindy Ballenger of Tufts University presented anecdotes describing her students’ engagement with animal science at the King Open School in Cambridge, MA; researcher Ann Rosebery of TERC guided participants in a detailed analysis of a video of middle school students observing a crab brought to their classroom by the New England Aquarium; and John Falk and Julie Haun-Frank from OSU facilitated a discussion about the meaning of being a ‘reflective practitioner’ in a zoo or aquarium.

    To be an Animal Scientist

    Educator Bekah Stendhal of the New England Aquarium led the group in an activity originally designed for K-5 audiences — “Be an Animal Scientist (BAAS).” In this version of BAAS, participants mimic animal behaviors, alternating between “being” penguins (swimming, preening, trumpeting and resting) and being scientists observing and tracking penguin behavior. The activity culminated with data display and analysis, using colored post-its to indicate the frequency of each behavior.

    Participants began to hone their observation skills by moving out into the Aquarium to observe families and school groups at the ray and shark touch tank, the octopus display and the penguin exhibit. In consultation with their staff mentor, with whom they would be collaborating in their research over the next two years, participants began to plan how they would implement a Be An Animal Scientist activity at their home zoo or aquarium to engage visitors in collecting data on the behavior of live animals. As a group, ZAARC participants decided to focus their first year’s work on the idea of visitor “engagement,” working toward a definition and observation instruments that would be useful in zoos and aquaria.

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    CoCoRaHS, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, is a citizen science project based at Colorado State University (CSU), led by Principal Investigator Nolan Doesken and funded in part by the National Science Foundation (DRL-1010888). The project was created to enhance the research efforts of scientists and promote climate literacy among the public by engaging volunteers in precipitation-monitoring activities.

    CoCoRaHS Rain Gauge

    A rain gauge used by CoCoRaHS

    CoCoRaHS is a program where volunteers collect high-resolution precipitation data to aid STEM researchers and professionals with hydrologic monitoring and prediction.  Besides providing high quality data, CoCoRaHS also promotes education and climate literacy to the community with the use of daily messages, newsletters, webinars, educational videos, and outreach events.  CoCoRaHS started in 1997 at CSU in response to a devastating local flash flood, and has since grown to become a network of over 16,000 observers in 50 U.S. States and Manitoba, Canada.  Each state network is managed by a coordinator which is a volunteer position usually held by an official at NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) or under the authority of the office of the state climatologist.

    Program volunteers are equipped with a high capacity, 4-inch-diameter clear plastic rain gauge with a funnel and inner calibrated tube that accommodates rainfall measurements to the nearest 0.01 inch, meeting the NWS specifications for year-round precipitation measurements. When used for measuring snow, the funnel and inner tube are removed and snowfall is collected in the larger outer cylinder, allowing for a reading of the water content in the snow.  This particular measurement is of great importance to scientists studying snow and ice, as well as local water managers who are in charge of forecasting future water supplies.

    Volunteers enter their data each morning via the CoCoRaHS website, where the data are then immediately available for viewing (in the form of maps and data tables) or for download. During hail or heavy/unusual precipitation events, volunteers can submit real-time reports which are immediately directed to the appropriate local NWS forecast office to aid in issuing and verifying severe weather and flash flood warnings.  All data are checked for errors and archived, and are publicly available for current or historic use.

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  • 11/14/12--07:40: Lupe's Story
  • To produce a public exhibition to study how children use evidence to construct scientific explanations, the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose (CDM), in collaboration with the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) Department of Psychology and the University of California, Berkeley Museum of Paleontology (UCMP), launched Lupe’s Story, a Full Scale Development project funded in 2008 by the National Science Foundation (award #DRL-0741583).

    Lupe's Story dig pit

    The exhibition, now titled Mammoth Discovery!, uses the local discovery of a fossilized Columbian Mammoth to address the questions: How can we better understand how children use evidence to develop scientific explanations, and how can we apply what we learn to improve practice in children’s museums?

    The project is comprised of four deliverables: 1) research conducted by UCSC focusing on how families use evidence to construct scientific explanations and ways to facilitate such reasoning; 2) a 2,300–square-foot permanent exhibition serving as a domain-rich (content-specific) setting for conducting research, in which children engage in increasingly sophisticated uses of evidence to create their own stories about mammoths; 3) an educational website leveraging the paleontology resources of UCMP; 4) and a professional development component for children’s museum professionals.

    The exhibit deliverable, Mammoth Discovery!, opened in June 2011, following extensive prototyping and research, by Dr. Maureen Callanan and her lab at UCSC.  The exhibit, designed for children ages 5-10, includes three mammoth fossils (skull, femur, and pelvis), excavated and prepared by UCMP, 18 hands-on exhibits including two dig pits and a shadow wall showcasing animal femurs, and access to the Mammoth Discovery! website.  Developed by UCMP, the web site encourages children to discover, find out more, and tell their stories. To date, 450,000 children and their families have explored the exhibition.

    Summative evaluation conducted by Randi Korn and Associates indicates that the exhibition is especially effective in encouraging caregivers to engage with their children in the inquiry process. All of the participants in the professional development component of the project have formed partnerships with local researchers as a result of their participation in this project.

    Lessons learned along the way include:

    Partnerships were essential to success. Each organization brought its expertise and openness to learning from the other institutions. The success of this project relied on the balance of strengths: CDM brought expertise in exhibition development and a tried and true, in-depth process of prototyping; Dr. Callanan’s lab at UCSC contributed expertise in coding family conversation data and discussing findings to facilitate the team’s deeper understanding of children’s learning to inform the exhibit development process; and our partners at UCMP brought deep content and process expertise to ensure scientific accuracy to the exhibit and the website.

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    Contextualizing Science Learning and Motivation in Rural and Indigenous Adolescents through Mapping Sustainable Practices (The MSP Project), is based at the University of New Hampshire and funded by the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program (DRL-1223703).  This interdisciplinary research project will explore and address the disconnect that many indigenous and majority adolescents residing in rural communities often experience between science and their home/community lives.  The project will investigate how contextualizing science learning to these adolescents’ culture and community relates to their science knowledge, motivation, and attitudes toward science. Dr. Eleanor Abrams, the project’s Principal Investigator, explains “When students learn science in a way that’s connected to their daily lives and personal interest, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated to learn.  The MSP research team wants to create science learning opportunities deeply connected to adolescents’ lives and to investigate the impact of participation on their science learning and motivation.” Over 2,000 rural majority and indigenous youth in the New England region will map sustainable practices found in their community as part of their community-based youth group activities, all of which take place outside of traditional classroom settings (such as in 4-H groups).

    Rural and indigenous children experience higher dropout rates, perform worse on science achievement tests, and are underrepresented in science careers as compared to non-rural students, according to the researchers. The MSP project is based on the premise that children are always motivated to learn although they sometimes engage in behaviors that both hinder their academic performance and as a result establish identities as unmotivated students.  “Rural majority and indigenous students may benefit from relevant science experiences that go beyond superficial connections and reside in their ability to be productive members of their community,” according to project co-PI Dr. Michael Middleton.

    On a small scale, sustainability science  programming has been shown to be successful in helping students learn by integrating key information and community practices through place-based learning .  MSP is designed not as a single prescribed activity or curriculum, but as a way to contextualize science learning by providing a unifying framework while allowing each community-based youth group to create approaches based on local strengths and interests.  Each youth group will complete a community-based asset survey compiling the sustainable practices in their community.  The group will then select one sustainable practice to investigate more deeply.  Students will map or draw how the ecological, cultural, and economic systems work, including the resource pools, inflows, outflows, and positive/negative feedback loops.

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  • 02/20/13--10:36: HERP Project
  • The HERP Project, Herpetology Education in Rural Places & Spaces, is a collaborative, statewide informal science education project directed by faculty from three institutions of higher education:  PIs Catherine Matthews, Ann Somers, and Heidi Carlone (University of North Carolina Greensboro), PI Terry Tomasek (Elon University), and PI Andy Ash (University of North Carolina Pembroke). The HERP Project is funded by the National Science Foundation (DRL-1114558). The project was created to provide opportunities for the general public, high school students, and secondary school teachers to learn about and collect scientific data on common native species of reptiles and amphibians in local habitats.

    Engaging the community through public celebrations
    The HERP Project engages the community through public celebrations.
    The HERP Project has several threads, including public events focused on herpetology, residential summer herpetological research experiences (HREs) for high school students and teachers, opportunities to participate in long-term scientific studies (e.g., the box turtle project and a project on the use of ephemeral pools by amphibians), and a science education research thread designed to define identity-related motivations of casual, regular, and enthusiastic participants, and identify the science identity affordances (outcomes and trajectories) of HERP's activities, from triggered identities for newcomers to more enduring identities for developing enthusiasts.

    The HERP Project’s residential programs for 80 high school students and eight teachers each summer provide opportunities for these individuals to participate in and collect data on several scientific investigations, including: a box turtle study, aquatic turtle studies at several lakes, studies of ephemeral pools, a snake study, a stream amphibian study, a lizard study, and a frog call survey. Students and teachers accompany science and science education researchers into the field to collect data for these projects. Data are collected using mobile devices and apps developed specifically for The HERP Project. The data are then uploaded both to the project database as well as to the Carolina Herp Atlas, a citizen science database of amphibians and reptiles (collectively referred to as herps) found in the Carolinas. This website, hosted by Davidson College, is partially supported by The HERP Project. All participants are encouraged to become active members of this data-reporting site. 

    In addition to these intensive summer research experiences, or HREs, students continue to learn about statewide herps with field trips offered throughout the school year.  Selected HRE participants spend a weekend on the North Carolina coast studying sea turtles, diamondback terrapins (an estuarine species), and other frog, snake, and lizard species that are different from those found in the central part of the state. Other HRE participants spend a weekend in the North Carolina mountains studying salamanders unique to specific mountainous areas. Many HRE participants attend a professional meeting of the North Carolina Herpetological Society and serve as docents at the annual Reptile and Amphibian Day at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences; attendance at this event has been as high as 16,000 visitors.

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  • 03/19/13--08:10: CCI ISE Partnerships
  • Centers for Chemical Innovation - Informal Science Education Partnerships

    In September 2012 the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded supplemental funding to five Centers for Chemical Innovation (CCI) to partner with professional informal science education (ISE) providers to expand their education and outreach efforts with innovative strategies outside the classroom. These projects reflect a growing movement of STEM researchers whose work is achieving broader impacts through creation of engaging and meaningful educational activities, requiring a level of intellectual rigor comparable to that of the scientific research. The Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) has launched an initiative to support these types of collaborations by providing connectivity and resources to researchers seeking to begin informal science education collaborations, as well as those already involved in them.

    The NSF CCI Program supports research centers focused on major, long-term fundamental chemical research challenges. The overall goal of the Centers is to address challenges that will produce transformative research that leads to innovation and attracts broad scientific and public interest. While the Centers each had existing public outreach activities, the supplemental funding gave them the opportunity to develop new programs in partnership with the ISE community.

    A Westside Science Club participant acts as a research assistant to a Caltech researcher while touring the CCI Solar labs in Pasadena, CA.

    A Westside Science Club participant acts as a research assistant to a Caltech researcher while touring the CCI Solar labs in Pasadena, CA.

    In 2012 NSF CCI Program Director Katherine Covert began a 20% part-time detail with the NSF Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program. Covert began attending the AISL program’s Lifelong Learning Cluster meetings, exploring questions with AISL program officers about how to improve integration of research and what the CCI program termed “public science outreach.” Dennis Schatz, the AISL Lifelong Learning Cluster Coordinator, and Dr. Covert worked together to identify opportunities for large NSF research investments (centers and facilities) to work with the ISE community. Together they identified areas of need including: supporting informal science education awareness and expertise among Center staff charged with leading broader impacts efforts, providing resources to improve the quality of evaluation of education and outreach efforts, and catalyzing opportunities for collaborations between public outreach staff and informal STEM learning professionals.

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  • 04/24/13--08:04: STAR_Net
  • STAR_Net

    A hands-on learning program for libraries and their communities (or STAR_Net) is a national program led by the Space Science Institute’s National Center for Interactive Learning (NCIL) Core partners include the American Library Association, Lunar and Planetary Institute, and the National Girls Collaborative Project. Other collaborators include ASTC, National Academy of Engineering, Engineers Without Borders-USA, IEEE-USA, the National Renewable Energy Lab, American Geophysical Union, Geological Society of America, and many more. Phase 1 of the STAR_Net project is supported through a grant from the National Science Foundation (PI: Paul Dusenbery, award number: DRL-1010844).

    There is considerable research that supports the role that out-of-school experiences can play in student achievement and public understanding of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines (Bell et al., 2009). Public libraries have always been keystones of community engagement and public information, and are increasingly effective as centers of lifelong, free-choice learning beyond books (IMLS, 2009). They are also universally available, and often accessible to diverse audiences. Libraries that offer STEM programs can provide unique entry points for youth and adults learning science knowledge, process, and values. With more than 17,000 public library branches and 1.6 billion visits a year, there is an enormous potential for engaging underserved youth and their families with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) topics.

    STAR_Net education programs have been designed with the goal to inspire lifelong learning through inquiry and play (Dusenbery and Curtis, 2012). The project has developed two interactive traveling exhibits (Discover Earth: A Century of Change and Discover Tech: Engineers Make a World of Difference), accompanied by a variety of education and outreach programs. This additional programming includes hands-on activities related to the content of the exhibits for different age groups. The project includes a training program for librarians, an outreach program for classroom teachers and out-of-school instructors, and a Community of Practice network of librarians and STEM professionals (currently, over 300 members nationwide). For more information about this national education program, visit

    One of the exhibitions, Discover Earth: A Century of Change begins with the idea that our view of Earth from space has deepened our understanding of the planet as a global, dynamic system and makes use of the fact that instruments on satellites and spacecraft, coupled with advances in ground-based research, have provided us with new perspectives on our home. The exhibition features interactive, multimedia displays that allow library visitors to explore local and global earth system topics such as weather, water cycle, and ecosystem changes. This approach allows users to make personal connections through a local perspective, and then place it in a larger context. Each host library creates a photo archive of local environmental changes (within the last 100 years) and displays their photos as part of the exhibit. This reinforces a “century of change" concept. Library visitors can also contribute photos for this exhibit element and participate in discussions about how the environment impacts people and how people impact the environment.

    The exhibition features a 16-inch-diameter Magic Planet™ globe and a 42-inch multi-touch table computer. Discover Earth integrates personal narratives, robust graphics, video, animations, weather artifacts, animal specimens, and simulation-based educational games. Each host library receives their own real-time digital weather station that will collect data and show how local temperature, pressure, and precipitation change during the time the exhibition stays at the library. The traveling exhibition invites library visitors to understand how Earth's global environment changes – and is changed by – their local environment.