2014 NSF AISL Awards: Public Education Programs

November 13th, 2014

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds approximately 30-35 projects each year across diverse informal learning sectors such as media and technology, exhibitions, public programs, and professional development. These are the most recent set of AISL awards related to media and technology. Click on each award’s title to view their project page for more information about project contributors, goals, and methodologies.


Citizen Science Embedded Assessment

This project will explore the use of embedded assessment to measure participant science inquiry skill development within the context of citizen science projects. Research foci involve identifying science inquiry skills target by citizen science projects and how they are measured, identifying opportunities and challenges in developing and implementing customized embedded assessment tools, and assessing whether the tools created for a citizen science project can provide project leaders with a better understanding of impact.


Collaborative Research: EvalFest (Evaluation Use, Value and Learning through Festivals of Science and Technology)

EvalFest will test innovative evaluation methods in science festivals and assess what ways and how they are most effectively used. The project will investigate whether a multisite evaluation approach is an effective model for creating common metrics, develop common methods to measure the effects of festivals, create a queryable database of festival attendees to share with the field, and document whether these efforts result in new knowledge related to informal STEM education.


Collaborative Research: Examining Contextual Factors Influencing the Implementation of Projects Designed to Improve Cultural Diversity in Informal Science Education Programming

This project will research factors influencing the implementation of programs designed to increase diverse participation in informal science. The project will study a citizen science project called Celebrate Urban Birds and create a Community of Practice (CoP) supporting informal science educators implementing programs that focus on engaging diverse audiences.

Collaborative Research: Project TRUE (Teens Researching Urban Ecology)

Through a partnership between an informal science education institution and a university, 200 teens from underrepresented backgrounds will conduct urban ecology research at New York City zoos under the guidance of a university professor, graduate and undergraduate students, and zoo education staff through a tiered mentorship model. The project will explore four programmatic elements and their effect on increase and participation in STEM: hands-on experience, awareness of real-world STEM applications, exposure to role models, and interaction with peers who share a STEM interest.


Collaborative Research: Scientists’ Views of the Public, Public Engagement Practice, and Public Engagement Goals

This Michigan State University and University of Texas-Austin project will focus on making science communication more scientific. It will use interview and survey research to improve understanding of how scientists think about science communication. This knowledge can be used to help improve science communication training and recruiting with a focus on increasing the likelihood that scientists will adopt evidence-based communication strategies to increase public interest, engagement, and identification with STEM.


Investigating STEM Literacies in Maker Spaces

This project will study how participants at maker spaces engage with STEM as they create projects of personal and social value. The research will explore how participants pose and solve problems, integrate information from different sources and of different types, and share their ideas, knowledge, and work with others.


Making for Change: Becoming Community Engineering Experts through Makerspaces and Youth Ethnography

This project will address two challenges faced by middle school youth from backgrounds underrepresented in engineering professions—a lack of opportunities to learn engineering meaningfully and apply it to real-world problems, and few experiences that foster the development of an engineering identity. The project will develop an informal STEM learning model to engage middle school youth from underrepresented backgrounds in experiences related to engineering-for-sustainable-communities and study how critical aspects of the learning environment shape identity work.


“Making” STEM Relevant in Underserved Communities

This feasibility study will implement and evaluate a pilot Mobile Making program that will bring both equipment and undergraduate student mentors to underserved youth populations. The project aims to increase participants’ interest, self-efficacy, and perception of the relevance of making and STEM to everyday life, identify and overcome challenges associated with a Mobile Making program, develop a model for implementing and assessing Mobile Making in underserved communities, and disseminating materials and guides for practitioners.


Pathways: Measuring the Impact of Participation in Informal STEM Programming on University Students

This project focuses on creating assessments and remediation in science communication among undergraduate and graduate physics students, allowing them to communicate more effectively with public audiences. The project will explore if mentors are using deficit, dialogue, or participatory interactions, then will introduce mechanisms to determine if and what types of changes can be made to improve communication to increase public understanding of STEM.


STEM Interest and Engagement Study

This research project seeks to identify and study practices that promote interest and engagement in STEM-related topics for middle school students. The project will conduct research at a summer, out-of-school STEM program to determine instructional practices and the resulting interest, engagement, and perceptions of youth as they participate in STEM activities, as well as attitudinal changes toward STEM. By better understanding these connections, practitioners can better understand how program design can influence outcomes.


Walking in Two Worlds: Engaging the Community and Future Native American Scientists in Environmental Science and Managing Natural Resources on Tribal Lands

Building on an existing, NSF-funded Manoomin Science Camp, the project will employ a systems view of resource management in considering a broad range of resource management issues, with the goal of engaging the entire community in environmental issues. The program uses place-based learning to incorporate both Western science and traditional environmental knowledge and studies the impact of a holistic and systemic approach to community resource management.

What Can We Learn from Middle School Science Fairs about Teaching Science and Engineering Practices?

Science fairs and competitions have long been an intersection between formal and informal science learning. This educational research project will explore the basic models of middle school science fairs, the extent that participation in a particular model enhances students’ mastery of and interest in science and engineering, the student-teacher and school-level factors that contribute to or inhibit students’ mastery, the resources required to implement an effective middle school science fair, and how to scale up and expand the most cost-effective aspects of the science fair experience.


WISE Guys and Gals – Boys & Girls as WISEngineering STEM Learners

This project will further develop, roll out, and conduct research on a set of materials that will introduce middle school youth to innovative and engaging engineering challenges in a Boys and Girls Club context. Research will focus on how activities developed for 60-minute implementation and guided by informed engineering design and interconnected learning frameworks support youth learning and engagement; and characteristics of the professional development approach that support Boys and Girls Clubs’ facilitators’ capacity development.