Federally Funded STEAM Programming

October 31st, 2014

Over the past several years, there have been many projects funded to explore the connection between the arts and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning. Some have even integrated the arts so deeply as to create a new framing for learning: STEAM. A session at last month’s Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) annual conference gave examples of STEAM funding opportunities from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and National Science Foundation (NSF) for STEAM-related work in museums and libraries.

Funded Projects at Museums and Libraries

IMLS (along with the MacArthur Foundation) has funded a network of Learning Labs at libraries and museums across the U.S. While each lab space is unique, they are all designed to engage middle- and high-school youth in mentor-led, interest-based, youth-centered, collaborative learning experiences using traditional and new media. Learning labs draw on the “connected learning” approach, which connects interest-driven educational experiences for youth to future achievement (such as academic and/or career success, and civic engagement).

The TechHive at the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley, is an example of a Learning Lab situated within a science center. Using support from IMLS and the MacArthur Foundation, the Hall transformed an old computer lab into a dynamic space for digital STEAM where teens from around California’s East Bay region gather on weekends to participate in engineering and design challenges and do interest-driven projects. TechHive activities are driven by serving the needs of the Hall, the community and for the learners; for example, the teens create Making activities for the Hall, participate in science festivals around the community, teach peers in camps and classes during the summer, and complete personal projects. They have developed a partnership with the University’s undergraduate Berkeley Engineers and Mentors (BEAMS) program so that college-aged “near peers” can work directly with TechHive youth. Their work is documented through social media and videos.

On the library side, The Labs at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh provides teens with digital media equipment and arts- and technology-based mentorship on a drop-in basis through an open studio time and informal workshops. The Labs is in place at three libraries across the city, but has also implemented a “Labs on Location” program that brings the Labs to other libraries where there isn’t a permanent activity space, and also has a school outreach component called CLP BAM! (Creating Learning Pathways/Books and More). Learning experiences—which includes opportunities for Making, photo and video, robotics, programming, and so on—are designed using a framework that intentionally incorporates teens’ interests to support the authentic learning that happens in connected learning spaces. CLP is currently exploring building up the The Labs through badging (teen participants get “badges” that allow them to access more advanced equipment) and a program that will help transition teens into young adulthood and lifelong learning.

The NSF is supporting knowledge transfer in libraries as well, particularly in rural libraries. NSF has found that libraries are convenient venues for STEM education and, as existing assets in their communities, have the opportunity to expand their impacts through cross-over with other programs. Three STEM-library awards that NSF has recently supported include the a network of astronomy-related exhibits and programs in rural libraries, a STEM book club, and a statewide network of informal STEM learning providers where no science centers or other learning venues currently exist.

How to Apply for Grants

NSF logo

The next NSF Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) proposal deadline is November 14, 2014. STEAM-related projects can be submitted to any one of the program’s five grant types. Resources for putting together a competitive AISL proposal are available on InformalScience.org. Questions about the information shared from NSF in this presentation can be sent to Wyn Jennings, Program Director in the AISL program.

IMLS offers funding for both libraries and museums putting together STEAM programs. On the library side, they are interested in projects that build capacity, engage community, and encourage partnerships for supporting STEM learning in libraries (which includes STEAM programs). There are two main types of grants that libraries are most likely to receive STEAM funding under: the National Leadership Grants for Libraries (which include a matching component) and the smaller Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries (which do not require matching funds and encourage the testing of innovations in libraries). While the library side of IMLS is no longer funding the establishment of Learning Labs, they are now interested in funding programming that happens in those spaces as well as research on the learning that happens there. Questions about STEAM funding in libraries should be directed to Sandy Toro, Senior Library Program Officer.

IMLS logo

The museum office of IMLS offers many types of funding for museums, but there are three programs that museums and science centers could apply to for STEAM-related funding: the Museums for America program (which are large grants that require matching funds), the National Leadership Grants program (which are large grants that have the potential to advance the museum profession and improve services for the American public), and the Sparks! Ignition Grants program (which are small grants designed to allow museums to prototype, test and evaluation an innovation). All museum grants for FY 2015 have a deadline of December 1, 2014. Contact Christopher Reich, Senior Museum Advisor, if you have any questions about applying for IMLS funding as a museum.

For full guidelines on applying for IMLS support, check out the Guide to Funding Programs and Opportunities for FY 2015. Dr. Toro also had these tips to share for applying for support:

  • Start planning early. The guidelines for each grant are typically posted 60-90 days before the due date, but you can begin to formulate your idea even before that.
  • Recheck all guidelines. Visit the IMLS site and check the eligibility criteria, sample applications, and individual guidelines on each solicitation.
  • Remember who you serve and why your work is important. You should believe in the project outlined in your proposal, and how it serves the American public.
  • Do your background research. Check out a list of what IMLS has funded. You can also find research and references to support your proposal on InformalScience.org.
  • Be sure your application is complete. Get all of your materials together before you begin to submit the proposal.
  • As a colleague to review. Have someone check for clarity, completeness, and a thorough understanding of current practices and knowledge about the subject matter. They should also check for grammatical errors, copy and paste redundancies, inconsistency, and unsupported generalizations or claims.
  • Submit your application through Grants.gov EARLY so that you have time to correct any errors and avoid technical issues.