Informal STEM Education: ISE IMLS Grants, Nanodays 2015, Citizen Science

April 2nd, 2015

This week in informal STEM education, we highlight the announcement of grants by the IMLS, NanoDays 2015, several citizen science projects, and a STEM stir prompted by a Washington Post article.

Institute of Museum and Library Services Grants

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) announced this week the recipients of more than $9 million in grants to advance STEM-based learning in libraries. The projects range from collaborations with Makerspaces to outreach efforts for underserved populations. See the IMLS press release for a complete list of recipients and project descriptions.

NanoDays 2015

Dozens of museums and informal education organizations are celebrating NanoDays 2015 this week. NanoDay events are the creation of the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE net), funded by the NSF’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning Program. Ranging from hands-on activities to public forums, the NanoDays events seek to engage “people of all ages in a miniscule world where materials have special properties and new technologies have spectacular promise.” For a list of participating institutions, visit the NISE Net site.

Citizen Science Projects in the News

There were several citizen science announcements this week. First, NASA’s Lunar Mapping and Modeling Project(LMMP) launched Vesta Trek, an application that “allows you to view imagery and perform analysis on data from the asteroid Vesta”. The data was gathered by the Dawn spacecraft from July 2011 to September 2012 and now allows users to explore the asteroid Vesta with interactive maps and export topology to send to 3D printers. “We’re thrilled to release Vesta Trek to the citizen science community and the public, not only as a scientific tool, but as a portal to an immersive experience that, just by the nature of it, will allow a deeper understanding of Vesta and asteroids in general,” said Kristen Erickson, Director, Science Engagement and Partnerships at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC. Geo-Wiki announced the release of new, more accurate, citizen science-generated maps of global forests. The maps are the result of a study that engages citizen scientists to provide data on forest location and estimation of coverage percentage. The Center to Support Excellence in Teaching released a lesson plan for science teachers to use in their classroom in which students will contribute data to the ongoing study of ant colonies and their collective behavior. While intended for formal learning environments, this projects origins in space are too interesting not to note. Writing for Discover, Eva Lewandowski recounted her experiences working with citizen scientists from the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project. Walter Staveloz published Embracing The Vision Of Citizen Science: An Historic Opportunity For Science Centers. The piece builds on an earlier blog post Staveloz wrote for ExhibiTricks, “How do Museums Adapt to What’s Changing Around Us?” It reflects on the role of citizen science in establishing a dialogue and public trust between scientists and the community, providing examples where scientists and communities have successfully worked together surrounding common issues. Lastly, the NSF published a video titled “What dead birds tell us about ecosystems” The video features Julia K. Parrish, the Executive Director of COASST, describing the importance of citizen science in the research efforts of her organization.


Fareed Zakaria published “Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous” in the Washington Post, questioning the contemporary emphasis on STEM education. Citing several recent announcements and pronouncements to deemphasize and defund liberal arts education, Zakaria countered, “The United States has led the world in economic dynamism, innovation and entrepreneurship thanks to exactly the kind of teaching we are now told to defenestrate. A broad general education helps foster critical thinking and creativity.” The article sparked considerable debate and a wave of rejoinders to Zakaria’s position, from Forbes to the Huffington Post. What are your informal science education news items from this week? Please share them in the comments below. If you have tips and leads for next week’s round-up, send them to us at