Polar Literacy: A model for youth engagement and learning

July 1st, 2019 - June 30th, 2022 | PROJECT

Polar Literacy: A model for youth engagement and learning will foster public engagement with polar science. The project targets middle-school aged underserved youth and polar research scientists, with the goal to increase youth interest in and understanding of Polar Regions, and to hone researchers' science communication skills. The project will develop affordable and replicable ways of bringing polar education to informal learning environments, extend our understanding of how polar education initiatives can be delivered to youth with maximum effect, and design a professional development model to improve the capacity for Polar Region researchers to craft meaningful broader impact activities. Polar Literacy will create and test a model which combines direct participation by scientists in after-school settings, with the use of curated polar research data sets and data visualization tools to create participatory learning experiences for youth. Beyond the life of the project funding, many of the project deliverables (including kits, videos, and other resources) will continue to be used and disseminated online and in person through ongoing work of project collaborators.

Polar Literacy: A model for youth engagement and learning will advance the understanding of informal learning environments while leveraging the rich interdisciplinary resources from polar investments made by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The project's key audiences -- polar researchers, informal educators, and out-of-school time (OST) youth in grades 4-7 (ages 9-13) -- will connect through both place-based and internet-based experiences and work collaboratively to generate a flexible, scalable, and transferable education model. The project will 1) design OST kits and resource guides (focused on Polar Literacy Principles) and include "Concept in a Minute" videos designed to highlight enduring ideas, 2) provide professional development for informal educators, 3) synthesize a club model through adaptation of successful facets of existing informal learning programs, and 4) create Data Jam events for the OST Special Interest (SPIN) clubs and camp programs by modifying an existing formal education model. A research design, implemented at four nodes over three years, will answer three research questions to evaluate the impact of professional development on informal educators, as well as the impact of programs on youth, and the effectiveness of the model. In addition to the project team and collaborators who are informal education practitioners, an advisory board composed of experts in youth programming, informal education, and evaluation will guide the project to ensure that it advances the body of informal STEM learning research. 

Polar Literacy is an Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) Innovations in Development project in response to the Dear Colleague Letter: Support for Engaging Students and the Public in Polar Research (NSF 18-103). Polar Literacy is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) learning in informal environments. This project has co-funding support from the Antarctic section of the Office of Polar Programs.

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which supports innovative research, approaches, and resources for use in a variety of learning settings.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Project Products

2021 Poster - Polar Literacy: A Model for Youth Engagement and Learning
2023 AISL Awardee Mini-Poster: 1906897

Team Members

Janice McDonnell, Principal Investigator, Rutgers University New Brunswick
Oscar Schofield, Co-Principal Investigator
Charles Lichtenwalner, Co-Principal Investigator
Jason Cervenec, Principal Investigator, Ohio State University


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Polar Special Initiatives, Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 1906897
Funding Amount: $1,037,738

Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Polar Special Initiatives, Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 1906929
Funding Amount: $547,636


Audience: Educators | Teachers | Elementary School Children (6-10) | Middle School Children (11-13) | Museum | ISE Professionals | Scientists
Discipline: Climate | Ecology | forestry | agriculture | General STEM | Geoscience and geography
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Media and Technology | Professional Development | Conferences | Networks | Professional Development and Workshops | Public Programs | Summer and Extended Camps | Websites | Mobile Apps | Online Media