Supporting a Community’s Informal Education Needs: Confidence and Empowerment in STEM (SCIENCES) Program

September 15th, 2013 - February 28th, 2018 | PROJECT

The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS) in collaboration with Eden Place Nature Center, the Fuller Park Community Corporation, and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) will implement the SCIENCES Program, Supporting a Community's Informal Education Needs: Confidence and Empowerment in STEM. The primary goals of this Full Scale Development project are to broaden access to and participation in environmental science, strengthen partnerships between CZS, Eden Place, and UIC, and gain insights into the 'ecosystemic' learning model which promotes scientific literacy and agency in the community. The project targets a low-resource community with a minority audience while the secondary audience is informal science learning organizations and researchers who will advance research in informal learning. The theoretical framework for the project design draws on conservation psychology, informal science learning, civic ecology education, and urban science education to create an ecosystematic, geographically centered approach. The deliverables include research, curriculum, and engaging hands-on programs for youth, families, adults, and teachers, reaching both in-school and out-of-school audiences, in addition to the SCIENCES Implementation Network. Three potential curriculum themes to be explored are water conservation and protection, pollinators for healthy ecosystems, and community resilience to climate change. The SCIENCES project offers a comprehensive suite of engaging programs for community audiences. For example, the year-long Zoo Adventure Passport (ZAP) program for families includes hands-on experiments and field trips, while project-based learning experiences enable teens to create wetlands, design interpretive signage, and develop associated public programming. School-based programs include professional development for teachers on the Great Lakes ecosystem and invasive species. Existing programs that have been previously evaluated and demonstrated to show learning impacts will be adapted and modified to meet the goals of the ecosystemic learning model by providing multiple learning opportunities. New learning resources will also be created to support the content themes and provide continuity. The result will be a comprehensive approach that ensures deep community engagement by individuals, families, and organizations, with cohesiveness provided by the overarching content themes which broaden access to STEM learning resources and leverages partnerships. The project includes both a research and evaluation plan. The primary research question to be addressed is: How does a large informal science learning institution work with a community-based organization to support environmental scientific literacy and agency at all levels of the community? A sociocultural framework will be used for this mixed-methods case study research. Study participants include community leaders, youth, parents, teachers, and staff from Eden Place. The case study sample will include 20 focal individuals drawn from the participant groups and approximately 300 survey participants. Case study data will be triangulated with evaluation data and analyzed using a grounded theory approach. By examining changes from the baseline following the implementation of the community programs, the findings may provide insight on agency and science literacy among community members. The comprehensive, mixed-methods evaluation plan employs a quasi-experimental design and incorporates front-end, formative, and summative evaluation components. The evaluation questions address the quality of the processes and products, access to environmental science learning opportunities, environmental science literacy, sustainability, and barriers to implementation. An extensive dissemination plan is proposed with a dual emphasis on meeting stakeholders' needs at multiple levels. The evaluation and research teams will emphasize publication in peer reviewed journals and presentations at conferences for informal science education professionals. Findings will be shared with the Fuller Park community stakeholders using creative methods such as one-page research briefs written in layperson's language, videos, and recorded interviews with participants. The local project Advisory Board will also be actively involved in the dissemination of findings to community constituents. The SCIENCES National Amplification Network will be created and work collaboratively with the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Metropolitan Green Spaces Alliance to disseminate the model. Collectively, the activities and deliverables outlined in this proposal will advance the discovery of sustainable models of community-based learning while the research will advance the understanding of informal learning support for science literacy and agency.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Project Products

2014 Poster: SCIENCES - Supporting a Community's Informal Education Needs: Confidence and Empowerment in STEM
2016 Poster: SCIENCES - Supporting a Community's Informal Education Needs: Confidence and Empowerment in STEM
The Nature of Community
SCIENCES Evaluation Summary Report
Video: SCIENCES: Supporting a Community’s Informal Education Needs—Confidence and Empowerment in STEM

Team Members

Sarah Breen Bartecki, Principal Investigator
Alejandro Grajal, Former Principal Investigator, Chicago Zoological Society
Jo-Elle Mogerman, Former Principal Investigator, Chicago Zoological Society
Lisa-Anne DeGregoria Kelly, Co-Principal Investigator, Chicago Zoological Society
Dean Grosshandler, Co-Principal Investigator, University of Illinois, Chicago


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 1323280
Funding Amount: $795,814


Access and Inclusion: Low Socioeconomic Status | Urban
Audience: Adults | Educators | Teachers | Evaluators | Families | General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals | Youth | Teen (up to 17)
Discipline: Climate | Ecology | forestry | agriculture | Education and learning science | Geoscience and geography | Life science | Nature of science
Resource Type: Project Descriptions
Environment Type: Aquarium and Zoo Programs | Informal | Formal Connections | K-12 Programs | Professional Development | Conferences | Networks | Professional Development and Workshops | Public Programs