The Year In Informal Science Education: Milestones In STEM Learning From 2015

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December 15th, 2015

We witnessed a diversity of STEM learning milestones in 2015, from the White House to the The Martian. Here are some moments from a productive, high-profile year for informal STEM education.

The White House As A Champion For STEM Education

2015 saw continued emphasis on STEM education from the White House. To celebrate the successes of citizen science and crowdsourcing, raise awareness of the benefits these innovative approaches can deliver, and motivate more Federal agencies and Americans to take advantage of these approaches, the White House held an online forum, “Open Science and Innovation: Of the People, By the People, For the People”, and announced the launch of the Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Toolkit. In October, President Obama also signed the tripartite STEM Education Act of 2015, which expands opportunities for math and science teachers through an NSF scholarship, authorizes NSF to continue focusing on informal STEM initiatives, and includes computer science in the definition of STEM.

Inaugural National Maker Faire

In a collaboration between, the DC Government, the University of the District of Columbia, and Maker Media, the inaugural National Maker Faire was held in June and brought together makers from across the United States.

Citizen Science Association

The Citizen Science Association held their inaugural conference in San Jose, CA in February of this year and launched a new journal, Citizen Science: Theory and Practice. The conference brought together more than 600 people from 25 countries for two days of field-building discussions and presentations. The new journal advances the field of citizen science by providing a venue for practitioners and researchers to share best practices.

STEM Funders Network

The STEM Funders Network launched the Building the Field: Designing and Implementing Community-Based STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative to support the cultivation, scale, and knowledge transfer of best practices in building strong connections among a rich array of regional STEM assets with a vision to improve student performance in STEM fields and increase participation in STEM careers.  At the root of the STEM Learning Ecosystem Initiative is a belief that young people can and should experience connected STEM learning everywhere. The STEM Learning Ecosystem Initiative will recognize and provide support to communities who are collaborating across sectors in new and creative ways.

Other notable website launches:


Identifying & Supporting Productive STEM Programs In Out Of School Settings

The National Research Council (NRC) published their report Identifying and Supporting Productive STEM Programs in Out of School Settings. Building on findings first identified in the NRC’s Learning Science in Informal Environments and Education for Life and Work reports and recent research, this report identifies highly successful practices in STEM education in out-of-school experiences and settings, particularly those targeted at children and youth. It also makes practical recommendations for evaluation and assessment, recognizing the need to take into account the impact of the accumulation of experiences, change at multiple levels and the idiosyncratic nature of learning, among other issues. It is now available in paperback form from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Press.

Also published this year:


Media Helps Inspire Dreams Of Space

The film adaptation of the The Martian was released nation-wide in October. While the plot is set in a not-so-distant future, it draws heavily on technologies currently in development and builds on practical, applicable science. NASA was closely involved in the development of the film and engaged the public through educational ad campaigns and events.

Officially released earlier this year to critical success, the video game Kerbal Space Programengages players in a “space race” using physics-based simulation and engineering principles. The program has successfully taught students in formal classroom settings, and has been used in museums and science centers.

photo NASA HQ