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Last updated on April 20, 2014 at 8:28 EDT

Surrounded by Science Summit

March 4, 2010

Summit focuses on informal science education

The Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE), with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), is hosting “Surrounded by Science,” a biennial Informal Science Education Summit, March 3-5 in Washington, D.C. Participants include principal investigators of NSF grants and others engaged in strategic issues that cut across the informal science education field. Established in 2007, the center’s overarching goal is to strengthen the informal science education field by fostering a community of practice that bridges its many diverse forms and builds on a growing base of evidence from research and practice.

According to Wendy Pollock, director of CAISE, “Informal science education reaches millions of people every year in out-of -school settings with an extraordinary array of opportunities to explore, discover, and learn. Whether it’s an awe-inspiring film, a thought-provoking television series, a memorable exhibition, an engaging online game, or a summer science camp, informal science education helps people across the lifespan awaken and pursue their interests, build their knowledge, and develop an understanding of the scientific process. Nearly 450 of us have gathered in Washington this week, from every part of this diverse field. This is our opportunity to celebrate our work, explore emerging issues, and strengthen connections across the informal science education community.”

Summit plenary speakers will include Tom Kalil, deputy director for policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of NOVA science NOW; and Bruce Lewenstein, professor of science communication at Cornell University and co-chair of a

National Research Council (NRC) Committee that produced a 2009 consensus report Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits.

“The Informal Science Education (ISE) program and its predecessors at NSF have had a significant impact on the nation for more than 50 years,” said opening speaker, David A. Ucko, director (acting) of NSF’s Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings. Their investments, including the recent NRC report, he noted, have helped to “move the field towards a ‘tipping point’ in terms of recognition of its impact on increasing public awareness and understanding of, and engagement with science and technology.”

Building on the momentum from the NRC report, CAISE initiated a nationwide effort to focus attention on critical issues impacting the informal science education community. They included the infrastructure that supports science learning outside of school, the policies that support and constrain opportunities in informal science education, and the nature of the learning that results across the lifespan. The results of these special Inquiry Groups, led by respected ISE leaders, will be unveiled at the two-day conference where attendees will be encouraged to participate in robust discussions and provide direction for the 21st century.

According to CAISE Co-PI and Inquiry Group leader John H. Falk, Oregon State University, “We have a commitment to building and strengthening the collective informal science education community. Upwards of a million professionals in the United States are involved in supporting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics learning across the lifespan. Most of these professionals, though sharing many similar goals, do not readily identify themselves as part of the informal science education community. In order to maximize our impact in a highly competitive world we need to offer mutual support and learning, share knowledge across all disciplines, and encourage people to reaffirm their commitment to the field. The summit is key to this process.”

The CAISE Policy Study Inquiry Group, co-led by CAISE Co-PI Alan Friedman, former director of the New York Hall of Science and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, identified nine categories of policy issues that significantly affect the practice of informal science education, including connections to the research community, funding, and evaluation and student assessment, among others. “The informal science education ideal of connecting the public with science, and scientists, is at a critical juncture. Its success or failure depends upon understanding current funding trends and policy decisions that either support of hinder connections among existing informal science providers, scientists, and the public.”

Kevin Crowley, CAISE Co-PI and co-leader of the CAISE Learning Inquiry Group, is with the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments. “We are just now developing a critical mass of evidence about how people learn through informal experience,” said Crowley. “We are seeing exciting new theories about the ways that knowledge, skills, interest, and motivation can keep citizens engaged as science learners across the lifespan. There is great potential for strong research/practice collaborations across the spectrum of informal science education, and we hope the ISE summit will catalyze continued innovation in the field.”

At a luncheon on Friday, several federal agencies will highlight collaborative efforts and underscore their ongoing support of informal science education. Speakers will include Joyce Winterton, associate administrator for education, National Aeronautics and Space Administration; Barbara Alving, director, National Center for Research Resources, National Institutes of Health; and Richard W. Spinrad, assistant administrator for research, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“NOAA values its work with the informal science community. We have a history of collaboration with communicators, outreach specialists, and educators on which we will continue to build as we develop new partnerships to meet our expanding environmental mission responsibilities.” said Dr. Spinrad.

A new book published by the National Research Council, and unveiled at the Summit, also builds on the findings of the 2009 report and supports the essential role of informal science education. According to Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments, “Time studies estimate that we spend as little as 9 percent of our waking lives in school. People of virtually all ages and backgrounds engage in informal science learning in the course of daily life. Society must better understand and draw on informal experiences to improve science education and science learning broadly.”

For details: www.nationalacademies.org/publications.

On the Net:

Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education