projects, collects and synthesizes their impact data, and oversees dissemination of progress and results. This center builds on the Center for Informal Learning and Schools (CILS).
In 2002, CILS was funded with almost $12 million in funding by NSF to create a program of research, scholarship, and leadership in the arena of informal learning and the relationship of informal science institutions and schools. CILS is a collaborative effort between the Exploratorium in San Francisco, UC at Santa Cruz, and King’s College in London (UK). CILS focused its efforts on developing a new crop of scholars and disseminating its research broadly into the community. Through dozens of doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows, CILS expanded the area of scholarship in the intersection of formal and informal science education and offered professional development for existing informal science professionals to better enable them to support teachers, students, and the general public. Part of CILS, the “Bay Area Institute” served as a central focus for all CILS activities and has helped in disseminating its work to current and future leaders in the field.
CILS focused on making K-12 science education more compelling and accessible to a diverse student population, including students who come from families with little formal experience with K-12 schools and science learning. CILS did this through studying science learning in out-of-school settings, including informal science institutions, and building programmatic bridges between out-of-school and school science learning, with the ultimate goal of strengthening alliances between informal learning institutions and schools and broadening conceptions of (science) learning.
A different perspective on researching the intersection of formal and informal science learning and teaching was taken by the St. Louis Center for Inquiry in Science Teaching and Learning (CISTL), a project supported by more than $10 million of NSF funding. CISTL combines research into science teaching and learning with a focus on professional development and support needed to bring inquiry-based teaching and learning into K-12 science education in both formal and informal settings. The project brought together three informal science institutions, two universities, five school districts, one community college system, and the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC). CISTL’s research agenda focused on the effect of varying types of collaboration and the interfaces among the collaborators (education and scientific; formal and informal) on professional development of new and experienced educators. Part of the project was the development of a diagnostic tool for assessing strengths and weaknesses in science and inquiry backgrounds for teachers and other science educators. Like LIFE and CILS, CISTL aimed for synergy between research and practice through research based on practice, practice based on research, and the translation of research into practical suggestions for educators.
Aside from these large research-to-practice initiatives, NSF (and other federal and private funders) have supported a wide variety of projects that link teaching and learning in formal and informal environments. One particular example that might have implications for practice is the almost $1 million project Informal Learning and Science in Afterschool: A Research and Dissemination Project (ILSA). The ILSA research project investigates the nature of informal science in after-school programs around the country. The 3-year study consists of surveys of 1,000 programs, in-depth interviews with