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$1.7 million grant to train informal science educators

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Photo courtesy of the Fostering STEAM project. Girls explore light and shadow during a Colors of Nature summer academy. The same University of Alaska Fairbanks project team that developed and implemented Colors of Nature will create Fostering STEAM — an effort to train informal science educators in the combined use of science, technology, engineering, art and math.
Tiffany Thomas

The University of Alaska Fairbanks will receive $1.7 million from the National Science Foundation to train informal science educators, such as librarians, museum staff and after-school providers, through the Fostering STEAM project.

“Over the last five years, the focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math has really exploded,” said Laura Conner, a research assistant professor of science education with UAF’s Geophysical Institute.

While the inclusion of art in the sciences to promote student interest has grown, little has been done to develop a guiding set of best practices for informal science educators.

Fostering STEAM will focus on the professional development of those educators through in-person workshops and an online portal. The project will study the outcomes for these educators, learning what works best for informal educators across many different settings.

Funded through the NSF’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning program, $1.3 million will similarly be awarded to the project team’s partner, the University of Washington, Bothell. The National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona, is also a partner.

The interdisciplinary team’s first project, Colors of Nature, focused on the intersection of art and science through color by offering summer academies to youth. Fostering STEAM will build on this work to offer a set of STEAM best practices to others working in the field.

“In many ways, art and science practices are complementary, but they don’t overlap completely,” said Conner. “With this project, we really had to examine what it means to authentically do both.”

In its first four years, Fostering STEAM will train 76 informal science educators in the Sitka Sound Science Center, the Fairbanks North Star Borough after-school program, the Pima County Public Library system and the Sno-Isle Library system before being expanded to a national audience.

ADDITIONAL CONTACT: Laura Conner, 907-460-7714, ldconner@alaska.edu