New grants help museums and libraries connect youth with friends, learning, and mentors to link their passions to future success

November 8th, 2012 - Posted in ASTC News, Featured, Member News, Partners by Larry Hoffer

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation today announced the second round of winners of a national competition to design 21st century Learning Labs in museums and libraries around the country. The 12 winners—five museums and seven libraries—will receive a total of $1.2 million in grants to plan and design the labs. Inspired by YOUmedia, a teen space at the Chicago Public Library, and innovations in science and technology centers, these labs will help young people move beyond consuming content to making and creating it.

Each Learning Lab will be designed to facilitate a research-based education model known as connected learning—one that promotes discovery, creativity, critical thinking, and real-world learning through activities and experiences that bring together academics and young people’s interests, often facilitated by digital and traditional media. The labs will connect teens to mentors and peers, as well as anytime, anywhere access to information through online social networks, so they can pursue their interests more deeply and connect these new skills to academics, career, and civic engagement.

“Digital media are revolutionizing the way young people learn, socialize, and engage in civic life,” said Julia Stasch, Vice President of U.S. Programs for the MacArthur Foundation. “These innovative labs are designed to provide today’s youth with the space, relationships, and resources to connect their social worlds and interests with academics, and to better prepare them for success in the 21st century.”

“Because of the expertise and content we have to offer, museums and libraries are uniquely positioned to offer young people meaningful learning experiences that link to science, art, and technology,” said Susan Hildreth, Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. “With caring mentors and skilled professionals on staff to guide teens in their exploration, Learning Labs help youth express themselves and hone their skills in a safe environment.”

The new Learning Labs are planned for: Dallas, TX; Madison, WI; Rochester, NY; Oakland, CA; Billings, MT; Poughkeepsie, NY; Tucson, AZ; Richmond, VA; Tuscaloosa, AL; Pittsburgh, PA; Lynn, MA; and Las Vegas, NV. Each of the winning institutions will match funds from the competition and is developing partnerships with local educational, cultural, civic and business organizations to expand the resources available to build a network of learning opportunities for young people.

These grantees join 12 other communities also planning new learning centers in libraries and museums as a part of the Learning Labs in Libraries and Museums project. The initiative was first announced in September 2010 in response to President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign, an effort to foster cross-sector collaboration to improve America’s students’ participation and performance in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Since then, MacArthur and IMLS have committed to invest $4 million to support knowledge-sharing activities for museums and libraries nationwide, and work together to create new Learning Labs across the nation.

Urban Libraries Council (ULC) and the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) will continue to manage and guide the Learning Lab grantee community to ensure that each new space embodies best practice principles, based on research and evidence in the field of youth digital learning, to help young people gain 21st century skills and an effective STEM education.

The 12 recipients of this round of grants were selected out of a pool of 105 applicants from 33 states and one territory. Applications were evaluated by professionals with relevant expertise in digital media and learning, as well as museum and library management. Winners will participate—in-person and online—in a community of practice that will provide technical assistance, networking, and cross-project learning. To learn more about the Learning Labs Project, visit or

Institutions receiving grants in this round are: Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; Madison Children’s Museum, Madison, WI; The Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley; Science Museum of Virginia Foundation, Richmond; University of Alabama/Alabama Museum of Natural History, Tuscaloosa; Rochester Public Library, Rochester, NY; Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA; City of Lynn, Massachusetts (Lynn Public Library); Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, Las Vegas, NV; Parmly Billings Library Foundation, Inc., Billings, MT; Pima County Public Library, Tucson, AZ; and Poughkeepsie Public Library District, Poughkeepsie, NY.

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services
The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. Our mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Our grantmaking, policy development and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit or follow @US_IMLS on Twitter.

About the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society. The Foundation’s digital media and learning initiative aims to determine how digital media are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life. The goal is to build a base of evidence about how young people learn today, in an effort to re-imagine learning in the 21st century. To learn more, please visit: or follow us on Twitter @macfound.

About the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC)
The Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) is a global organization providing collective voice and professional support for science centers, museums, and related institutions, whose innovative approaches to science learning inspire people of all ages about the wonders and the meaning of science in their lives. Through strategic alliances and global partnerships, ASTC strives to increase awareness of the valuable contributions its members make to their communities and the field of informal STEM learning. Founded in 1973, ASTC now represents over 600 members in 45 countries, including not only science centers and museums, but also nature centers, aquariums, planetariums, zoos, botanical gardens, and natural history and children’s museums, as well as companies, consultants, and other organizations that share an interest in informal science education. For more information on ASTC, or to find a science center near you, please visit or follow us on Twitter @sciencecenters.

About the Urban Libraries Council
Urban Libraries Council (ULC) is a membership organization made up of North America’s premier public library systems and the corporations supporting them. While ULC’s members primarily represent urban and suburban settings, the work done by ULC is widely used by all libraries including those in rural settings. ULC strategically addresses issues important to all communities including education, workforce and economic development, public safety, environmental sustainability, health, and wellness. ULC’s members are thought leaders dedicated to the continuous evolution and strengthening of libraries to meet changing community needs. ULC’s focus is on helping library leaders develop and utilize skills and strategies that match the challenges of the 21st century. Learn more at or follow us on Twitter @UrbanLibCouncil.

In your opinion, what should every museum be able to provide for the “ideal” museum experience?

October 29th, 2012 - Posted in 2012, Dimensions, Viewpoints by Emily Schuster

This is an extended discussion of the question that appeared in the Viewpoints department of the November/December 2012 issue of Dimensions magazine.

My ideal museum experience is memorable. It requires only one cool exhibit experience where I spend significant time, engaged in a way that taps into previous interests and expands my thinking. It makes me wonder about something and allows me to explore an idea viscerally, using my hands—even my full body. Connecting with others (family, friends, or a museum educator) around the phenomenon is important, too, as it shapes and grows my own perspective. Yet I have to own the activity, by directing next steps and reflecting on what I did and learned. Ideally, I’ve embodied a concept, had my interest piqued, and am primed to explore further. In fact, my ideal museum experience is more than memorable. I’ve come to care.

Tracey Wright, senior researcher and developer, TERC, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Q&A with Laddie and Jim Elwell

October 29th, 2012 - Posted in 2012, Dimensions, Q&A by Emily Schuster

Interviewed by Joelle Seligson

This interview appeared in the November/December 2012 issue of Dimensions magazine.

Laddie and Jim Elwell grew up in the Eastern United States with ready access to museums. When they noticed a lack of such resources near Bemidji, the small Minnesota town they now call home, the couple took action. This year Laddie and Jim are retiring as executive director and financial officer, respectively, of Headwaters Science Center (HSC), which they opened 18 years ago. They spoke with Dimensions about their grassroots effort and how ASTC has helped them along the way.

Read the full transcript, or listen to the podcast.

Sparking Innovations, Showcasing Innovators

October 24th, 2012 - Posted in 2012, Dimensions by Alejandro Asin

September/October 2012

Rapid innovations are continually impacting society and our daily lives. Science centers have an important role to play as a link between innovators and the public, a guide that helps communities navigate a constantly changing world, and a safe place for visitors to unleash their own creativity and imagination. In this issue, we look at innovation from multiple perspectives—from how science centers are fostering new innovators and highlighting innovation in their communities and beyond, to how they are applying innovative technology and new research to enhance learning within their walls.


Nurturing the Innovator’s Mindset, by Tim Ritchie
• Why Talk About Innovation in Science Museums?, by Erika Kiessner
Inspiring Visitors to Tinker, Create, and Innovate
• A Science Center’s Role in Innovation During Changing Times, by Kate Bennett, Debra A. Jacobson, and Calvin Uzelmeier
• Born in Israel: Showcasing Our Innovations, by Maya Halevy, Varda Gur Ben Shitrit, and Dea Brokman
• Augmented Hands-On Exhibits, by Karen Elinich
• How New Family Learning Research Can Inform Innovative Programming, by Heather Toomey Zimmerman

Download the full issue.

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Nurturing the Innovator’s Mindset

October 24th, 2012 - Posted in 2012, Dimensions by Alejandro Asin

By Tim Ritchie
From Dimensions
September/October 2012

Everyone agrees that it will require an enormous commitment to innovation for humankind to survive (and thrive!) on our fragile planet. But to what must our communities, and our nations, commit in order to foster world-changing innovation? What roles can science centers play in nurturing innovators and encouraging innovation?

We think about these questions a great deal at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, California. We are located in the heart of Silicon Valley, so if anyone should be able to describe what it takes to nurture innovation, we should.

One of the Tech’s Board members challenged his associates at Bain & Company (a management consulting firm) to identify why innovation flourishes in Silicon Valley. The unpublished Bain report describes the habits and mindset of successful innovators and the ecosystem that nurtures innovation. This article focuses on the innovator’s mindset, because every science center can do a number of things to develop that mindset. I also briefly describe the ecosystem that innovators need in order to succeed. In some cases, science centers can play a role in nurturing that environment as well. (more…)

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