Surrounded by Science

On March 3–5, the Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE), with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), hosted the biennial Informal Science Education (ISE) Summit in Washington, D.C. The nearly 450 participants in the ISE Summit—which took the theme “Surrounded by Science”—included principal investigators of NSF grants and others engaged in strategic issues that cut across the informal science education field.

“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,” said Wendy Pollock, director of CAISE. “This is our opportunity to celebrate our work, explore emerging issues, and strengthen connections across the informal science education community.”

Summit plenary speakers included 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 in New York City, and host of NOVA scienceNOW; and Bruce Lewenstein, professor of science communication at Cornell University and co-chair of a U.S. National Research Council (NRC) Committee that produced a 2009 consensus report Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits.

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 were unveiled at the conference, and attendees were encouraged to participate in robust discussions and provide direction for the 21st century.

“We are just now developing a critical mass of evidence about how people learn through informal experience,” said Kevin Crowley, CAISE co–principal investigator and co-leader of the CAISE Learning Inquiry Group. “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.”

Other events included a luncheon on Friday, where several federal agencies highlighted collaborative efforts and underscored their ongoing support of informal science education, and the unveiling of Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments, a new book published by the NRC that builds on the findings of the 2009 report and supports the essential role of informal science education.

About the image: Tom Kalil, deputy director for policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, speaks at the CAISE Summit opening plenary. Photo by Christine Ruffo

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