A Comprehensive Strategy to Strengthen STEM Learning Must Include Libraries and Museums

Photo of Susan HildrethBy Susan H. Hildreth
Director, IMLS

Quality STEM education is important for the nation as a whole and for individual citizens. A robust and capable STEM workforce is crucial to United States competiveness. Research links STEM educa­tion to the future security and economic success of the United States, and opportunities for STEM-related careers are increasing. However, we know that students in the U.S. rank in the middle of the pack compared to their peers internationally, and, in some economic sectors, job applicants do not have the STEM knowledge and problem-solving skills that employers need.

It is gratifying to see that at the national level, the role of informal learning in supporting major student outcomes in STEM education—and, in particular, of libraries and museums—is recognized in two National Research Council reports, STEM Learning is Everywhere and STEM Integration in K-12.

The National Science Foundation’s Science and Engineering Indicators 2014 reports that public interest in informal learning opportunities is high. In fact, the majority of Americans visit zoos, natural history museums, aquariums, or science technology centers each year. It is clear that these institutions play an essential role in reaching the public, inspiring STEM interest, and supporting STEM skills. A comprehensive strategy to improve STEM achievement must embrace informal learning opportunities.

Just this summer, the Board on Science Education assembled a 13-person expert committee, led by our National Museum and Library Services Board member Eric Jolly, to develop a concise primer on successful out-of-school STEM learning based on evidence of successful practice and informed by a 2-day public workshop that explores the current evidence. The primer on best practices in out-of-school STEM learning will be written for policy-makers, funders, nonprofit and private industry representatives, and other representatives from civic society.

Here at IMLS, we established a funding priority for STEM-related projects in FY 2014 and FY 2015.* I am pleased to announce that we have invested more than $23 million in 140 STEM-related projects during FY 2013 and FY 2014.

All types of libraries—public, academic, school, and tribal—are represented in our portfolio, and many museum disciplines, from science tech centers to art museums to zoos. These programs are supporting teachers, faculty, and classroom learning, are providing quality out-of-school opportunities, and are reaching underserved populations.  They also help prepare library and museum professionals to create programs that help citizens develop a broad range of STEM skills, from data mining to video production and more.

I encourage you to take a look at the descriptions of these recently funded programs. I promise you will be astonished at the variety and depth of these investments. We will be following this work and continuing to strategically invest in strengthening STEM learning experiences.

*This article was updated on October 6, 2014 to reflect that IMLS’s has funding priority for STEM learning in FY 2014 and FY 2015.

Posted in Afterschool/Out-of-School, Director's Messages, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) | Leave a comment

Taking Big Steps at the Museum

By Melissa Heintz
Public Affairs Specialist, IMLS

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis was one of 10 winners of the 2014 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor for libraries and museums that are serving their communities in exceptional ways. Community member Spencer Hahn traveled with President & CEO Jeffrey Patchen to Washington D.C.  this past May to accept the award.

Erica Hahn had been told by doctors that her son, Spencer, suffered a stroke in utero that destroyed the left side of his brain. After years of being told that he would never walk or talk, something magical happened at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. It was at the museum that Spencer reached developmental milestones, like speaking his first words and taking his first steps. “Out of nowhere, he says, ‘Mama,’ and I can’t even tell you the emotion,” said Erica. The museum is at the forefront of creating learning experiences with the power to transform the lives of children and families. Spencer continues to visit the museum and learns about other cultures, history, science, and to visit his favorite green dinosaur, Rex.

Do you know of a museum or library that has made a difference? Nominations are now being accepted for the 2015 National Medal. Nomination Forms must be mailed and postmarked by October 15, 2014.

Posted in Accessibility, Afterschool/Out-of-School, Early Learning, Education Support, Lifelong learning/ Intergenerational, National Medal for Museum and Library Service | Leave a comment

Getting Down to Business

By Melissa Heintz
Public Affairs Specialist, IMLS

The Chicago Public Library was one of 10 winners of the 2014 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor for libraries and museums that are serving their communities in exceptional ways. Community member Chris Force traveled with Chicago Public Library Commissioner Brian Bannon to Washington D.C.  this past May to accept the award.

For Chris Force, Alarm Press founder and editor in chief, the library is not just a place for books; it is a place where he became an entrepreneur. When transitioning his magazine from a hobby to a business, he turned to the Chicago Public Library. Here, patrons have access to both physical and digital resources at all 80 locations and, as Chris found, access to valuable librarian knowledge and expertise. He and used the library as his business incubator, booking meeting rooms and using the free databases to source leads.  Force’s belief in the value of the library extends to his staff – he insists that all Alarm Press employees obtain a Chicago Public Library card when they are hired.

Do you know of a museum or library that has made a difference? Nominations are now being accepted for the 2015 National Medal. Nomination Forms must be mailed and postmarked by October 15, 2014.

Posted in National Medal for Museum and Library Service, Workforce Development/Job Assistance | Comments Off