Tackling the Climate Change Conversation: Community of Practice Starts with IMLS Grant

By John C. Anderson
Director of Education, New England Aquarium

Museums and libraries work to shape the world to be better – better informed, healthier, more vibrant, more just or more sustainable. In 2008, IMLS funded the “Ocean Change Education Aquarium Network” (OCEAN), which set out to build capacity and a community of practice centered on a commitment to fostering productive, solutions-oriented conversations with visitors about climate and ocean change. That project seeded a lot more good work.

OCEAN began in 2007 after a handful of aquarium CEOs indicated staff training to address climate change issues was a high priority. The project sought to address this priority by bringing leading educators together with experts in ocean sciences and social sciences. Dr. Steve Katona reviewed recent ocean and climate science research, and leaders of the FrameWorks Institute taught the group about “strategic framing” – a research-based approach to communication. The experts met with pairs of colleagues from participating aquariums (New England Aquarium, Aquarium of the Pacific, Birch Aquarium at Scripps, Monterey Bay Aquarium, National Aquarium in Baltimore, and Vancouver Aquarium [not funded by IMLS]) annually in person and monthly by phone to learn, share, and practice.

Four Study Circle participants work to develop a poster.

Four Study Circle participants work to develop a poster.

At first the work was difficult, as participants tried to internalize and assimilate content that can be both intellectually and emotionally challenging. With time, practice, and support, participants found strategic framing compelling and useful for shaping training and programs at their own institutions. Colleagues shared reflections with each other and compiled resulting training information onto the Climate Interpreter website.

Relationships and learning stimulated by OCEAN fostered new collaborations and project proposals. In 2009, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) granted a collaborative award to the New England Aquarium, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, supporting development of small tabletop activities, youth training, and the development of the Climate Interpreter website to build a virtual community of practice among informal science center (ISC) educators. Activities posted include “EcoFootprint,” “Biomimicry,” and “Sink or Source.”

In 2010, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Climate Change Education Partnership program funded the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI). Some familiar colleagues from OCEAN joined with new partners to develop a plan for deeper and broader impact through study circles comprising pairs of colleagues from ten ISCs with pairs of early career ocean scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Each study circle gathers in person three times over six months with online learning activities between meetings. In addition, NNOCCI added new layers of evaluation and impact assessment to deepen understanding about educators’ learning experiences and how and to what effect they are using what they learn.

Results of the pilot NNOCCI project showed that participating educators felt more hopeful and more confident about their capacity to make a positive difference by stimulating positive conversations about climate change. They also increased the frequency of these conversations. Based on positive aspects of the pilot, NNOCCI developed a successful proposal for a five-year NSF implementation grant, awarded in 2012. As of January 2014, more than 100 colleagues from 50 informal science education centers have participated in five study circles with eleven more circles to be implemented over the next three years. The project will offer training and community support for about 280 lead interpreters from 140 ISCs and 30 early career ocean scientists. Collectively, these participants have the potential to reach thousands of other educators and volunteer docents, and tens of millions of visitors.

Through this extensive work, started with IMLS funding, we are confident that ISCs can help us reach a tipping point in the public conversation about climate change and the oceans. The result will be more frequent dialog that is engaging and that orients participants toward productive, creative, and solutions-oriented ideas about how each of us is empowered to shape the world.


Suggested Readings:

Anderson, J.C. and Williams, A.M. 2013. Engaging Visitors to Create Positive Futures. Journal of Museum Education, Volume 38, Number 3, October 2013, pp. 256–259

Falk, J.H.; Reinhard, E.M.; Vernon, C.L.; Bronnenkant, K.; Deans, N.L.; Heimlich, J.E., (2007). Why Zoos & Aquariums Matter: Assessing the Impact of a Visit. Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Silver Spring, MD.

Posted in 21st Century Museum Professionals, Environment and Energy | Comments Off

Amplifying Kids Voices at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh

Ed. Note: This blog was originally posted on www.letsmove.gov. To view the original post, click here.

Posted by Hannah E. Hardy, Director of Programming and Operations, Let’s Move Pittsburgh, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

One year after First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let’s Move! initiative, museums, zoos, gardens, and science and technology centers joined the call to action through Let’s Move! Museums and Gardens. With their impressive reach and great potential for impact, museums and gardens across the country are launching community efforts to create a healthier generation using interactive exhibits, outdoor spaces, gardens, and programs that encourage families to eat healthy foods and increase physical activity.

Elementary school children in Pittsburgh, PA record their stories about food security and nutrition as part of Hear Me.

Elementary school children in Pittsburgh, PA record their stories about food security and nutrition as part of Hear Me. Photo courtesy of Hear Me

In Pittsburgh, PA, the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, through the Let’s Move Pittsburgh organization, is partnering with Hear Me and the Southwestern PA Food Security Partnership to amplify kids’ voices about food security and good nutrition.

“I didn’t know that breakfast at school even existed. Kids who don’t have breakfast? I guess they just don’t have anything to eat in the morning…I don’t think that would be fair to do something like that to a kid.”

– Zoe, 10, Pittsburgh (www.hear-me.net/stories/6814)

Visitors to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens will get to hear first-hand the importance of good nutrition and food security directly from local children. Through the Hear Me platform, kids are using media and technology to create a world where they are heard, acknowledged, and understood, giving them the power to inspire social change. Hear Me amplifies kids’ voices by recording students talking about the importance of a specific topic and then placing the recordings around Pittsburgh in public locations. For the current recordings, Hear Me partnered with the Southwestern PA Food Security Partnership to record kids talking about food security and nutrition. “Through this partnership, we hope to bring students’ real experiences to the discussion and increase the level of access kids have to school breakfast and healthy food,” said Ryan Hoffman, project coordinator of Hear Me.

This was a perfect fit for Let’s Move Pittsburgh and Phipps. While children are playing in the indoor market area learning about healthy food choices, parents can go to the Hear Me kiosk and listen to David, a student, talk about the importance of eating a good breakfast. If you want to hear more from David and all of the students who recorded stories as part of this campaign please visit the food and security campaign page.

Learn more about Let’s Move! Museums and Gardens and visit a participating museum or garden in your area.

Posted in Health, Let's Move! Museums & Gardens | Comments Off

Promising Developments in Accessible Publishing

By Susan H. Hildreth
Director, IMLS

 At IMLS, we are extremely encouraged by recent efforts in the public and private sectors to make published materials accessible to individuals who are blind or otherwise print-disabled.

At last week’s mid-winter meeting of the American Library Association, OverDrive announced that it will soon be making eBooks available that incorporate HTML 5 and EPUB 3 fixed layout and media overlays using SMIL documents, enabling libraries and publishers to provide readers with more accessible and interactive reading experiences.

Jiangping Chen with 3D printed object at WebWise Conference

WebWise attendee, Prof. Jiangping Chen of the University of North Texas holds an object created by a 3D printer. The session demonstrated how 3D printing can transform education for students with visual impairments.

This week, at IMLS’s own WebWise 2014 conference, Dr. George H. Williams, from the University of South Carolina Upstate, provided an overview and demonstration of accessible options for creating online content with two common content-management systems: WordPress and Omeka. We also heard from Marcy Goot and Sue-Ann Ma of Benetch, who demonstrated how 3D printing through “DIAGRAM” can make accessible digital images.

And, IBM has just announced that it will adopt EPUB 3 as the default format in its document distribution procedure.

The adoption of accessible formats by information technology companies is a vital step in ensuring that material is published, by default, in a manner that is accessible to all individuals, including those who are blind or otherwise print disabled.

Museums and libraries play a critical role in connecting everyone to information and ideas. We are encouraged by the remarkable transition that is taking place in the area of inclusive publishing, which will enable these institutions to better serve all members of the public.


Posted in Accessibility, Director's Messages | 1 Comment

At the Washington Celebration of National Digital Learning Day

By Mary Alice Ball
Senior Library Program Officer, IMLS
I was excited to attend the third annual Digital Learning Day organized by the Alliance for Excellent Education and held at the Library of Congress on the 18th anniversary of the E-rate program. Although the audience was primarily teachers, libraries were mentioned frequently. Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, who is the President of the Alliance, acted as host for the outstanding program of speakers and panelists.

Panelists at the Digital Learning Day

After a welcome by Dr. James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler spoke about the work being done to modernize the E-rate program. The Commission is committing $2 billion in unused E-rate funds to bring high-speed broadband connections to every school and library in the country. Chairman Wheeler recognized the important contributions not only of school libraries in helping educate the next generation, but also of public libraries in providing a place for students to connect to the Internet and do their homework after school. He called out the role that public libraries play in supporting and training adults who need information about employment or health resources, or who need to use e-government programs and services.

Roberto Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy, talked about ConnectED and the critical work of teachers and libraries in transforming schools so that students are better prepared for the 21st century. He applauded school librarians as “champions on the front line” and acknowledged public libraries that usually are the only place in town where people can connect to the Internet at no cost. Read Roberto Rodriguez’s Remarks at Digital Learning Day.

More than 2000 Digital Learning Day events were held in every state and in more than 30 countries. A group of about 100 representatives of school districts from across the country came to Washington to demonstrate their innovative digital learning projects. School administrators, teachers, students, and librarians from Maryland, Alabama, Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, D.C., and South Dakota showed how creatively education professionals are using technology to transform learning.

Judy Woodruff, Co-Anchor and Managing Editor of the PBS NewsHour, moderated a panel of federal and state experts who discussed the difference that digital learning can make. Panelists were joined by special guests – a student, educational leaders, and even a “technology integration specialist”! Videos gave inside views of how seamlessly technology is being integrated into student-centered, and often student-driven, education. In a number of cases, the library was where these innovative and collaborative activities were taking place – something that sent this librarian home with a strong sense of professional pride.

Posted in Afterschool/Out-of-School, Broadband, Education Support | 3 Comments

Thank you Chairman Wheeler!

By Susan Hildreth
Director, IMLS

Today the nation marks Digital Learning Day. In events in Washington, D.C., and across the country, we are celebrating opportunities for digital learning to help students prepare for success in college, their careers, and life.

In his remarks today at the Library of Congress, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler noted that the nation’s effort to connect libraries and schools with broadband networks, the E-Rate program, began on this day 18 years ago.  He stressed that now, more than ever, libraries have a vital role to play providing students and the public access to digital learning.

He said, “While we talk a lot about the connected school, we cannot overemphasize the crucial role of the connected library.”

I was delighted that Chairman Wheeler not only recognized the importance of libraries for students, but for adults who need Internet connections.  He said, “In community after community the library is the only place where students can go after school for free Internet access to complete their assignments.… And during the summer, libraries are the only place for many students to go to continue their online exploration and learning. Libraries are also the only place where tens of millions of adult Americans can get access to the Internet for information on jobs, health care and government services.”

Chairman Wheeler talked about his goals to move quickly to modernize the E-Rate program because it is a great American asset.

As the Chairman noted, “research has found that a majority of American school children go to the public library to do school work and for many of those students, it is the only link to the Net outside of school.  That is really important when over 75 percent of K-12 teachers are assigning Internet-required homework.”

This work is critical to our nation especially when 6.9 percent of public libraries still have connectivity speeds lower than 1.5 Mbps and  41.1 percent of public libraries report connection speeds are insufficient to meet patron needs some or all of the time.

You can read Chairman Wheelers remarks at


Thank you Mr. Chairman!

Posted in Afterschool/Out-of-School, Broadband, Education Support | 2 Comments