The Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative projects in a variety of informal settings. The iSWOOP project aims to equip National Park Service interpretive rangers with visualizations and interactive approaches for communicating science in natural learning spaces. An advantage to locating STEM learning in national parks is that they serve as America’s outdoor laboratories, hosting thousands of research studies annually. Dynamic changes in the landscape, wildlife, and interspecies interactions offer countless avenues for inquiry. The project will build collaborations between park-based scientists, whose work frequently happens out of the public eye, and interpreters, who interact with millions of visitors annually. Based on pilot studies done at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, the researchers have extended this work to four more national park units, each with its own natural resources and research. Partners in this endeavor include Winston-Salem State University, Institute for Learning Innovation, and TERC. This project's goal is to establish a model for how national parks can be resources for science education and learning.
iSWOOP works by providing interpretive rangers with professional development. iSWOOP coordinates 1) opportunities for interpreters and scientists to work together in a classroom setting and in the field; 2) creates compelling visualizations, which can function as a jumping off point for conversations about the methods and relevance of park-based research; 3) ongoing opportunities for interpretive rangers to reflect on interactions with visitors and to experiment with questions that spark visitors’ curiosity in the moment and interest long-term.
The main goal of this proposed effort is to translate park-based research endeavors and results from the scientists to the park visitors in ways that make the process enjoyable, informative, and thought-provoking. Evaluation elements will be included every step in this process in order to not only determine if learning has occurred but also how effectively the science has been translated.
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