Leap into Science: Cultivating a National Network for Science and Literacy, NSF #1712878, was launched in September 2017 by The Franklin Institute (TFI) in partnership with The National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) to 1) establish a national infrastructure with statewide partnerships between varied informal learning institutions to broadly disseminate Leap into Science (Leap) workshops; 2) enable informal educators from a wide range of institutions to engage urban and rural communities in science and literacy learning and; 3) understand effective methods for scaling informal science and literacy programs. Leap workshops integrate open-ended science activities with children’s books, designed to be flexibly implemented in community settings like libraries, museums, and out-of-school time programs. The program aims for children and their caregivers to have fun learning while building critical thinking and literacy skills.
The Leap National Network
The national network uses a statewide, train-the-trainer approach that relies on State Leadership Teams (SLTs) to disseminate training and resources to educators across their state. SLTs consist of three to ten individuals from statewide afterschool and early childhood networks, state libraries, museums, and university outreach departments whose collective expertise and networks allow them to reach educators across their state.
Each year, a new cohort of state leaders was selected via application to attend a National Leadership Institute led by TFI and NGCP. There, they received training, funding, and technical support to recruit and train informal educators in their states to lead the Leap program within their communities. The network consists of 18 SLTs, including Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas/Missouri, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming. SLTs recruited and trained 2,500 informal educators in the Leap curriculum and facilitation strategies across 19 states. Those educators have reported hosting thousands of Leap Science workshops that reached 40,000 children and families, although we estimate these numbers to be much larger.
Evaluation conducted by the Education Development Center (EDC) revealed several factors that contributed to the successful scaling of Leap across rural and urban populations. Firstly, the intentional structure of SLTs and the train-the-train model were critical to scaling the Leap model broadly. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program model also contributed to a diverse set of informal educators trained in the program across rural and urban settings.
In addition, the project team clarified what elements were essential to the program model, such as pairing children's books with hands-on activities, and which elements could be flexibly implemented by educators, such as the program length and the addition of different books. Moreover, SLTs trained educators to deliver the program using facilitation strategies known as the Core Four. These research-based strategies include 1) Asking Questions, 2) Encouraging Scientific Thinking, 3) Cultivating Rich Dialogue, and 4) Making Connections. Leap’s approach to program fidelity relied less on exact replication and more on building educator capacity to adapt the program to their community needs while maintaining the overall pedagogical approaches to science and literacy learning through the Core Four.
Research conducted by the Institute for Learning Innovation (ILI) looked at the development of science and literacy interest among families and the contextual factors influencing interest in rural versus urban communities. The research found that educators noted differences between urban and rural communities, perceiving greater, varied, free-choice learning organizations. In contrast, participating families perceived more variety of free-choice learning resources in rural areas. Research also revealed that families often unintentionally attended Leap programming when visiting a museum, while those who attended Leap in libraries intentionally sought out the program.
The forty State Leaders reported high satisfaction with the training and increased confidence, knowledge, and skills in training others to lead science and literacy learning. They also indicated increased collaboration and relationships built between state leaders and their respective organizations. Trained educators responded positively to the program and reported an increased understanding of effective facilitation of science and literacy learning.
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted program scaling from 2020-2022 and required the project team, state leaders, and educators to shift to virtual implementation. Generally, those who attended in-person training at the state leader and educator level felt more prepared to implement the program. Yet, positive levels of preparedness and confidence persisted through the pandemic. For many states, hybrid implementation remained a model even after in-person programming was possible, and some states reported being able to reach more educators this way, especially for educators who faced distance and time limitations. Research suggested that libraries and community centers were more agile than museums and could better leverage this approach to reach more audiences.
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