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National Science Foundation Awards $2.2 Million to SARRC and Collaborators to Expand Training of Informal Learning Educators

In 2020, SARRC’s research team embarked on a collaborative project with the Institute for Learning Innovation and the SciTech Institute to improve inclusivity of informal STEM learning settings like museums in Arizona for children and teens with autism. The project team modified and piloted a training approach initially developed for parents and teachers to be used with educators working in informal science learning settings like museums. The goal was to enhance the capacity of museum educators to implement autism-specific support techniques and strategies, so they are better equipped to create inclusive environments.

Based on the success of the original project executed from 2020 to 2023, the project team received a second award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in December 2023. The grant funds will allow the teams at SARRC, Learning Innovation, and the SciTech Institute teams to refine and further test the model for delivering training to museum staff on a broader scale.

“The project seeks to strengthen informal educators’ ability to engage individuals on the autism spectrum in mainstream projects and exhibits and promote more inclusive environments,” says SARRC Chief Science Officer, Christopher J. Smith, Ph.D. “We believe that facilitating inclusion of autistic children and teens could increase the impact of museum visits and the likelihood that autistic individuals will pursue careers in STEM fields.”

In the next phase of the project, the team will expand training initiatives to three additional metropolitan regions in Missouri, Florida and Oklahoma. This phase will build on findings from the first phase to create effective online training methods with supporting site visits. The team will also build an online resource center that will be accessible to informal educators nationwide.

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