Three Questions with Dr. Andi Fourlis, Chief Learning Officer at Arizona Science Center

July 7, 2016

What role do science-rich institutions play in engaging students - and STEM teachers themselves - in more active, authentic learning outside the classroom?
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Our next virtual “Steal This Session” delves into ways that our nation’s schools and universities can better embrace active STEM learning and professional development by collaborating with science-rich institutions. Steal This Sessions feature three 100Kin10 partner organizations sharing diverse approaches to addressing a shared challenge, followed by a vigorous conversation among participants about the challenge, the solutions, and where we, collectively, go from here.

We’ve asked Dr. Andi Fourlis, Chief Learning Officer at Arizona Science Center, to share a little bit about her work in advance of the “Steal This Session.”

1. Tell us about your work in this area. What makes it unique?

Arizona Science Center is proud to be an integrated learning institution in Arizona’s diverse community. Annually we inspire, educate and engage 500,000 curious minds through science.

We are committed to making science accessible to all, creating direct experiences with scientific phenomena and designing a professional home away from home for educators.

We are broad, teacher-focused, and sit at the intersection of formal and informal education.

We are laser-focused on increasing the competency and competencies of STEM teachers, and we believe that working at the intersection of formal and informal education can help engage both teachers and students in STEM learning.

We are not focused on test scores. Our approach sits at the intersection of what students need to know and be able to do, what students are interested in, and state instructional standards. We then turn that into good instructional design to make kids want to learn it and teachers excited to teach it. While we are not motivated by test-prep methodology, we of course want to increase student learning. But that is up to the school–we are focused on teachers.

We are teachers and administrators. Those of us who deliver the programs are all certified in the state of Arizona, and we are proud of our ability to integrate formal and informal methodologies to increase teacher competency and competencies.


2. What advice do you have for partners looking to embrace active-STEM learning and PD in collaboration with science-rich institutions?

Think beyond the boundaries of typical formal education. The role of informal educational experiences is to push those boundaries and say “what else can we be doing? Take hallmarks of informal education (free choice, interest, examining phenomena) and use those as entry points for students–and teachers–into what are often seen as the daunting aspects of math and science.

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Working at the intersection of formal and informal education is extremely powerful for teachers and students. Field trips to science centers have been proven to provide a spark of interest for students in STEM. Figure out how to keep those experiences going throughout the year–and in the classroom.
Be open minded. The sky’s the limit when working with informal science-rich institutions. Don’t be afraid to challenge your thinking and dream big about what can be accomplished. Science rich institutions are nimble and are designed to innovate.

3. Great work stands on the shoulders of giants. What individuals or organizations have you learned the most from when it comes to active STEM learning and professional development?

The Arizona Science Center is a member of the Association for Technology and Science Centers (ASTC) which provides relevant research, collaboration and best practices that guide our work. In addition to attending and presenting at their annual conference, we are very active in their communities of practice which allow us to learn and share with our colleagues around the world. Currently, we are focused on how to effectively measure the impact our youth and adult programs have on learning, interest and participation in STEM.

We are always looking for thought partners around how to get better at our work and share best practices, so please be in touch if you have any questions or ideas for us!

Looking for more? Check out our 3Qs posts with Maggie Reinbold from the San Diego Zoo and Ann Caspari from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (coming soon!) to discover what they’re doing to encourage active STEM learning and professional development in their work. And if you are a partner interested in joining their “Steal This” session on July 14th, you can sign-up here.