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About the Center for Informal Learning in Schools (CILS)

About the Center for Informal Learning in Schools (CILS)

The mission of CILS is to research, collaboratively design, and advocate for inquiry-based learning. We seek to broaden conceptions of learning by designing and studying experiences that focus on play, investigation, creativity, iteration, questioning, and meaning making. We explicitly consider what these dimensions of learning offer for equity-oriented practice and dialogue between in-school and out-of-school spaces. We engage in this work through co-designing equity-oriented learning environments, conducting research on STEM-rich learning, and creating resources to share with the field.

Current Projects

Research + Practice Collaboratory

The Research + Practice Collaboratory is a five-year project that seeks to address the long-standing gap between research and practice in STEM education by improving access to research, fostering dialogue and exchange, and prototyping new research-based initiatives to improve STEM learning. Lead partner institutions are EDC, Inverness Research, SRI International, TERC, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Washington, and the Exploratorium.

Topics we explore through this work include:

  • STEM Practices
  • Learning Across Settings
  • Interactive Technologies
  • Formative Assessment

The Exploratorium is leading research on learning across settings through our work with the California Tinkering Afterschool Network.

California Tinkering Afterschool Network

As part of the Research + Practice Collaboratory, the Exploratorium is leading the California Tinkering Afterschool Network (CTAN) and studying STEM and equity in afterschool settings. CTAN is a collaboration between the Exploratorium, Community Science Workshop, Discovery Science Center, Techbridge, and our respective afterschool programs, which engage diverse youth in low-income communities with STEM-rich tinkering activities.

Funded by the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, our research examines activity design and best practices for implementation, staff capacity and professional development, and program sustainability/scale.

Relating Research to Practice

Relating Research to Practice is a multi-institution effort to synthesize educational research for informal science education professionals in order to help inform their professional development, discussion, reflection, and practice. The website provides short briefs from recent peer-reviewed educational publications. Topics include:

  • Communicating Climate Change
  • Engaging Learners with Scientific Practices
  • Expanding Access to Non-Dominant Populations
  • Interest, Identity, Culture, and Learning
  • Relating Formal and Informal Learning
  • Research, Method, and Theory
  • STEM Learning through Digital & Visual Media
  • Teaching and Learning in Informal Settings
  • Teaching Strategies and Teacher PD
  • Youth and STEM Learning

Tinkering Afterschool Program

The Tinkering Afterschool program is an ongoing partnership between the Exploratorium and San Francisco Boys & Girls Clubs, offering tinkering activities for clubhouses serving urban, predominantly low-income youth from immigrant and diasporic backgrounds. Adult and teen educators join elementary-aged children in a weekly workshop setting to explore, design and co-create stop-motion animation films, wooden pinball machines and musical instruments.

Since its inception, the program has put equity at the fore. Educators work to design inclusive and respectful tinkering activities and learning environments that engage youth in deep thinking and meaning making, draw upon their cultural and intellectual histories, and expand conceptions of learning, intelligence and science. Working collaboratively with researchers, they also study the nature of teaching and learning in the program, how to design for equity, and what kinds of shifts in participation and identity emerge among participants (children, teens and adults) over an extended period of involvement.


Past CILS Projects: http://cils.exploratorium.edu/resources.php

For information about CILS and any of our current or past projects, please contact cils@exploratorium.edu.