Tzou leads $2.4 million NSF grant

Robotics collaboration nets $2.4 million grant from National Science Foundation

Published: September 11, 2015
By Laura Mansfield

Carrie Tzou, assistant professor in the School of Education Studies, is part of a team that has been awarded a $2.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant includes partners from the University of Washington, the Pacific Science Center, Red Eagle Soaring and the Seattle Public Libraries. The project will bring family robotics workshops and robotics backpacks to Seattle public libraries for families to check out for an interactive educational experience.
"This partnership is unique in that it leverages the unique strengths of all involved: a university, science center, library system, and a Native American community organization to bring engineering/robotics education to a broad range of communities," Tzou says. 
Tzou says the project represents a novel way to make engineering education accessible to many families and youth. "Since libraries have such a broad reach within communities, we are excited to be developing a model that can potentially bring this type of learning into a broad range of communities . We will learn a lot about how a university/science center/library/community organization/ partnership can work to bring this type of learning to a broad range of communities."   
Project summary:
Backpacks for Science Learning (BSL): Leveraging family expertise to transform homework as boundary objects across learning contexts 
In this three-year Innovations in Development proposal, the University of Washington is partnering with the Pacific Science Center, the Seattle Public Libraries, and Red Eagle Soaring (RES), a Native American community youth program, to design, implement, and study a program that supports family engagement around robotics, computer science, and science and engineering practices aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS lead states). The project sits at the intersection of several critical needs including: (1) diversifying the audiences served by science museums (Center for the Future of Museums, 2008), (2) increase the professional development of librarians to deliver STEM content in their branches (Aspen Institute, 2014), (3) design STEM programs to engage families around NGSS-aligned practices and STEM learning (Bell, et al, 2009), and (4) document family STEM learning and identity development, especially in populations underrepresented in STEM fields (Bell, et al, 2009). 
Intellectual Merit: We argue that our project meets these needs in the following innovative ways:
1. Creates a partnership that includes a science center, large public library system, and tribal organization: We will leverage existing programs and resources in each institution to partner science center staff, practicing engineers, library staff, and youth volunteers from both the libraries and the science center. 
2. Designs deep professional development for youth, librarians, and Tribal youth organizers  around STEM learning: Teams of youth volunteers, library staff, and staff from RES will attend workshops at the Pacific Science Center where they will deeply orient to NGSS engineering practices through e-textiles and robotics. This professional development will allow them to hold their own workshops in their library branches for families to attend.
3. Designs backpacks to be checked out at libraries, Pacific Science Center, and RES that support family engagement around robotics: After families attend robotics workshops at branch libraries in Seattle and at RES, they will have the opportunity to continue their explorations into coding and robotics at home by checking out robotics backpacks. 
4. Designs a digital badge system that motivates, documents, and tracks families’ engagement with robotics at home: Families will “level up” to be able to access each new level of backpack and new challenges. Badges will be delivered on an online platform that will also serve as a way for families to interact with each other, librarians, and Pacific Science Center’s Portal to the Public engineers to troubleshoot, share ideas, and document their projects.
Broader impacts: This project innovatively engages the intersection of  engaging diverse communities, expanded professional development for professionals in expanding and evolving libraries, family engagement, and engineering and computer science. Further our project builds a unique collaboration through major informal learning institutions and local community branches and community non-profits to ensure broader impacts. This partnership may yield insights about broader scale innovations and dissemination across major urban centers.
Intended outcomes for our audiences include: (1) stronger infrastructure within libraries to both partner with science centers and deliver innovative STEM-related content and materials to families and communities, (2) stronger STEM-linked identities for librarians, youth volunteers, and families from groups underrepresented in STEM such as Native Americans, (3) contributing to the knowledge base in informal science learning about how. We estimate that our project will impact over 2500 youth and families directly, with potentially thousands more impacted with the dissemination of the model to more library branches and possibly other library systems.