Informal science education supports people of all ages and walks of life in exploring science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Over 100 science and technology festivals were celebrated this year around the world. While the concept is relatively new in the US, there were over a dozen festivals held here in 2010, and that number will double in 2011. Each science festival is unique, but all grew from the conviction that science and technology deserve their place on the cultural stage. Fueling this growth from behind the scenes is the National Science Foundation-funded Science Festival Alliance (DRL-0840333).
The Science Festival Alliance formed in 2009 at an inflection point in the evolution of science festivals in the US. The Alliance is a consortium dedicated to fostering more and better science festivals throughout the country, and is the product of four founding institutions: the University of California, San Diego; the MIT Museum; the University of California, San Francisco; and the Franklin Institute. Over the past year the Alliance has created an online clearinghouse for festival information, conducted multi-site evaluation of the festival format, arranged for peer-to-peer mentoring of new festival efforts, and worked with national collaborators looking for a strategic approach to festival involvement.
One of the strengths of the science festival format is that it rallies people to celebrate science as alive and local, and the Alliance is encouraging the grassroots growth of independently organized festivals that are of and for their communities. Another distinguishing feature of science festivals is that they bring the public into direct contact with scientists and engineers, leading people to seek out more science experiences throughout the rest of the year. The Science Festival Alliance’s 2010 evaluation findings have shown that the top factor yielding positive impacts from festival events is these face-to-face interactions with a STEM professional.
Go to the Alliance’s website, www.sciencefestivals.org, to find a festival near you. The Alliance is also hosting its first International Public Science Events Conference February 16th and 17th in Washington DC, an event that will bring together science festival organizers from around the world. The conference is a collaboration of the Science Festival Alliance and the science café educational outreach effort of NOVA scienceNOW (DRL-0638931), and is an official pre-conference of the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Registration, including a call for session proposals, is currently online at www.sciencefestivals.org/conference.html.