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Intersections: A Short History of an Innovative Collaboration

“What if a school classroom space sometimes worked more like an interactive science museum — where the materials and environment encouraged informal learning? And what if field-trip and science-museum experiences sometimes worked more like the National Writing Project network — where people are the biggest resource, and collaborations are reflective and fluid?”

– Lacy Manship, Associate Director, UNC Charlotte Writing Project

The best of formal and informal education merged when the National Writing Project (NWP) and the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) kicked off the Intersections Initiative, a program to support partnerships between NWP sites and science museums around the country to integrate literacy practices with science, technology, art, engineering, and mathematics (STEAM) education and to work at the intersections of formal and informal education. 

Why Bring Science Centers and Writing Projects Together?

Inverness Research had worked with ASTC and NWP for over twenty-five years, and Mark St. John thought there was tremendous potential in fostering this partnership for several reasons. One reason is that NWP and ASTC share a long history of working with science educators and youth. In addition, there are approximately 200 local NWP sites located across the country and over 350 science centers and museums that are ASTC members; many communities have both. All three organizations thought that a collaboration between the NWP and ASTC sites seemed likely to foster and be able to support innovative experiments in science-literacy work at scale.

Foundational Ideas

Several key ideas were foundational to the design and implementation of the Intersections project. First, it is both feasible and productive to have writing project sites and science centers plan locally appropriate, innovative science-literacy projects. Rather than setting out to dictate that local partnerships would implement a “one-size fits all” program, the Intersections project would provide guidelines and ongoing input to help foster the creative bubbling up of innovative ideas from local sites. Another key idea is that the project would focus on the formation of partnerships first, developing projects second, with the forming of project ideas as a vehicle to build partnerships within the network. The Intersections project would also focus on design and iteration, using multiple mechanisms to provide the local partnership sites with a variety of input and feedback on the design and implementation of their local programs—including design institutes and charrettes, community calls, leadership team thinking partners, and annual reflective report writing processes. In addition, the Intersections project was designed to address the challenge of how to scale up and disseminate local, innovative programming: by linking two national organizations in this proposed project, with their history of sharing programs and practices across both kinds of communities (writing and informal science learning), this project would create the opportunity for both large-scale experimentation and dissemination of creative arrangements between NWP sites and science centers. These small local experiments, networked together and supporting each other, could lead to innovative designs of programs and activities that give informal and formal science educators skills in developing science and literacy programs, and give youth creative opportunities to have rich science inquiry experiences while at the same time fostering literacy and media skills.

Symbiosis: Innovation and Scale-Up

The huge existing capacity to share and disseminate these experiments through both of these existing organizations—essentially continually growing the network of NWP sites and science museums involved in the effort —could provide a mechanism that creates a symbiotic relationship between innovation and scale-up.

The resulting Intersections project’s goals were to create partnerships between NWP sites and science museums, to support their self-identified science and literacy programming, and link them with other sites across the country through professional development and technical assistance activities to create a network of practitioners that share and communicate emerging new practices. Led by project leaders from both NWP and ASTC, Intersections would help broker local partner arrangements between NWP sites and science centers; provide meetings and ongoing support mechanisms to enable these partner sites to share ideas and learn from one another; provide technical assistance and evaluation of programming efforts; and ultimately, produce a collection of successful arrangements and program designs.