Collaborative Research: Water in the Four Corners Region: Libraries and Exhibits Connecting and Engaging Communities with Their Water Systems
This project will engage community members and youth in 13 rural, tribal, and Hispanic communities in the Four Corners Region of the south western U.S. with the science and cultural assets of water. Water is a significant and scarce resource in this geographic area. The Four Corners Region experiences low annual precipitation and high year-to-year fluctuations in water availability. Thus, water is a topic of great interest to community members, whose lives are shaped by water-related events such as drought, flood, and wildfires. Rural tribal, and Hispanic communities are often underserved with respect to science programming; their public libraries often function as the local science center. The project's inter-disciplinary team will develop, deploy, research, and evaluate an interactive traveling exhibit for small libraries, designed around regional water topics and complemented by interactive programming and community engagement events. Additionally, the team will build local capacity by fostering a community of practice among the host librarians, including participation through a support system--the STAR Library Network--to increase their science programming.
This project creates a traveling exhibit and complementary programming around water topics. Through an exhibit co-design model, communities will provide input in the exhibit development, identify water topics that are critical to them, and engage the multi-generational audiences. The exhibit merges the captivating attraction of water with the underlying science content and community context, giving patrons the opportunity to explore these topics through active learning stations, informational panels, citizen science-based activities, and an interactive regional watershed model. Artistic representations of water will be developed by community groups and incorporated into the exhibit as a dynamic display element.
Project goals are to:
- Spark interest in and increase understanding of water as a critical resource and cultural asset across rural, tribal, and Hispanic communities in the Four Corners Region.
- Increase availability of and access to engaging programming for underserved rural, tribal, and Hispanic communities focusing on the science and cultural aspects of water in the Four Corners Region.
- Build capacity for libraries to implement water-focused science programs, and increase available science learning and science communication resources tailored to these informal learning settings.
- Foster a Community of Practice (CoP) for participating librarians to support the development of their programming and content knowledge.
- Advance the body of research on informal learning environments and their role in developing community members' science ecosystems and science identities, particularly in library settings.
The project team will rigorously assess the extent to which program approaches and components stimulate patrons' interest in science, increase science knowledge, and support building a personal science identity. The model is based on the STEM Learning Ecosystems Framework. Robust evaluation will guide the program development through a front-end needs assessment and iterative revision cycles of implementation strategies.
This project is funded by the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which supports innovative research, approaches, and resources for use in a variety of learning settings.
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