Tag Archives: Funding

Spark launches new RFP funding opportunity for Activation Program Enhancements

What do activities like taking apart a bicycle, remembering a valued science teacher, or admiring the sculpture in the courtyard at the museum have in common? To some, they are simply warm childhood memories. To others, however, these are the moments when a passive interest became a lifelong passion.

At the Activation Lab, a project of the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Kevin Crowley and Dr. Christian Schunn are investigating how moments like these add up to ‘activate’ students’ interest in specific subjects and how this interest can be cultivated over time to increase the likelihood of children’s ongoing participation in science, technology, and the arts.

According to Dr. Crowley, determining how children are activated toward a particular discipline, and successfully cultivating that activation can have an strong influence on the choices they make about college and career. Further, Crowley points out that in order to understand and apply widespread learning activation (and avoid deactivation) in Pittsburgh, the Activation Lab and Kids+Creativity network organizations need to conceptualize and design potential pathways to activation.

As Dr. Schunn explains it, people learn or become engaged in different ways. For the student who finds value in science and believes that it is important to learn what he or she is taught in that area, activation is likely. On a similar note, those who are fascinated by science – maybe those who experience a serious WOW factor in a museum setting – also become engaged and tend to stay activated. And, finally, for those who can apply their knowledge of a discipline, such as science, to understand the world around them, activation becomes a source of sensemaking.

Watch a recap of Measuring Network Impact, an event introducing the ideas of the Activation Lab

The challenge is in designing programs that hit all three notes: imparting the value of a subject, triggering a student’s fascination with the subject, and engaging the student in the application of that subject to make sense of the world. What’s more, as students move through formal and informal learning environments, age groups, and interest-based clubs, organizations must coordinate their programming so that learners experience a continual ‘ramping up’ of interest that leads to activation.

Funding Available for Activation Program Enhancements

To cultivate collaboration between institutions and develop effective methods for handing off students from organization to organization in Pittsburgh’s learning ecosystem, The Sprout Fund has issued a Request for Proposal for Activation Program Enhancements. Seeking proposals for the development and testing of new, intentional pathways to enhance and sustain learning activation in science, technology, and the arts.

Supported projects will work closely with the Activation Lab to design program enhancements for existing activities scheduled for implementation in 2013. In addition to benefiting from the consultation of Activation Lab researchers, collaborating organizations will qualify for up to $5,000 to support the implementation of Activation Program Enhancements.

Applications are due by Friday, October 19. Full details and application materials are available here.

Meet Collaborators at Activation Matchmaking Happy Hour

Collaboration between participating organizations is key to successful Activation Program Enhancements. Organizations can meet potential partners at the Activation Matchmaking Happy Hour on Wednesday, October 10th from 5-7pm at Bar Marco in the Strip District.

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh receives $440K IMLS grant to make more Makeshops!

On Thursday, September 20, 2012, The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh was awarded a 2012 National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in the amount of $444,296. Funding through this highly competitive federal grant program will enable the Children’s Museum, in partnership with the New York Hall of Science, to conduct emergent research on family participation in museum-based “makerspaces,” places where people can create, explore and innovate through open-access to digital media resources and physical materials. The Children’s Museum’s own MAKESHOP, one of the country’s first in-museum makerspaces and a national model, will serve as one of the sites for this potentially transformative learning research.

This year the IMLS received 80 applications from museum’s requesting more than $17,376,990. Today the IMLS announced fifteen projects that will receive funding, totaling $3,447,740. Reviewers identified these proposals as examples of the types of highly innovative projects with broad potential impact for museums across the nation.

“We believe that each of these grants will advance the museum, library, and archive professions through new research and the creation and dissemination of innovative tools, models, and activities that can be shared broadly,” said IMLS Director Susan Hildreth.

A 2009 IMLS National Medal award winner, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh launched MAKESHOP in 2011 in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center and the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Learning in Out of School Environments to nurture and advance informal learning opportunities and a research-based understanding at the intersection of the digital and the physical. To conduct this timely makerspace research, the Children’s Museum will partner with academic researchers to design tools that recognize and measure productive patterns of family participation and their associated learning outcomes in these spaces. Results will benefit other family-oriented museums looking to provide space in which families can create together.

“This is really big news, stated Jane Werner, Executive Director of Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, “as we are in a group of only fifteen museums who received this grant nationally. Further, this award reaffirms that Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is a leader in the field for the research-based creation of museum makerspaces.”

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s MAKESHOP is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Click here for more information about the MAKESHOP makeshoppgh.wordpress.com/

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About the Institute of Museum and Library Services
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. Through grant making, policy development, and research, we help communities and individuals thrive through broad public access to knowledge, cultural heritage, and lifelong learning. To learn more about IMLS, please visit www.imls.gov.

Digital Media & Learning Badge Development Research Competition: Call for Proposals

Calling all research proposals that support and inform the design, development, and deployment of the digital badges and badge systems! The Digital Media and Learning Badge Development Research Competition has begun with a request for theoretical and empirical research proposals that address any of the following questions:

  • How have ranking, badging, reputations and achievement systems been used in games, clubs, competitions, and other forms of interest-driven activities? What design principles and guidelines might we glean from past and existing cases that can inform the development of badges for learning?
  • What role have accreditation and certificates played inside and outside of formal degree programs, including areas such as core curriculum, work skills training, arts, crafts, and other trades? More specifically, how might badging help to address some of the challenges currently facing teacher assessment and credentialing?
  • How have learning institutions, groups, and individuals produced, utilized, and exploited various credentialing and reputation systems? How has such credentialing been changing with the shifts to a digital and networked society?
  • How do badge creators define mastery? To what degrees are the competencies represented by the badging system and individual badges clear to the learners?
  • In what ways is mastery assessed? Are learners given productive opportunities to demonstrate mastery (in their application, in producing and not solely consuming knowledge, and in their participating in learning and knowledge production)?
  • How do badging systems conceptualize and operationalize learning pathways/trajectories? Do badging systems offer opportunities for learning connections and interactions with others, as well as for feedback? For leveling up along the learning trajectory? How or to what extent are novice to expert trajectories made available?
  • How is the badging system conceiving and operationalizing validation or legitimacy of the learning taking place, and so too of the badges being issued?

Occurring in two stages, the application requires an initial submission of a Letter of Intent and, with authorization, a Final Application submitted for judging. Find more information on either stage of the application process here. Be sure to have your Letter of Intent ready by 5:00pm on August 27th, 2012 for priority consideration! Once notified of receipt, Final Applications will be due by 5:00pm on October 1st, 2012.

Pennsylvania corporate tax credit will pay for private-school scholarships

Earlier this month, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett succeeded in expanding the amount of tax breaks made available to corporations in return for donations made for private school scholarships.

Gov. Corbett, who has pushed hard for a school-voucher program, achieved much of that goal Saturday night through the expansion of a corporate tax credit that for the first time will pay for public school students to attend private schools.

As part of the budget deal concluded just before midnight, the legislature broadened the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program (EITC), adding $50 million in tax breaks to businesses that donate money for scholarships to students in the state’s lowest-performing schools.

The new tax credit applies only to students in the attendance area of the lowest-performing 15 percent of public schools, more than one-third of which are in Philadelphia.

The possible impact on the city’s struggling Catholic schools was reflected in a statement from Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who praised the legislation as “a strong first step toward what we need to help secure Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and to provide families . . . with real choices in how to best educate their children.”

The budget provides for corporate donations to pay up to $8,500 in tuition for the students to attend private schools. Special-education students can get up to $15,000 in tuition.

Preference is given to low-income students; those in a family of four earning less than $41,348 would get priority, for example. It also gives preference to Philadelphia School District students, as well as students from Delaware County’s Chester Upland District and three other districts – Harrisburg, York City and Duquesne – about to be declared distressed under new state legislation.

The legislation also increased funding for the original EITC program, adopted in 2001, which gives corporate tax breaks to fund tuition only for students already in private schools, by $25 million.

The existing tax credit program will expand from $75 million to $100 million this fall. Of that amount, $60 million will go for private school scholarships, $30 million for educational organizations that offer special programs for schools, and $10 million for pre-kindergarten private school programs.

Legislators found it difficult during the last 18 months, since Corbett began advocating vouchers, to spend money directly from the state education budget for the program. They apparently found it more palatable to instead expand corporate tax credits for the same purpose.

Pittsburgh’s own Duquesne community is among those eligible to receive vouchers under the plan, as well as Harrisburg, York City, Chester Upland, and Philadelphia public schools.

For the full story, including quotes from Philadelphia’s Archbishop, Charles J. Chaput welcoming the inclusion of the new program, and Lawrence Feinberg, co-chair of the Keystone State Education Coalition, voicing opposition to the use of scare state funds for private and religious institutions, visit the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Obama Gives Thumbs Up to STEM Education

CBS News recently posted an article laying out the details for Obama’s education plan. His plan, known as the implementation of “Master Teacher Corps.” is said to be a one billion dollar effort to support and promote elite math and science teachers across the country.

“The Obama administration unveiled plans Wednesday to create an elite corps of master teachers, a $1 billion effort to boost U.S. students’ achievement in science, technology, engineering and math.

The program to reward high-performing teachers with salary stipends is part of a long-term effort by President Obama to encourage education in high-demand areas that hold the key to future economic growth — and to close the achievement gap between American students and their international peers.

Teachers selected for the Master Teacher Corps will be paid an additional $20,000 a year and must commit to participate multiple years. The goal is to create a multiplier effect in which expert educators share their knowledge and skills with other teachers, improving the quality of education for all students.

Speaking at a rally for his re-election campaign in San Antonio on Tuesday, Obama framed his emphasis on expanded education funding as a point of contrast with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, whom he accused of prioritizing tax cuts for the wealthy over reinvestment in the nation.

‘I’m running to make sure that America has the best education system on earth, from pre-K all the way to post-graduate,’ Obama said. ‘And that means hiring new teachers, especially in math and science.’

The administration will make $100 million available immediately out of an existing fund to incentivize top-performing teachers. Over the longer term, the White House said it plans to launch the program with $1 billion included in Obama’s budget request for fiscal year 2013.

But the House and Senate both voted down Obama’s budget earlier in the year, making it far from certain that Obama will be able to get congressional approval to spend $1 billion on master teachers.

An aide to Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, noted that the federal government already has more than 80 teacher quality programs and said it would be foolish to pump money into programs that may be duplicative or unproductive.

‘Republicans share the president’s goal of getting better teachers in the classroom,’ said Kline spokeswoman Alexandra Sollberger. ‘However, we also value transparency and efficient use of taxpayer resources.’

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he expected the two parties to come together to support achievement in areas of high demand.

‘This initiative has nothing to do with politics,’ Duncan said. ‘It’s absolutely in our country’s best long-term economic interest to do a much better job in this area.’

A report released in February by the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology found that the U.S. must increase by 34 percent the number of students receiving degrees in science, math and related fields to keep up with economic demand.

The program will start with 2,500 teachers divided up among 50 different sites, the White House said, but will grow to include 10,000 teachers over the next four years. Obama, in partnership with a coalition of groups including the Carnegie Corporation of New York, has set a goal of producing 100,000 additional math and science teachers over the next 10 years.”

To read the full post on Obama’s “Master Education Corps.“, visit the CBS News website.

Teens fund programs for other teens through Teens 4 Change

The youth-led grant making program, Teens 4 Change, involved nine students ranging in age from 14 to 17 years old. Students came together from a number of different Pittsburgh schools and communities to learn about making social change happen, specifically for people their age.  Willa Paterson from Three Rivers Community Foundation (TRCF), the leader of the Teens 4 Change Program, shares her thoughts.

Spark: What is Teens 4 Change? How can you sum it up in a few sentences?

WP: The teens created this mission statement for the program: Teens 4 Change is a youth-led group that encourages and promotes social justice by funding and empowering youth who are seeking to make change in their southwestern Pennsylvania communities. Thanks to a grant from The Grable Foundation, the teens had $7,000 to give away to youth led or youth specific projects. By deciding how to use this money, the high school teens learned about philanthropy and the difference between social change and social service.

Spark: Why do this? What is the value of introducing teens to this process?

WP: It is so important to get students thinking about their community at an early age.  If community service and philanthropy are built into school work and extracurricular activities it gives students a much greater understanding of the amount of work that can be accomplished by coming together for a single goal.

Spark: What was the process they went through?

WP: The program started with a day of learning about the grant making process and doing team-building activities. After the initial session students met every other Tuesday at the East Liberty Library to discuss a specific challenge assigned for the session. For example, one week they had to research a social justice movement that interested them and make a presentation on it in order to better appreciate the historical perspectives of what groups had dealt with in the past.

Each student fulfilled a requirement to do outreach and give a presentation to at least one school group or organization about the grant opportunity.

Spark: How did they make decisions?

WP: Teens 4 Change received 9 grant applications and the students decided to invite each applicant to give a short presentation. This gave the group a better understanding of the direction of the projects and allowed them to ask more detailed questions. The students rated each application on certain criteria from the RFP they had sent out and then had a group discussion about how they rated each application. The strongest applicants were fully funded. Then the students had to decide if they would provide partial funding to the less strong applicants or not fund them at all.

Spark: So what did the teens decide to grant awards to?

WP: Funding was given to:

  • Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh for CampOUT, an alternative summer camp for children ages 6-14 of alternative families
  • Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, Pittsburgh Chapter for the Peer Advocates for Safe Schools (PASS) program, a 10 hour youth leadership and empowerment training program for high school students.
  • M-Powerment for the Clothesline Project, to bring awareness of domestic violence at high schools (Being led by the Youth Advocacy League at Shaler High School)
  • Prime Stage Theatre for the play “Everything is Fine” to tour schools and community organizations to raise awareness about teen dating violence. The play was written, designed, produced, and presented by PST’s Teen Board.
  • Tree Pittsburgh for a project in Homewood that engages teenagers in becoming eco-stewards in their communities by allowing them to help organize tree tending events and take the Tree Tenders course.

Spark: What did the students learn and accomplish?

WP: The students came away with a much greater understanding of TRCF’s mission of Change, not Charity. Most of them had volunteered with some type of charitable organization in the past and for them to see the value of this work but also recognize that there are deeper issues needing to be addressed by society was extremely powerful.

The students also learned a lot about each other, what perspectives they shared and where their perspectives differed given their personal backgrounds and experiences. When asked what they liked most about the program, many students noted the people they had the opportunity to meet and work with. One student said it was “how empowered I felt after each meeting. I never doubted that my opinions and ideas mattered and could/would make a difference.”

Spark: What’s next for the teens and for the program?

WP: Many of the Teens 4 Change board members expressed a strong interest in doing non-profit work in the future and continuing to be proponents of positive social change.

The program ran for its first year thanks to a Grable Foundation grant for the students’ stipends and for the grant making funds.  The students were also asked to fundraise for next year’s round of students, which they did through a Mother’s Day flower basket fundraiser. TRCF is in the process of securing contributions and more grant funding to ensure that this program will be in full swing again next year.

Funding opportunities for Breakthrough School Models and Game-Based Learning


Two national funding opportunities are now accepting proposals for innovative ideas related to re-imagining schools and developing new interactive learning games.

First up, the C2i: Gaming Challenge from the NEA Foundation:

The NEA Foundation and Microsoft – US Partners in Learning want to know your best idea for how interactive technology and game-based learning can improve teaching and learning. According to Kids and Gaming 2011, the latest report from The NPD Group, 91 percent of kids ages 2-17 (approximately 64 million) play electronic games in the U.S., nearly a 10 per cent increase from 2009. The challenge for educators is how to harness this powerful tool.

Submissions for game-based learning initiatives will be accepted until March 5, 2012. Learn more at The NEA Foundation.

Next up, the Wave IIIa: Breakthrough School Models for College Readiness:

Our vision for Wave IIIa is to identify and scale fundamentally redesigned, whole school models that combine the best aspects of brick and mortar and online learning and result in more personalized, mastery based learning.

Prior to applying, all applicants are strongly encouraged to read and review the Wave IIIa Requests for Proposals.

Applying for Wave IIIa support is a two phase process. The initial form-based application will be accepted on a rolling basis until June 8, 2012.

Visit Next Generation Learning Challenges for details on how to apply, to download forms, and access helpful resources.


Occupy the Classroom: A Solution to Bridging the Gap

Beginning on Wall Street, the Occupy protests are popping up all over the nation. Although many media outlets would have you believe otherwise, the protesters have a unified message: it’s time to bridge the economic gap. Most talk about socioeconomic inequalities focuses around jobs and unfair lending practices, but as one New York Times columnist points out, we might be missing the point. At the root of these issues are people and before these people are advantaged and disadvantaged adults, they’re children. More importantly, they’re students. In Nicholas D. Kristof’s Op-Ed piece, he urges us to walk away from Wall Street for a moment and consider “occupying” the classroom instead.

Kristof writes, “One common thread, whether I’m reporting on poverty in New York City or in Sierra Leone, is that a good education tends to be the most reliable escalator out of poverty. Another common thread: whether in America or Africa, disadvantaged kids often don’t get a chance to board that escalator.”

Before talk of employment, lending practices, and taxation, the issue that most determines an individual’s ability to rise from poverty is their education. Those whose wealth allows them access to high quality education have a better chance of succeeding in school and in their future. Those who don’t are often “left behind.” By investing more focus and money in education, we could level the playing field in this regard. When everyone receives and equally valuable education, children have a more equal chance at economic prosperity.

Kristof continues, “Maybe it seems absurd to propose expansion of early childhood education at a time when budgets are being slashed. Yet James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago, has shown that investments in early childhood education pay for themselves. Indeed, he argues that they pay a return of 7 percent or more — better than many investments on Wall Street.”

Not only have programs aimed at improving education to disadvantaged students proven effective, but the results pay for themselves when it comes to federal spending. As Kristof puts it, “the question isn’t whether we can afford early childhood education, but whether we can afford not to provide it.”

We want to hear what you think. Do you agree that more attention should focus on education?