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The Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) is a non-profit, global organization based in Washington, D.C., United States that provides a collective voice, professional support, and programming opportunities for science centers, museums, and related institutions. Through strategic alliances and global partnerships, ASTC's goal is to increase awareness of the valuable contributions its members make to their communities and the field of informal STEM learning.
Founded in 1973, ASTC now represents approximately 650 members in nearly 50 countries, including not only science centers and museums, but also nature centers, aquariums, planetariums, zoos, botanical gardens, and natural history and children's museums, as well as companies, consultants, and other organizations that share an interest in informal science education.
Science centers connect people with science, give science a presence in the community and offer people of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to ask questions, discuss, and explore.
Science centers provide firsthand experience and an opportunity to develop intuitions about the natural world. In science centers, hands-on activities may include things such as feeling infrared radiation and experiencing angular momentum--so when they encounter these concepts in other settings, they'll be likelier to understand. Many schools rely on science centers for memorable field trips and auditorium programs, hands-on curriculum, science kits, and teacher training.
Science centers also encourage curiosity. In the words of Frank Oppenheimer, founder of San Francisco's Exploratorium, "No one flunks a museum." For some, the interests awakened by science center experiences have turned into a passion for science, and the beginning of a lifetime devoted to teaching or research.
ASTC's goal is to support these efforts of science centers and museums, in addition to their staff, visitors, and communities.
Some ASTC member institutions also participate in ASTC's Passport Program. The Passport Program allows members of a participating institution to visit other participating institutions for free, provided the member is visiting an institution more than 90 miles from their home institution. More than 300 institutions in over a dozen countries are currently participating in the Passport Program.
Each year, nearly 2,000 individuals representing science centers and museums from across the world, informal science educators, and companies collaborating with the museum field gather for ASTC's Annual Conference.
ASTC provides professional development opportunities for those who work in science centers and other institutions of informal learning. ASTC's professional development services include:
Communities of Practice (CoP) provide informal science education professionals the infrastructure they need to meet the field's challenges from the ground up. ASTC provides CoPs with resources and support for connecting with colleagues, convening meetings, and organizing workshops, among other activities. The current CoPs include:
Coming Soon: Museum Screens
Since 1974, ASTC Exhibition Services has supported excellence and innovation in science exhibitions through collaborations with science centers and other organizations worldwide. They work with partners to support sharing of knowledge and experience, and assist with planning, marketing, and management of traveling exhibitions.
ASTC Connect is a learning and resource-sharing area for the informal science education community. Discussion forums, online workshops, and self-paced tutorials are hosted in collaboration with partners from throughout the field.
The YOUmedia Network is a group of libraries, museums and community-based organizations that invite young people to create, learn, and build skills with traditional and 21st century digital tools. There are currently 24 Learning Lab sites operating across the country with programs that are driven by youth interests and connect learning directly back to school, careers, and other realms.
The Youth Inspired Challenge is a 3-year initiative designed to expand the impact of science centers and museums to assist the youth around the world to become the innovative and creative thinkers needed for the 21st century workforce. This program was inspired by President Obama and other world leaders' commitment to strengthening the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics knowledge of today's youth. To date, more than 100 science centers have joined the challenge.
Girls RISEnet, a partnership between the Miami Science Museum, the Association of Science-Technology Centers, and SECME, Inc., is strengthening the professional capacity of informal science educators to engage and motivate minority girls in grades 6-12 to explore and pursue science and engineering careers.
ExhibitFiles is an online community of exhibit practitioners building a shared collection of exhibition records and reviews. It's a place to connect with colleagues, find out about exhibits, and share your own experiences. ExhibitFiles was developed to preserve and share experiences and materials that are often unrecorded, temporary, and hard to locate. Visitors to the site can also search for, and post exhibitions rentals and sales.
ASTC and the National Writing Project (NWP) received a grant from the National Science Foundation to design a program that will integrate science and literacy. Through this program, ten partnerships will be created between NWP sites and ASTC-member science centers and museums to develop innovative programs for educators and youth.
ASTC publishes a bimonthly magazine titled Dimensions. The magazine features in-depth analysis of news and trends in the science center and museum field, in addition to articles about noteworthy events and resources. Dimensions readers include directors and staff of ASTC-member institutions around the world, as well as those with an interest in informal science education.
ASTC's Legislative Action Center is an easy, online advocacy tool to help the public stay informed of important public policy developments and provide opportunities to get involved in advocacy efforts on behalf of the museum and informal science education fields.
ASTC is home to the Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE). CAISE's charge is to strengthen and connect the informal science education (ISE) community by creating and disseminating resources, as well as catalyzing conversation and collaboration across the ISE field--including film and broadcast media, science centers and museums, zoos and aquariums, botanical gardens and nature centers, digital media and gaming, science journalism, and youth, community, and after-school programs. Founded in 2007 with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, CAISE is a partnership among ASTC and Co-Principal Investigators at Oregon State University (OSU), the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments (UPCLOSE), The Great Lakes Science Center and KQED San Francisco. CAISE manages the InformalScience.org website, which is a growing repository of project descriptions, evaluation reports and tools, and research papers and products that are collected and curated to provide informal STEM Learning practitioners with knowledge that can be used when developing new work and seeking potential collaborators.