informal educationISEA

Celebrating informal science education in Texas

Emily Weerts has been an educator and program manager for museums, preschools, special education classrooms, and afterschool classes. She has been a member of the Informal Science Education Association of Texas (ISEA) since 2011 and currently serves on its board of directors. Emily is passionate about connecting with fellow educators and believes that great learning opportunities can happen anywhere.

Frank Oppenheimer, the visionary founder of San Francisco’s Exploratorium, once noted that “no one ever flunked a museum.” As a lifelong learner, I find the sentiment resonates with me—there are countless venues rich with educational opportunities, many that celebrate a learner-driven, informal approach to attaining new knowledge.

The field of science is particularly rich with informal venues; from museums to zoos, from state parks to aquariums, there are many science-rich institutions welcoming individuals, families, and classes interested in self-directed learning experiences. The Informal Science Education Association of Texas (ISEA) was founded in 1997 to support partnerships among informal and formal science educators to improve science education in Texas.

ISEA Texas defines informal science education as providing unique learning environments that increase appreciation and understanding of science, mathematics, and technology and their applications through voluntary and often self-directed experiences for individuals of all ages and backgrounds. Those interested in alternative schooling and inspiring learning experiences will relate deeply to the educators and professionals brought together by ISEA.

The firepit at Sky Ranch, venue for this year’s ISEA Texas conference

ISEA’s annual conference will be held February 18–20 at Sky Ranch in Van, Texas. This year’s conference theme is “Creating Connections: Building the Future,” and Dr. Gerald Liberman, PhD, will be delivering a keynote address focused on designing and implementing successful environmental education programs. As a museum educator I’ve had the pleasure of attending three previous conferences, and I always gain a great deal from the experience. As the name might suggest, the ISEA conference experience is informal and friendly; topics are accessible and participants are extremely welcoming. Through ISEA, I’ve connected with other educators, learned new skills, and talked late into the night about new approaches to education.

This year’s ISEA conference features a number of sessions that will be of interest to members of the alternative education community. Several focus on creating successful partnerships between educational groups and their communities. Gina Higby from UT will teach workshop participants how to engage diverse audiences in STEM activities through a parachute design class. Dr. Finkelstein and Dr. Silverman from the McDonald Observatory will overview activities about stars and galaxies and advise on how to successfully incorporate astronomy content into science curricula. There’s even a session for fearful grant writers; in “It Was a Dark and Stormy Grant Application,” author and educator Christina Soontornvat will apply tools from fiction to write more successful grants.

Informal science educators delving into hands-on activities at a past ISEA conference

The ISEA conference always features an incredible silent auction, with participating museums, zoos, aquariums, parks, and educators donating great swag to support scholarships for the conference. This year’s attendees can opt in to participate in a pre-conference workshop focused on crafting engaging social media or attend a post-conference field trip to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center. More information about the conference, including registration and a scholarship application, can be found here. Hope to see some of you there!

Emily Weerts

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