A new partnership between the University of Washington College of Education's Institute for Science + Math Education, UW Bothell’s OpenSTEM Research collaborative, Pacific Science Center, Red Eagle Soaring and The Seattle Public Library has received a $2.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation for a three-year project called Backpacks for Science Learning. The project will foster opportunities for families to explore science and engineering together as they engage with robotics, computer science, coding, and e-textiles (fabrics and clothing that integrate technology).

“This partnership leverages the unique strengths of all involved – a university, science center, library system and a Native American community organization – to bring engineering and robotics education to a broad range of communities,” said lead researcher, Principal Investigator (PI) and UW Bothell Associate Professor Carrie Tzou, director of OpenSTEM Research.

Beginning this summer, diverse families will learn computing and robotics ideas at workshops at Pacific Science Center, Red Eagle Soaring and The Seattle Public Library, then continue their exploration at home by checking out backpacks full of projects. Families will “level up” to new challenges through a digital badge system, which will also encourage interaction among participants.

Workshops begin in the Seattle area this summer, with sessions offered in mid-July and mid-August. Contact Abby Rhinehart for more details.

“I hope families learn and explore ideas and making together in ways they hadn't previously imagined,” said UW Associate Professor and Co-PI Megan Bang. “Many families haven't had the opportunity to get inside things like engineering or computer science, especially in ways that honor and build on families’ cultural practices and interests – our Backpacks program aims to do just that.”

"Red Eagle Soaring is beyond excited to be so partnered, to prepare the next generation of urban Indian youth to creatively and confidently engage their ancestral knowledge with the potentialities that cutting-edge science, art, and technology can offer,” said Red Eagle Soaring Executive Director Fern Renville.

“We’re thrilled to be part of such a wonderful initiative,” said Seattle City Librarian Marcellus Turner. “Our goal is to work with our partners to develop fun and engaging ways to teach families and children about science, technology, engineering and math – areas that are especially important to the future success of students. We are particularly interested in reaching underserved communities.”

The program will offer learning opportunities for families to explore together. “As in any science center, we see a lot of parents being wonderful enablers for their children’s learning, but not necessarily participants,” said Pacific Science Center Portal to the Public Manager and Co-PI Eve Klein. “We hope the way that these workshops are structured will help parents feel empowered to roll up their sleeves and really get involved.”

This project will be a way for young people to explore STEM and, possibly, start to think of themselves as scientists or engineers. “We’re also very excited at any chance to build programming around skills that will really be relevant for the future workforce,” added Klein.

The program will also offer professional development to libraries and community organizations as they expand staff members’ familiarity with science and engineering content. Through workshops at Pacific Science Center, project team members will gain a deep understanding of the activities in Backpacks for Science Learning, of real-world science and engineering practices, and Washington state’s new Next Generation Science Standards. Team members will then bring that knowledge and understanding to offer workshops at their partner institutions.

Throughout the project, researchers at the University of Washington in Bothell and Seattle will examine the program’s impacts on family learning and identity development, especially among populations that are underrepresented in STEM fields. The project will also study the effect of this multi-partner model of workshops and take-home STEM materials.

“STEM literacy is crucial for helping young people have an increased capacity to decide their own futures,” said UW Professor and Co-PI Philip Bell, executive director of the UW Institute for Science + Math Education. “With the Backpacks for Science Learning project, families from culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Seattle will be able to access and help design learning opportunities involving science, engineering, art and craft in ways that are compelling to them — while opening up new life opportunities. The project allows us to research these powerful learning experiences and the resulting pathways.”


Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications

Abby Rhinehart, Communications Spcialist, UW Institute for Science + Math Education