Stories of Fire: Integrative Informal STEM Learning through Participatory Narratives
As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants. The goal of this pilot and feasibility study is to increase participation in informal STEM learning in rural Idaho through Stories of Fire, a program based on personal narratives of wildland fire. Idaho is a rural state, with an average population of just 19 people per square mile, the fourth lowest population density in the United States. The state is experiencing increasingly severe wildfire, and effective responses to such environmental change require a better understanding of the underlying science. Contextualizing science learning, making connections between everyday lives and a sense of place can engage learners and bring about a better understanding of wildfire. This project will bring together a science communicator, a narratologist, a fire ecologist, and a specialist on emotions and public lands. They will work collaboratively with informal educators based in rural areas of Idaho underrepresented in STEM fields. Rural areas are rich in knowledge based on years of cumulative observations, cultural beliefs, and practices shared through community networks. This project builds on these rural assets while addressing the challenges rural populations face. The project addresses broadening participation in STEM through narrative practices that encourage more diverse ways of knowing, being, and representing science.
This research study will explore: 1) what mechanisms of narrative (storytelling) most effectively integrate individuals? personal experiences and accurate STEM content in fire science communication, and 2) what audience-centered approaches best facilitate narrative approaches to informal STEM learning. This project engages four levels of participants over four phases of research and programming: 1) The research team will interview and analyze the narratives of 40 Frontliners (e.g., wildland firefighters and evacuees) from the inland Northwest region with first-hand experience with wildfire. 2) They will conduct a narrative workshop to train 20 informal STEM Educators from across the state on audience-centered approaches that facilitate participant storytelling about fire. 3) Educators will pilot their own narrative-based informal science learning programs with program participants in their rural home communities across the state, 4) A professional podcaster will create two podcasts modeled on our research findings for public audiences reached through media.