The Philadelphia/Camden Informal Science Education Collaborative (PISEC) was formed in 1992 by four major Philadelphia-area informal science institutions—The Franklin Institute, the Philadelphia Zoo, The Academy of Natural Sciences, and The New Jersey State Aquarium—to conduct research and outreach projects in support of family science learning.

The Family Science Learning Project

From 1994 to 1998, the PISEC group conducted the Family Science Learning Research Project (FSLP), a research and development project funded by the National Science Foundation (ESI-9355504) and The Pew Charitable Trusts to find out how families learn science in informal settings. It led to the development of a new model for exhibit design based on seven characteristics of family-friendly exhibits. In 1998, PISEC published Family Learning in Museums: the PISEC Perspective, which reflects the group's research findings. The primary results are that: (1) families form a learning unit that operates through conversations during and after a museum experience; (2) it is possible to deliberately create and measure the positive impact of family-oriented science learning opportunities. The publication now an instructional text for exhibit design, is available through the Association of Science-Technology Centers ( Succeeding PISEC projects focused on outreach to underserved families.

Community Connections

The first of these outreach programs was Community Connections, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The PISEC group reached out to organizations that had strong community ties, but little or no science-related programming. The challenge was to convince families connected with the CBOs to consider science programs as a viable part of their family activities. This outreach program was designed to diversify museum audiences and introduce families to science museums and family science learning. Each Community Based Organization (CBO) had a primary liaison that set up a local project committee of four to six people to work with them. One or two representatives from each CBO attended monthly project meetings. Those representatives reported back to their local project committees.

The project, which ran from 1995 to 1999, reached 17,000 people from eight community agencies working with African American and Latino families. Working Together (Wagner, et al., 2000), the project handbook, is a guide to building strong community partnerships.

Families Exploring Science Together

Families Exploring Science Together (FEST), funded by NSF (ESI-9901961) and the William Penn Foundation ran from 1999 to 2003 and advanced community-based science programming and outreach. Each PISEC institution partnered with two or more community-based organizations, whose members were invited to take part in programs and events specifically tailored to encourage whole-family science learning. FEST served over 18,000 people from 12 community partner agencies; most were African American, Latino, and Asian families. Families attended orientations at the community sites, science workshops, and family science events at the museums.

Community Ambassadors in Science Exploration

Community Ambassadors in Science Exploration (CASE), which ran from 2003 to 2009, funded by NSF (ESI-0337266) and Mellon Mid-Atlantic Trust, moved further in encouraging a diverse set of local communities to appreciate and understand science. The program trained a total of 144 Science Ambassadors who offered science workshops at community-based organizations in the languages spoken by their member families. Through CASE, the ambassadors gained training and experience in informal science education, opening the door to possible future career opportunities in community and museum settings. CASE served over 15,000 people over five years, through peer-presented family learning opportunities and museum experiences.

PISEC's science ambassador program has extended the capacity of the CBOs. Today, each CBO is "home" to a team of trained science educators, who have gone through a structured training program. While CBOs continue to serve their communities with a wide range of programs and services, they have also integrated science programs and activities into their schedules.

Bridges Conference

In June, 2008, the PISEC group conducted the NSF-funded Bridges Conference, a national conference on family-focused museum/community partnership programs (DRL-0734835). Bridges offered an opportunity for sixty-five museum and community program staff members to share insights into opportunities and pitfalls presented by community-based programs. The Bridges website ( and manual "Museum/Community Partnerships", based on conference findings, are intended to further the important work of museums and communities.

Communities of Learning for Urban Environments and Science

Building on PISEC's 17-year history of museum-community research and collaboration, Communities of Learning for Urban Environments and Science (CLUES), a five-year program which began in October, 2009 creates a new model of family learning and professional development for members of underserved communities. CLUES enhances the capacity for science education within the CBOs. Like all PISEC projects, CLUES programs focus on whole families as learning units. In CLUES, science apprentices from the CBOs spend a year in each of the museums training to become science educators, developing family science workshops, and training community presenters to conduct the workshops for local families. CLUES workshops focus on environmental issues. The program creates a new paradigm for community-led science learning and environmental action for underserved families.