Partnerships in Informal Science Education in the Community (PISEC)

The JILA Physics Frontier Center’s main public education outreach effort is the Partnerships for Informal Science Education in the Community (PISEC) program, funded by the National Science Foundation. The program recruits faculty, graduate students, undergraduate students, and research associates to work on inquiry-based science activities with children in grades K-8.  During the semester, PISEC meets weekly at 4-6 schools and community centers in Boulder County.

The PISEC program works with partner organizations in the community to reach children from underrepresented groups in physics, including low-income and ethnic minority students.  Many of these children have never personally known a scientist or been to a college campus before their experiences in PISEC.

Our activities encourage students to explore the physics in everyday life, to reason scientifically, and to formulate new ideas. We have developed four semesters of curricula: (1) electricity, circuits, and magnetism, (2) forces and motion, (3) waves, heat and fluids, and (4) light, color and optics. University students and children work in small groups on hands-on experiments as well as interactive, web-based computer simulations.

During PISEC sessions, students communicate what they learn by making live-action and stop-action movies and by keeping lab notebooks. At the end of each semester, students take a field trip to JILA, where they take lab tours, show their movies, and enjoy making (and eating) liquid nitrogen ice cream.

Evaluation and research are important for understanding the impact of our outreach efforts in PISEC. We have shown that PISEC participation positively affects the attitudes of children towards science [1], promotes children’s scientific reasoning and agency [2, 3], as well as increases the public communication skills of university participants [4, 5].


[1] Wulf, R., Mayhew, L.M., Finkelstein, N.D. Impact of Informal Science Education on Children’s Attitudes About Science. Physics Education Research Conference: AIP Proc. (2010).

[2] Wulf, R., Hinko, K., Finkelstein, N.D. Comparing Mechanistic Reasoning in Open and Guided Inquiry Physics Activities. Physics Education Research Conference: AIP Proc. (2013).

[3] Wulf, R., Hinko, K., Finkelstein, N.D. Promoting Children’s Agency and Communication Skills in an Informal Science Program. Physics Education Research Conference: AIP Proc. (2012).

[4] Mayhew, L.M., Finkelstein, N. Learning To Communicate About Science In Everyday Language Through Informal Science Education. Physics Education Research Conference: AIP Proc. (2009).

[5] Hinko, K., Finkelstein, N. Impacting University Physics Students Through Participation in Informal Science. Physics Education Research Conference: AIP Proc. (2012).