Philadelphia-Camden Informal Science Education Collaborative (PISEC)

Philadelphia-Camden Informal Science Education Collaborative (PISEC) is a formal partnership between the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, The Franklin Institute, the New Jersey Academy for Aquatic Sciences, and the Philadelphia Zoo.

Since 1994, PISEC has worked with underserved families in the greater Philadelphia region. The first PISEC initiative (1994-1998), The Family Science Learning Project, funded by the National Science Foundation and Pew Charitable Trusts, was a research and exhibit development project aimed at enhancing family learning in informal science settings.

For the second PISEC initiative (1999), the museums recognized that the racial and ethnic make-up of visitor admissions did not reflect the demographics of the population in Philadelphia and Camden. A project called Community Connections, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, was created in order to forge partnerships with eight community-based organizations (CBOs) in Philadelphia and Camden. These partnerships would help to promote museum-based learning for traditionally under-represented families. Participating community based organizations (CBOs) included: African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, Camden City School District, Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Research Center; Ivy Leaf School; Norris Square Neighborhood Projects; Rutgers University Project LEAP; West Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce; West Philadelphia Partnership; and and Youth Services Inc.

The collaborative was initially formed to investigate how families learn in museum environments and to promote the use of science museums and their educational programs by communities, which are under-represented in current institutional audiences. Over the years, PISEC has generated several others successful initiatives:

  • Families Exploring Science Together (FEST), funded by the National Science Foundation and William Penn Foundation, was a three-year project designed to enhance the science education of children from the inner cities of Philadelphia, PA, and Camden, NJ, through the involvement of their parents in family-based science activities held at the four museums. FEST targets 1,200 families and children ages 4 to 12 annually, recruited from 11 community-based-organization partners that serve predominantly Latino, African-American, and Asian communities in economically distressed neighborhoods.
  • Community Ambassadors in Science Exploration (CASE), funded by the National Science Foundation and Mellon Mid-Atlantic Trust, began in 2004 and was a three-year collaborative project between the PISEC institutions and eight local community-based organizations (CBOs). Teens and adults recruited from the CBOs were trained by the museums to become “community ambassadors,” peer presenters for interactive science workshops. The ambassadors then present these workshops within their communities, allowing families to experience hands-on science discovery in their own neighborhoods and in their own languages. Special programs for CASE families are also offered at each of the museum sites.
  • Communities of Learning for Urban Environments and Science (CLUES), funded by the National Science Foundation is a five-year program, building on CASE, that focuses on teaching science to families in communities of the Philadelphia-Camden region. CLUES enables families to learn science together—within their own neighborhoods rather than in their children’s schools.