Creating connected learning pathways for youth starts with connecting educators

As we create climate and data learning experiences for youth, the approach of this project is grounded on something even more fundamental — connecting the educators who create learning opportunities for youth and who powerfully influence their developing identities and model what matters for communities.

Youth learn and thrive in a range of learning contexts. Many of us can name that person who struggled in the science classroom but led the scouting excursion that depended on using a compass or who found an entry into mathematics through hands-on work deriving correct proportions of medicine for the 4-H sheep. Or that person whose use of the local library’s maker space kept them tethered to STEM learning.

As educators, we are therefore obliged to create as many entry points and pathways into learning as possible and to offer youth compelling, relevant experiences to help them gain confidence, interest, and agency in science. This understanding is the foundation of the connected learning approach. Whether a classroom teacher, a scout or 4-H leader, an educator encountered on a field trip to the local land trust, or a librarian, these educators have enormous potential to broker youth experiences with science and support their emerging science identities.

Our approach begins with the premise that connected learning for youth begins with connecting the educators who influence them.

Early Investment by NASA

Since its inception, GMRI has worked to make NASA Earth data accessible by educators and youth.

One of the first projects when GMRI was founded was to figure out how to use the newly invented "world wide web" to allow educators and youth access to NASA data. The resulting website was among the first 100 established on the internet.

Connected Learning

Since 2005, GMRI has been breaking down the boundary between in- and out-of-school learning.

Since its inception, GMRI programs have pursued the questions: How can we move the high engagement typical of out-of-school learning into the classroom? How can we tackle traditional "school" topics in an informal setting? We try to infuse each environment with the best of both worlds.

Building Relationships

Sustained commitment to programs allows the development of deep relationships with schools and teachers.

Created in 2016, Regional Teacher Communities (RTCs) use peer support to ease the professional isolation of rural teachers. GMRI works with local Lead Educators to bring expertise and resources that deepen the authenticity of students' work.

Leveraging Partnerships

Science centers across the Northeast are working together on climate and data literacy.

Since 2016 a network of small science centers across the Northeast has explored engaging visitors in data-rich climate learning experiences. This community of practice has joined with other networks, such as the Climate Change Education Collaborative, and their work promises to expand learning ecosystems across the Northeast.

Forging Communities

Learning Ecosystems connect educators across the in/out-of-school boundary.

Learning Ecosystems Northeast emerged from the confluence of previous work: teacher peer communities, connecting informal and formal learning, and inspiration from science centers. Now informal and formal educators support one another and youth to build confidence and competence around climate and data literacy.

Broadening Participation

Culturally sustaining pedagogy powers Learning Ecosystems serving rural, immigrant, and Indigenous communities.

Partnerships with community-based organizations are supporting new models of climate investigations that start from the community's local knowledge. The peer community model emboldens educators serving these youth to center cultural relevance in educational experiences.

Learning From Research

Ongoing research provides insights that feed iteration of the programs and approach.

Partner researchers apply both qualitative and quantitative methods to derive grounded insights that inform ongoing program development. The addition of new partners, ecosystems, and educators provides ongoing richness that feeds innovation through research.

Project Partners

  • AAALab at Stanford

    The AAA Lab conducts research on how people learn. We are enthusiastic partners in the Learning Ecosystems Northeast because of its focus on developing innovative learning experiences, bridging formal and informal contexts, and targeting two key content areas, data literacy and climate science. The fact that there is such a strong spirit of collaboration and respect among project team members has been an added bonus.

  • Education Development Center

    EDC designs, implements, and evaluates programs to improve education, health, and economic opportunities worldwide. Our culturally responsive approach to evaluation will help shape the work of Learning Ecosystems Northeast and provide new insights into how the unique approach to partnerships engages educators and youth across the region in authentic climate and data learning experiences.

  • Gateway Community Services Maine

    Gateway Community Services Maine is a non-profit organization created to support the wellbeing of immigrants and refugees in the Greater Portland and Lewiston areas. We offer support while creating opportunities for connection between immigrant, refugee, and asylee community members and their neighbors.

  • Maine State Library

    The Maine State Library’s mission is to help people, make Maine libraries stronger and transform information into knowledge. The Library Development division works with all public libraries in providing technology and library service infrastructure as well as continuing education and professional development. Our role in this project is to work with Maine public libraries to increase STEM activities in climate and data literacy and to connect them with their communities and others.

  • Sciencenter

    Sciencenter is a nationally recognized museum in Ithaca, New York. We seek to cultivate a broad community of curious, confident, critical thinkers locally through our museum and worldwide through our traveling exhibitions and outreach programs.

  • Shelburne Farms

    Shelburne Farms is an education nonprofit on a mission to inspire and cultivate a sustainable future. We offer transformative learning experiences to help educators and students create a better world.

  • University of Maine Cooperative Extension: 4-H

    4-H is the positive youth development education program of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, focused on educating and empowering youth through experiential, community-based, and self-directed learning experiences. We are excited to connect formal and informal educators to build a learning ecosystem where youth can find their spark and practice life skills that encourage them to tackle climate-related issues facing their communities.

  • Wabanaki Youth in Science

    The Wabanaki Youth in Science (WaYS) program provides mentoring and training opportunities in the sciences for Native American youth in Maine. This program, which was motivated by a shortage of young Native natural resource professionals to manage tribal lands, uses a multifaceted approach (i.e., camps, community outreach, and internships with cultural resource and natural resource mentors) to recruit and retain Native youth in science fields.

  • Gulf of Maine Research Institute


NASA logo, with a red streak crossing over a blue orb.
Science Activation

Learning Ecosystems Northeast is proud to be part of a network of 43 competitively selected teams from across the nation who help connect NASA science experts, real content, and authentic experiences with learners of all ages in all 50 states and 113 countries. This learner-centered approach is designed to activate minds and promote deeper understanding of science and science processes in our world and beyond in support of NASA. This network — called Science Activation — pursues a vision of life-long learners who actively participate in the advancement of knowledge. Established in 2016, Science Activation mobilizes approximately $46 million annually to pursue this vision through partnerships with project teams. These teams were chosen through a competitive process, are required to include independent external evaluation and scientific review, and as a network work in partnership with the National Academies of Sciences in cycles of review and improvement.