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NSF 08-547: Informal Science Education (ISE)

Program Solicitation

Document Information

Document History

Program Solicitation
NSF 08-547

Replaces Document(s):
NSF 06-520


NSF Logo

National Science Foundation

Directorate for Education & Human Resources
     Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings


Letter of Intent Due Date(s) (required) (due by 5 p.m. proposer's local time):

March 20, 2008

September 18, 2008

Full Proposal Deadline(s) (due by 5 p.m. proposer's local time):

June 19, 2008

December 18, 2008

Revision Notes

Planning Grants: Must submit Letters of Intent and Full Proposals on the same deadline dates as those indicated above following discussion with a Program Officer.

Conference, Symposia, and Workshop Grants: Proposals may be submitted at any time, generally at least one year in advance, following discussion with a Program Officer. These types of projects do not require Letters of Intent.

Grant Supplements for existing ISE Awards: Requests must be submitted at least two months prior to the need for additional funds, following discussion with the Cognizant Program Officer.

A realignment in NSF’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) has merged the Division of Research, Evaluation, and Communication (REC) and the Division of Elementary, Secondary, and Informal Education (ESIE) into a new division, the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL). This revision reflects efforts to increase coordination and coherence across the DRL programs. This revision of the Informal Science Education (ISE) solicitation represents a restructuring in order to simplify and add coherence to the call for proposals.

Summary Of Program Requirements

General Information

Program Title: 

Informal Science Education  (ISE)

Synopsis of Program:

The ISE program invests in projects that develop and implement informal learning experiences designed to increase interest, engagement, and understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by individuals of all ages and backgrounds, as well as projects that advance knowledge and practice of informal science education. Projects may target either public audiences or professionals whose work directly affects informal STEM learning. ISE projects are expected to demonstrate strategic impact, innovation, and collaboration.

Cognizant Program Officer(s):

  • Address  questions to, telephone: (703) 292-8616, email:

Applicable Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) Number(s):

  • 47.076 --- Education and Human Resources

Award Information

Anticipated Type of Award:  Standard Grant or Continuing Grant

Estimated Number of Awards:    50   awards. It is anticipated that approximately 35 Project grants, 5 Planning grants, 5 Supplements, and 5 Conference/Symposia/Workshop awards will be made across both program deadlines.

Anticipated Funding Amount:   $25,000,000  in FY 2009 across both program deadlines, pending availability of funds.

Eligibility Information

Organization Limit: 

None Specified

PI Limit: 

None Specified

Limit on Number of Proposals per Organization: 

None Specified

Limit on Number of Proposals per PI: 

None Specified

Proposal Preparation and Submission Instructions

A. Proposal Preparation Instructions

  • Letters of Intent: Submission of Letters of Intent is required. Please see the full text of this solicitation for further information.
  • Preliminary Proposal Submission: Not Applicable
  • Full Proposals:

    • Full Proposals submitted via FastLane: NSF Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide, Part I: Grant Proposal Guide (GPG) Guidelines apply. The complete text of the GPG is available electronically on the NSF website at:

    • Full Proposals submitted via NSF Application Guide: A Guide for the Preparation and Submission of NSF Applications via Guidelines apply (Note: The NSF Application Guide is available on the website and on the NSF website at:

B. Budgetary Information

  • Cost Sharing Requirements: Cost Sharing is not required under this solicitation.  
  • Indirect Cost (F&A) Limitations:  Not Applicable
  • Other Budgetary Limitations: Other budgetary limitations apply. Please see the full text of this solicitation for further information.

C. Due Dates

  • Letter of Intent Due Date(s) (required) (due by 5 p.m. proposer's local time): 

    March 20, 2008

    September 18, 2008

  • Full Proposal Deadline(s) (due by 5 p.m. proposer's local time):

    June 19, 2008

    December 18, 2008

Proposal Review Information Criteria

Merit Review Criteria:   National Science Board approved criteria. Additional merit review considerations apply. Please see the full text of this solicitation for further information.

Award Administration Information

Award Conditions:   Standard NSF award conditions apply.

Reporting Requirements:   Additional reporting requirements apply. Please see the full text of this solicitation for further information.

  • Agency Contacts

  • Other Information
  • I. Introduction

    About the National Science Foundation and the Directorate for Education and Human Resources

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is charged with promoting the vitality of the nation's science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research and education enterprises. As part of this mission, the Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) has primary responsibility for providing national and research-based leadership in STEM. EHR promotes four goals in fulfilling this responsibility:

    1. To prepare the next generation of STEM professionals and attract more U.S. citizens and permanent residents to these fields.
    2. Increase the technological and scientific literacy of all U.S. citizens and residents so that they can participate responsibly in an increasingly scientific and technological society and acquire STEM knowledge that is appropriate to the development of workforce skills and life-long career opportunities.
    3. To broaden participation of all groups and increase their achievement in STEM.
    4. To attend to critical workforce needs requiring significant mathematics and science skills and knowledge, by attracting new people to these STEM fields and by providing support for the development of the current workforce.

    To reach these goals, EHR sponsors programs in the Divisions of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL), Undergraduate Education (DUE), Graduate Education (DGE), and Human Resource Development (HRD).

    About the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings

    DRL invests in projects to improve the effectiveness of STEM learning for people of all ages. Its mission includes promoting innovative research, development, and evaluation of learning and teaching across all STEM disciplines by advancing cutting-edge knowledge and practices in both formal and informal learning settings. DRL also promotes the broadening and deepening of capacity for knowledge building and impact in the educational sciences by encouraging the participation of scientists, engineers, and educators from the range of disciplines represented at NSF. Therefore, DRL's role in the larger context of Federal support for education research and evaluation is to be a catalyst for change—advancing theory, methods, measurement, development, and application in STEM education. The Division seeks to advance both early, promising innovations as well as larger-scale adoptions of proven educational innovations. In doing so, it challenges the field to create the ideas, tools, and human capacity needed to bring about the needed transformation of STEM education for the 21st century.

    Because NSF is the premier Federal agency supporting basic research at the frontiers of discovery in the sciences and engineering, NSF continues to expand the Foundation’s research focus. Recently, NSF introduced Important Notice No. 130: on Transformative Research. The term "transformative research" is being used to describe a range of endeavors which promise extraordinary outcomes, such as: revolutionizing entire disciplines; creating entirely new fields; or disrupting accepted theories and perspectives — in other words, those endeavors which have the potential to change the way we address challenges in science, engineering, and innovation. Supporting more transformative research is of critical importance in the fast-paced, science and technology-intensive world of the 21st Century. This concept will now be included in the Intellectual Merit sections of all proposals.

    DRL takes as a central principle that new and emerging areas of science and engineering must figure prominently into efforts to improve STEM education at all levels and in all settings. Hence its programs should reflect this through the integration of cutting-edge STEM content and the engagement of STEM researchers in all DRL initiatives.

    The Division’s programs offer a set of complementary approaches for advancing research, development, and field-based improvement strategies.

    • The Informal Science Education (ISE) program seeks to increase interest, engagement, and understanding of STEM by individuals of all ages and backgrounds through self-directed STEM learning experiences, building on and contributing to educational research and practice.
    • The Discovery Research K-12 (DR-K12) program seeks to enable significant advances in K-12 student and teacher learning of the STEM disciplines through the research and development of innovative resources, models, and technologies for use by students, teachers, and policy makers.
    • The Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program is intended to enhance participation in the U.S. STEM and Information and Communications Technology (ICT)-intensive workforce, through the design, implementation, scale-up and testing of strategies for students and/or teachers, and through research studies that deepen understanding of issues related to STEM workforce participation.
    • The Research and Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering (REESE) program aims at advancing research at the frontiers of STEM learning, education, and evaluation and to provide the foundation of knowledge necessary to improve STEM teaching and learning at all educational levels and in all settings.

    Each of these DRL programs is intended to improve the capacity of their respective fields to further STEM learning. They are central to NSF’s strategic goals of Learning and Discovery, helping to cultivate a world-class, broadly inclusive science and engineering workforce, expanding the scientific literacy of all citizens, and promoting research that advances the frontiers of knowledge.

    All research and development activities within DRL aim at generating knowledge, informing practitioners, and transforming practice in STEM education. DRL’s programs are designed to complement each other within a cycle of innovation and learning (see figure 1) that forms the conceptual framework for its programs (adapted from RAND, 2003, American Statistical Association, 2007, NSF EHR, 2005). All DRL programs are concerned with all five components of the cycle to different degrees. Programs whose primary emphases relate to particular components appear in larger type.

    The major distinction between ISE and other DRL programs (ITEST, DR-K12, REESE) is that ISE focuses on self-directed STEM learning experiences that increase interest, engagement, and understanding of STEM in public and professional audiences (e.g. informal science educators, researchers, evaluators, and exhibit developers; producers and directors of science education radio, TV and large format films). ISE emphasizes the design, implement, and synthesize components of the DRL Cycle (see Figure 1).

    ITEST focuses specifically on issues of STEM learning and motivation as they lead to STEM workforce development, participation and improvement. A key focus in ITEST is how motivation relates to preparation and participation. ITEST also emphasizes the design, implement, and synthesize components of the DRL Cycle in Figure 1 below. DR-K12 focuses specifically on issues of K-12 learning and projects will involve a substantial development component – the design and implement components. REESE focuses primarily on building theory and knowledge through research and evaluation, across learning contexts and ages – the study and evaluate components in the cycle. The outcomes of ITEST, ISE, DR-K12 projects will be resources, models, or technologies that are grounded in research and practice, as well as research findings about the implementation and impact of ICT and STEM education resources, models, and technologies. The primary outcomes of REESE projects will be research findings, methods, and theoretical perspectives.

    Figure 1. Cycle of Innovation

    Figure 1. Cycle of Innovation

    Each part of the cycle, represented by the activities of DRL’s programs, forms the vital and compelling foundation for advancement of the others. From challenging the STEM educational and research communities with innovative ideas, to conducting the pioneering and pragmatic research necessary to advance those goals, to developing world-class instructional materials and resources for teachers to advance their knowledge of STEM teaching and learning, to engaging all citizens and residents of the United States in learning and as future ICT workers and scientists and engineers, DRL is providing the ideas, resources, and human capacity to advance STEM learning and education in the 21st Century.

    About The Informal Science Education Program

    Informal learning happens throughout people's lives in a highly personalized manner based on their particular needs, interests, and past experiences. This type of multi-faceted learning is voluntary, self-directed, and often mediated within a social context (Falk, Dierking, & Foutz, 2007), it provides an experiential base and motivation for further activity and subsequent learning. The ISE program invests in the development of experiences that encourage informal learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). It promotes public engagement with and understanding of STEM through such means as exhibitions, media projects, emerging learning technologies, and educational programs. ISE-funded projects reach audiences of all ages and backgrounds across the nation in museums, theaters, community centers, in virtual environments and many other settings, including outdoor environments and their homes.

    The ISE program invests in projects that directly target public audiences for self-directed STEM learning through such means as permanent and traveling exhibitions; films; television and radio series; cyber-enabled and other emerging learning technology projects; educational games; citizen science programs; and youth and community programs. In addition, the program supports projects that target informal STEM education professionals to further knowledge and the implementation of practice, such as through research studies, conferences, formation of networks, and professional development.

    These projects should strengthen the infrastructure for informal science learning by the public. Note that this program does not fund operational or capital expenses, vehicles, major or office equipment, tuition, school field trips, camps, science fairs or other competitions, or projects whose primary focus is health or medicine. Although the ISE program encourages projects to support formal education, the primary audience must be learners in out-of-school settings.

    To achieve the greatest return on its investments, the ISE program encourages projects that will "raise the bar" in the field of informal science education. It seeks to invest in projects that advance the leading edge of the field and address its most critical challenges. Thus, in making funding decisions, the program will place particular emphasis on the ability of projects to demonstrate the characteristics of strategic impact on the field, innovation, and collaboration.

      1. Strategic Impact: Further knowledge and practice of informal science education through new or more effective approaches, strategies, findings, or models. Strategic impact refers to how the project advances the informal science education field overall by producing outcomes that address key needs, challenges, and opportunities. It does not refer to project impact on audiences or communities. By identifying and influencing a leverage point for moving the field forward in a meaningful way, a project can extend impact beyond the lifetime of the grant or the project deliverables. Note that strategic impact can be achieved by organizations regardless of their size or the population of the communities that they serve.

      The following are examples of ways in which projects might achieve strategic impact by creatively addressing issues critical for the field, as well as potentially demonstrating innovation and collaboration. (This list is intended to be illustrative; it is not in a priority order, nor are proposed projects limited to these areas.)

      • Sustaining learning experiences in informal settings and encouraging subsequent learning that go beyond one-time or a limited set of activities.
      • Creating programs that help museums and other informal learning organizations become truly engaged with and integral to their diverse communities and stimulate public dialogue.
      • Forming new types of collaborations, including virtual environments and organizations, that build capacity by integrating resources and expertise among informal learning organizations and across different modes of informal learning.
      • Exploring more effective strategies for engaging underserved audiences in culturally-responsive ways that broaden participation by significantly increasing the numbers impacted by informal science learning.
      • Developing new formats and innovative approaches to existing ones, such as exhibitions and media; developing innovative informal educational applications that take advantage of unique capabilities of the World Wide Web and emerging technologies.
      • Creating new models by which informal learning organizations can take advantage of university-based research expertise in STEM areas and learning, while helping researchers achieve broader impacts.
      • Proposing improved models and new research areas based on empirical evidence that contribute to the understanding of informal STEM learning.
      • Designing education research projects that address key issues for practitioners, such as which practices are most effective in designing and implementing experiences that promote STEM learning.
      • Implementing evaluation projects that assess what measures best capture the impacts offered by different forms of informal learning experiences.
      • Enhancing learning through the social interaction that naturally occurs as part of the context of most informal learning experiences.
      • Harnessing the rapidly growing population of older adults many of whom will be seeking opportunities for informal learning and for community engagement.
      • Reaching very young children in ways that build upon increased knowledge of brain development and early childhood education.
      • Promoting the development of the next generation of diverse leadership for the informal science education field.
      • Finding more effective ways to disseminate knowledge of the state-of-the-art as a base from which the field can build.
    1. Innovation: "Push the envelope" through creative means to further informal science education. In a manner similar to NSF programs that fund the frontiers of STEM research, ISE seeks to fund projects at the frontiers of informal science education that will advance the state-of-the-art and be potentially transformative. To demonstrate innovation, PIs must show a thorough understanding of current practice and knowledge in areas related to the project and then indicate how what is proposed builds on and extends that prior work.

    Innovation applied to critical informal science education field-wide issues, as in the examples previously mentioned, provides a means by which projects can achieve strategic impact on public and professional audiences and on the field as a whole. Projects also can demonstrate innovation in many other ways, including new types or combinations of deliverables, improvements in the deliverables, or their deployment in a different manner. The project as a whole may be innovative, or it may be innovative in aspects related to achieving the intended impacts, such as the process by which its products are developed. Since innovation almost always carries risks, the PI must be able to demonstrate an understanding of possible risks entailed and how they will be managed.

    1. Collaboration: Leverage the resources of partners to achieve more significant outcomes than would otherwise be possible. Organizations should seek to extend project impacts by taking advantage of the synergies generated by the competencies and resources of carefully chosen partners.

    Partnerships and alliances can be challenging to implement and sustain, but they often make it possible to achieve much greater project impact. Organizational partners can bring complementary resources and expertise that significantly expand the capacity of the project team, as well as provide access to new or nontraditional audiences. Thus collaboration can enhance the diversity of a project in terms of its geographic reach, target audiences, and other key attributes. It can play another valuable role by building capacity within participating organizations, especially those that have more limited resources. Partners should be selected strategically based on their ability to attain and extend intended project outcomes. PIs must demonstrate an understanding of the challenges of collaboration and propose means for addressing them. Collaborators should be involved in the development of the proposed project and preparation of the proposal.

    References and Resources

    American Statistical Association (2007). Using statistics effectively in mathematics education research. Retrieved July 9, 2007 from

    Austin, J. E. (2000). The Collaboration Challenge. Jossey-Bass.

    Bohan-Baker, M. (ed.) (2003). Evaluating Community-based Initiatives. The Evaluation Exchange, 9(3). Harvard Family Research Project.

    Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., and Cocking, R. R. (eds.) (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. National Research Council, National Academy Press.

    Chittenden, D., Farmelo, G. & Lewenstein, B. V (eds.) (2004). Creating Connections: Museums and the Public Understanding of Current Research. AltaMira Press.

    Falk, J. H. (2001). Free-Choice Science Education: How We Learn Science Outside of School. Teachers College Press.

    Falk, J. H. & Dierking, L. D. (2000). Learning from Museums: Visitor Experiences and the Making of Meaning. AltaMira Press.

    Falk, J. H. & Dierking, L. D., Foutz, S. (2007). In Principle, In Practice: Museums and learning institutions. Lanham, MD: Altamira Press.

    Flagg, B. (2005). Beyond Entertainment: Educational Impact of Films and Companion Materials. The Big Frame, Spring.

    Frechtling, J. (2002). The 2002 User Friendly Handbook for Project Evaluation. National Science Foundation (NSF 02-057).

    Jolly, E. J., Campbell, P. B., & Perlman, L. (2004). Engagement, Capacity and Continuity: A Trilogy for Student Success. GE Foundation.

    Kelley, T. (2001). The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO. Currency.

    Kirshner, B., O'Donoghue, J. L. & McLaughlin, M. W. (2003). Youth Participation: Improving Institutions and Communities. New Directions for Youth Development, No. 96. Jossey Bass.

    Laurel, B. (2003). Design Research: Methods and Perspectives. MIT Press.

    Leinhardt, G. and Knutson, K. (2004). Listening in On Museum Conversations. AltaMira Press.

    Mattessich, P., Murray-Close, M., and Monsey, B. (2001). Collaboration: What Makes It Work, 2nd ed. Wilder Research Center.

    McLean, K. and McEver, C., eds. (2004). Are We There Yet: Conversations about Best Practices in Science Exhibition Development. Exploratorium.

    National Institute for Out-of-School Time (2004). Making the Case: A Fact Sheet on Children and Youth in Out-of-School Time. Center for Research on Women.

    National Science Foundation (2005). The mathematics education portfolio brief, (NSF 05-03). Retrieved July 9, 2007

    National Science Foundation (2007). Important Notice No. 130: Transformative Research. Retrieved November 23, 2007 from

    RAND Mathematics Study Panel (2003). Mathematical proficiency for all students: Toward a strategic research and development program in mathematics education. (MR-1643.0-OERI) Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

    Shavelson, R. J. and Towne, L. (eds.) (2002). Scientific Research in Education. National Research Council, National Academy Press.

    Wartella, E. A., Lee, J. H., & Caplovitz, A. G. (2002). Children and Interactive Media--Research Compendium Update. Markle Foundation.

    II. Program Description

    1. ISE Project Grants

    Project Grants (Full Proposals) are the primary means in which the ISE program invests in projects that develop and implement informal learning experiences for the general public. These projects have as their primary audience informal learners, from young children to senior citizens. The program also supports projects that enhance the infrastructure of informal science education. Therefore, the ISE program targets both public and professional audiences, as follows.

    1. Public Audiences: For self-directed learning in informal settings.

    Projects should seek national, significant regional, or community-wide reach, depending on the methods used. They should create and sustain audience engagement through effective ISE techniques. Proposed projects should be grounded in both research and practice, building on the prior work, experience, and findings of others.

    Proposals in this category must meet the following requirements:

    Audience: The primary target audience must be learners in informal settings, which may include families; children and youth; and adults. In contrast with formal learning, informal learning refers to those activities that are not primarily for school use, home schooling, part of an ongoing school curriculum, or require mandatory participation. Thus, students and teachers are considered secondary audiences for the ISE program; however, projects are strongly encouraged to support formal education by creating linkages to national and state standards and other means. Impacting underserved and nontraditional audiences is a vital program goal.

    Method: The proposed activities must be based on voluntary, self-directed learning by the primary target audience. Project deliverables include, but are not limited to, exhibitions, media of all types, emerging cyber-enabled and other learning technologies, and educational programs. Summer or holiday camps, school field trips, science fairs, and competitions are not supported through this program. ISE also does not fund development of a print publication or a curriculum as the primary public deliverable.

    Location: Project activities may be carried out in any location that reaches the intended target audience outside of formal education settings, such as in a museum (e.g., science-technology center, natural history museum, zoo, aquarium, planetarium, arboretum or botanical garden, history or art museum); community center; library; theater; in virtual environments; and in the home or outdoors. PIs should consider reaching audiences at venues and web sites already frequented by the target audiences, in addition to projects intended to attract new audiences.

    Content: The content of proposed projects must be based on one or more of the STEM research fields supported by NSF. They include: astronomy, atmospheric science, biological sciences, behavioral and cognitive sciences, chemistry, computer science, earth sciences, economics, engineering and technology, information sciences, materials research, mathematical sciences, oceanography, physics, and social sciences. ISE does not fund projects whose primary focus is health or medical education.

    1. Professional Audiences (e.g. informal science educators, researchers, evaluators, and exhibit developers; producers and directors of science education radio, TV and large format films, and cyber-enabled and emerging learning technology developers; STEM research and formal education professionals engaged in informal education): For enhancement of informal STEM learning, knowledge, infrastructure, or systems.

    ISE seeks innovative projects that address issues central to improving understanding of the principles and implementation of the practice of informal science education. Projects that target professionals might involve research and development in informal science learning; formation of collaboratives, consortia, or networks, including virtual networks and collaborations that bring institutions together; field-wide professional development; or other strategies for strengthening the infrastructure for informal STEM learning. While seeking to advance the field, the program also is interested in increasing professionalization of informal science education staff, institutions, and practices. Courses, with or without credit, are not funded.

    Proposals in this category must meet the following requirements:

    Organization or Institution: Projects may impact organizations or institutions; e.g., national or regional associations; museums (science-technology center, natural history museum, zoo, aquarium, planetarium, arboretum or botanical garden); community organizations; television and radio stations or networks, or others that directly affect informal STEM learning.

    Audience: Targeted individuals may include: staff, managers, board members, researchers, evaluators, funders, media producers or disseminators, exhibit designers, or other professionals whose work directly impacts informal science education.

    1. Other Types of ISE Grant Proposals

    ISE also may make a limited number of awards in the following special grant categories.

    1. Planning Grants

    Planning grants are intended for the exploratory phase of highly innovative projects or aspects of complex ISE projects that require resources beyond those usually needed for proposal development. Proposers are strongly encouraged to talk with an ISE Program Officer before submitting a planning proposal.

    Proposers should be sufficiently advanced in their project conceptualization to be able to present a developed outline, including the suggested approach of the final project and a clear description of the planning activity's outcomes and methods. Planning grants can be used for any type of informal science education activity such as an exhibition, museum activity, media project, community program, or web-based project that would be appropriate for ISE funding based on this Solicitation. Examples include demonstration of the proof of concept or a focused planning effort for a large national or regional collaboration.

    Awards may provide up to $75,000 total for up to two years. The award of a planning grant does not in any way obligate NSF or ISE to fund in whole or in part the final project; submission of a project grant proposal for implementation is independent of the planning grant.

    Format: See Proposal Preparation and Submission Instructions (V.A.) for specific information.

    1. Conference, Symposia, and Workshop Grants

    Conferences, symposia, and workshops provide a specific format for certain projects targeting professionals. Conferences are one way that the ISE program can provide support to build capacity in the field of informal science learning. These special grants are intended to assemble experts for purposes of discussing issues of relevance to the informal learning community; the primary target audiences must be informal science education professionals, not the general public or professionals primarily from other fields. For example, conferences may be based on promoting new partnerships and collaborations, or exploring findings and effective practices in such areas as informal learning research and evaluation. Outcomes from these awards are expected to extend beyond publication of the proceedings or a report. Proposers should speak with an ISE Program Officer before submitting a conference proposal.

    Requests generally should be made at least one year in advance of the scheduled date to allow sufficient time for proposal processing and for arrangements should the proposal be funded.Conferences or meetings and the facilities in which they are held must be accessible to participants with disabilities. The range of these awards is between $50,000 to $250,000. The budget may include publication costs; dissemination must be a major project component.

    Format: Proposals should be submitted using the guidelines for full proposals; see Proposal Preparation and Submission Instructions (V.A.) for specific information. Proposals must identify the intended audience of ISE professionals; how participants will be invited or selected; tentative agenda and speakers; promotion and marketing plan; post-conference deliverables; and dissemination. For further information, also see Grant Proposal Guide (GPG), Chapter II, Section D.7.

    1. Grant Supplements

    For existing ISE awards, the ISE program will consider requests for small amounts of supplemental funding to ensure completion of the original scope of work based on changes in conditions after the award was made or to take advantage of opportunities to extend further the project impact. Supplemental funding will not be approved for such purposes as defraying costs associated with increases in salaries or additional indirect cost reimbursement (see GPG Chapter V, Section B.4). For standard and continuing awards, ISE supplements are limited to $200,000 or 20% of the total award amount, whichever is less; only one supplement will be considered per ISE award. (These limitations do not apply to cooperative agreements.) For their Supplement requests to be considered, PIs must be up-to-date in the submission of Annual Reports. Awardees are strongly encouraged to discuss the need with the Cognizant Program Officer prior to submission.

    Format: Requests for supplemental funding must include an update of the progress of the original grant including data to support progress, description of the proposed work (including rationale, audience, design, evaluation), a budget for the requested funds, and a narrative justification of expenses. Proposals are submitted using the Supplemental Funding Request function in FastLane.


    Under exceptional circumstances that justify consideration of a proposal outside the normal process, ISE will accept the submission of Small Grants for Exploratory Research (SGER) proposals or unsolicited proposals. PIs must discuss their projects with Program Officers before considering preparation of proposals in these categories.

    For Further Information Information regarding both the NSF Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate and the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL). General resource for ISE professionals. Resource for research, evaluation, and techniques related to informal science learning. Resource for exhibit developers. Resources for media professionals.

    III. Award Information

    The ISE program expects to make approximately 50 awards across both program deadlines as Project Grants, Planning Grants, Conference, Symposia, and Workshop Grants, and Grant Supplements based on anticipated funding of $25 million in FY 2009 for new awards. They will be made as Standard or Continuing Grants pending availability of funds. The anticipated date for funding decisions is approximately seven months from submission.

    Duration and Funding Level

    ISE Project Grants: Project duration may be from one to five years. The level of funding depends on the nature and scope of the project. Awards may range from $100,000 to a maximum of $3 million for up to five years, pending the availability of funds.

    Planning Grants. Project duration is to be no more than two years. The maximum award is $75,000.

    Conference, Symposia, and Workshop Grants. Project duration is expected to be no more than two years. The range for these awards is approximately $50,000 to $250,000.

    Grant Supplements. The maximum award is $200,000 or 20% of the total amount of the original award, whichever is less.

    IV. Eligibility Information

    The categories of proposers eligible to submit proposals to the National Science Foundation are identified in the Grant Proposal Guide, Chapter I, Section E.

    Organization Limit: 

    None Specified

    PI Limit: 

    None Specified

    Limit on Number of Proposals per Organization: 

    None Specified

    Limit on Number of Proposals per PI: 

    None Specified

    V. Proposal Preparation And Submission Instructions

    A. Proposal Preparation Instructions

    Letters of Intent(required):All ISE Letters of Intent should include sections with the intended intellectual merit and broader impacts of the project. The intellectual merit section must include a brief description of the deliverables, project design, project team, partnerships, and potentially transformative research. The broader impacts section must include a brief description of the audience (Public or Professional), impact evaluation, and strategic impact. Note: fastLane will only accept 2,500 characters, including spaces, in the LOI text.

    Letter of Intent Preparation Instructions:

    When submitting a Letter of Intent through FastLane in response to this Program Solicitation please note the conditions outlined below:

    • Sponsored Projects Office (SPO) Submission is not required when submitting Letters of Intent
    • Submission of multiple Letters of Intent is allowed

    Full Proposal Preparation Instructions: Proposers may opt to submit proposals in response to this Program Solicitation via or via the NSF FastLane system.

    • Full proposals submitted via FastLane: Proposals submitted in response to this program solicitation should be prepared and submitted in accordance with the general guidelines contained in the NSF Grant Proposal Guide (GPG). The complete text of the GPG is available electronically on the NSF website at: Paper copies of the GPG may be obtained from the NSF Publications Clearinghouse, telephone (703) 292-7827 or by e-mail from Proposers are reminded to identify this program solicitation number in the program solicitation block on the NSF Cover Sheet For Proposal to the National Science Foundation. Compliance with this requirement is critical to determining the relevant proposal processing guidelines. Failure to submit this information may delay processing.
    • Full proposals submitted via Proposals submitted in response to this program solicitation via should be prepared and submitted in accordance with the NSF Application Guide: A Guide for the Preparation and Submission of NSF Applications via The complete text of the NSF Application Guide is available on the website and on the NSF website at: ( To obtain copies of the Application Guide and Application Forms Package, click on the Apply tab on the site, then click on the Apply Step 1: Download a Grant Application Package and Application Instructions link and enter the funding opportunity number, (the program solicitation number without the NSF prefix) and press the Download Package button. Paper copies of the Application Guide also may be obtained from the NSF Publications Clearinghouse, telephone (703) 292-7827 or by e-mail from

    In determining which method to utilize in the electronic preparation and submission of the proposal, please note the following:

    Collaborative Proposals. All collaborative proposals submitted as separate submissions from multiple organizations must be submitted via the NSF FastLane system. Chapter II, Section D.3 of the Grant Proposal Guide provides additional information on collaborative proposals.

    The following instructions apply to ISE Project Grant proposals and to Conference, Symposia, and Workshop Grant proposals. Instructions specific to Planning Grant proposals are described in the section that follows.

    If a proposal is resubmitted after being previously declined, it must be substantially revised, responding to concerns raised in the written reviews and Panel Summary. If not, the proposal will be returned without review. For proposals based on Planning Grants, the Final Report must have been submitted by the Full Proposal deadline date.

    All proposals must include: Cover Sheet, Project Summary, Project Description (Narrative), References Cited, Biographical Sketches, Budgets (including Justification), Current and Pending Support, and Supplementary Documents (if applicable). Specific requirements for ISE that supplement the GPG Guidelines and NSF Application Guide are described below.


    Proposers are reminded to include the number of this Solicitation. Failure to do so will delay processing of the proposal. ( Users - The program solicitation number will be pre-populated by on the NSF Grant Application Cover Page.)


    The Project Summary is limited to one page and a critical proposal element that must make the essence of the project clear to the reviewer. It must succinctly identify the project's Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts in separate sections under these two headings and include the following information:

    Intellectual Merit

    • Deliverables: brief description
    • Project Design: rationale for selecting deliverables and how they build on prior work
    • Project Team: key participants and roles
    • Partnerships: collaborating organizations and roles
    • Potentially transformative research

    Broader Impacts

    • Audience (Public or Professional): identification of target audience and intended impacts
    • Impact Evaluation: how project success will be determined
    • Strategic Impact: how the project will advance the field of informal science education

    If Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts are not explicitly identified, the proposal will be returned without review.


    For consideration by the ISE program, the Project Description or Narrative must follow the format described (Impact, Innovation, Collaboration) and must explicitly address the questions in this Solicitation under these headings. Proposals that do not follow these instructions will be returned without review. It is not necessary to retype these questions in the narrative, however. The Project Description is limited to 15 single-spaced pages in length. Although certain Supplementary Documents may be necessary, the Project Description is the primary means for presenting the project to reviewers and must be able to stand on its own.

    ISE strongly encourages PIs to develop projects by working "backwards" from the desired strategic and audience impacts rather than starting with a particular deliverable, such as an exhibition or television series. For this reason, the sequence of questions to be addressed here starts with the project impacts and the target audiences, then the deliverables, project design, project team and partners for achieving the intended impacts.

    1. Impact

      This section of the Project Description describes the target audience (public or professional), knowledge of that audience, underserved audiences reached, audience impacts, evaluation of that impact, and strategic impact on the informal science education field.

      1. AUDIENCE. Who is the primary intended public or professional audience for your project?

      For public audiences: Who is the primary target audience for this project in terms of age range and other attributes? How many individuals will be directly reached by this project during the award and up to five years following the grant period? Provide a basis for this estimate. How does this project maximize reach to audiences nationally, regionally, or community-wide?

      Or for professional audiences: What are the types of informal learning organizations on which your project will have the greatest impact? What categories of informal learning professionals does your project specifically target to achieve this impact?

      The target audience must be clearly identified. It is unlikely for a single project to impact all segments of the general public. Proposals should indicate how particular target audiences were selected. Projects should seek to sustain audience impact beyond the life of the award. Impact often can be extended through strategic collaboration with organizations that offer additional access to target audiences. ISE seeks diversity in the audiences that are reached and the geographic locations where they reside. What do you already know about the knowledge, interests, attitudes, and needs of your target audiences? How do you know?

      Successful proposals are based on knowledge of the target audiences, as well as identification of significant challenges and opportunities for enhancing informal science learning. Initial front-end research, whether carried out informally or as a formal study, may be necessary for obtaining this audience information. Although firmly based in STEM content, competitive ISE projects are audience-focused rather than content-driven.

      How does this project increase participation of underserved audiences in STEM learning experiences? Describe your strategies for attracting and engaging these audiences.

      Broadening participation in STEM is a major program goal. ISE seeks to contribute to the development of a diverse, internationally competitive and globally-engaged workforce of scientists, engineers, and technicians, in addition to informed citizens. Activities should stimulate participation of underserved and underrepresented groups (e.g., minorities, girls and women, persons with disabilities, youth and adults from economically disadvantaged areas) or regions (e.g., rural areas, small towns, and urban areas). Projects should seek to match program content to the needs of diverse audiences, target their communities, partner with youth and community organizations that serve them, and incorporate appropriate strategies for outreach and project dissemination.

      1. AUDIENCE IMPACT. What are the intended learning impacts of your project on its target audiences? The ISE program has developed a framework to categorize audience impacts (awareness, knowledge or understanding; engagement or interest; attitude; behavior; skills; other); you can find further information about this framework at Using these categories, identify the most important intended audience impacts, which will likely correspond to some, but not all. For each, indicate how you will measure or assess that impact and what value of that measure or evidence will serve as your criterion for defining project success. Explain your selections and provide a rationale.

      Audience impacts should be specific, realistic, and achievable through the deliverables and strategies proposed. The measures that you indicate here for judging the success of your project must be integral to its evaluation, as described in the following section. If project deliverables are to continue beyond the duration of the award, PIs should demonstrate financial feasibility for doing so, if appropriate.

      1. IMPACT EVALUATION. What is the evaluation strategy, including methodologies, that you will use to assess your project and its learning impacts? Provide a rationale. Include in the Supplementary Documents an evaluation plan that clearly identifies the methodologies that will be used for each impact measure.

      All ISE projects must include plans for a summative evaluation based on qualitative and quantitative data that document the extent to which the intended impacts have been achieved, along with any unanticipated impacts. The evaluation design and methodology should be closely based on the nature of the project and the questions being asked. This study should seek to further knowledge and practice in informal learning by sharing lessons learned from both positive and negative findings. It should be conducted by an independent evaluator experienced in informal learning. For a basic introduction, see The 2002 User-Friendly Handbook for Project Evaluation (NSF 02-057) and the impacts framework guide at The web site posts information provided by evaluation firms that offer services in this area (these listings do not represent endorsement). ISE encourages publication and sharing of summative evaluation findings widely with the field; at a minimum, reports must be submitted to this web site or others indicated by ISE for dissemination. Final reports will not be approved before a summative evaluative is posted for the project.

      1. STRATEGIC IMPACT. What is the most critical strategic impact on the informal science education field that your project intends to produce? What continuing impact is this project likely to have?

      As described in more detail in Section I, projects must seek to produce a lasting impact on the field of informal science education in addition to the public or professional impact on target audiences. Strategic impact may be achieved through new approaches, strategies, models, findings, and other means designed to advance the systems or institutions that promote informal learning. Successfully addressing strategic impact requires demonstration of an understanding of the critical challenges facing the field. A plan for widely sharing results and practices is required. Project dissemination, while important, is not an end in itself, however, nor necessarily sufficient for achieving strategic impact. Potential for replication, if appropriate, should be presented.

      1. Innovation

      The next section of the Project Description describes the primary project deliverables and their development, project design, STEM content, how the project builds on prior work and educational research. PIs should explicitly indicate how the proposed project elements demonstrate innovation.

      1. PROJECT DELIVERABLES. What deliverables will your project produce that will lead to the intended impacts?

      Proposers are encouraged to include complementary deliverables that are tightly integrated and created strategically to enhance the intended project impacts. Examples of deliverables for public audiences include: exhibition (permanent or traveling); film or video; educational program, kit, or materials; radio program or series; television program or series; and learning technology tools, applications and software. Examples of deliverables for professionals include: collaborative, consortium, or network, including virtual organizations; conference, seminar, or workshop; media programs; professional development; publication; research study; learning technologies. The yearly status of each deliverable in the proposal should serve as a basis for assessing project progress in Annual Reports.

      Describe each deliverable in enough detail for reviewers to assess its ability to achieve the intended impacts, addressing the specific issues listed below by type of deliverable. Be sure to explain your "theory of action," the means by which the proposed deliverables will achieve the intended audience outcomes.

      1. Exhibit Deliverables

      Describe a walk-through from the visitor's perspective that highlights key design elements and experiences; the relationship of these experiences to STEM content; details about accessibility; and logistics of exhibition tour (if applicable). In Supplementary Documents, provide indications of interest or commitment from any participating or host institutions.

      The ISE program supports both traveling and permanent exhibits that are visitor-centered, inquiry-based, and promote active learning. Where possible, projects are encouraged to consider smaller versions of exhibits or exhibit components for dissemination to additional venues, such as small museums and science centers, libraries, and community centers. Exhibitions must meet ADA requirements and reflect principles of universal design.

      1. Media (Film, Video, Radio) Deliverables

      Explain the program or series content and format; how the content will be presented; and a plan for outreach and complementary products designed to extend the learning experiences of target audiences. Describe how the project takes advantage of new digital and cyber-enabled technologies to extend and sustain the impact of the project.

      In Supplementary Documents, provide a treatment or script for one or more programs; documentation of interest or commitment from a major national or regional broadcast or cable outlet, or an indication of interest and distribution plan for a non-broadcast film; and sample of prior work on DVD.

      1. Research Deliverables

      Present clearly-defined research questions, including identification of independent and dependent variables, where applicable; explain the methodologies used and their appropriateness to the project.

      The objective of applied research studies should be to expand understanding of the knowledge or practice of effective informal STEM learning by investigating important aspects that have significant potential to advance the field. Research studies may be well-defined elements of a larger project for public audiences or a separate project for informal learning professionals. Proposals must meet the highest quality standards of peer-reviewed educational research; see also Shavelson, R.J., & Towne, L. (Eds.) (2002). Scientific research in education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. The design and methods used in the research studies may be of any type that is appropriate to the research question, but should be rigorous. Research should lead to valid and reliable results that will be of value to both other researchers and to practitioners. Should IRB approval be required for the use of human subjects, the ISE program recommends that the PI begin the process as soon as the proposal is submitted.

      1. Learning Technology Deliverables

      Proposed work should be innovative, describing emerging ideas for cyber-enabled learning activities that have the potential to transform current practice or to generate new research on learning with technology. Cyber-enabled and other learning technology projects can seek to provide prototypes and new models for enhancing learner engagement in STEM; provide new approaches to teaching and learning in informal settings, as examples, through the use of mixed reality applications, educational games interactive websites, distributed networks, virtual organizations, mobile technologies, and multiplatform interactive media. Projects can seek to provide new models, tools, approaches, or research that can work across traditional educational boundaries or forge collaborative endeavors that bridge informal and formal education.

      Projects should be interactive and strongly engage learners in STEM content; exemplify scientific or technological processes; include embedded resources and follow-up activities; provide feedback and guidance to learners; have multiple entry points; accommodate learners with special needs to the extent possible; provide examples of how learning can be assessed, i.e., through user tracking mechanisms or other means.

      Deliverables must include: description of the learner interface in detail with a full articulation of the activity and a clear description of the instructional design. A flow chart or logic model is also acceptable and can be included in Supplementary Materials. The PI must address gender and age-appropriate learning issues, along with discussion of the theory or strategy used for the proposed instruction, as well as discussion on relevant research on learning. The PI must indicate how the proposed work expands upon a prototype or prior work in the field, or builds upon prior research. Broader impacts must include a means for attracting the primary and secondary audiences.

      ISE does not support institutional websites that primarily serve as marketing tools or basic information resources about institutions

      1. Youth and Community Program Deliverables

      Describe the concept and organization of proposed programs; examples of activities; and key issues (e.g., participant recruitment, retention, and accommodating language differences). In Supplementary Documents, provide documentation of commitment from all partners, local and regional/national; and samples of intended activities.

      Creative project designs should provide participants with authentic STEM-based experiences. For example, projects might encourage family involvement in science and mathematics activities, or allow participants to contribute to ongoing scientific research, as in citizen science. Youth and community projects result in high-quality program designs and the resources to support them including kits, activity materials, workbooks, information for parents, and multi-media products for national dissemination.

      PIs that present new or improved models must clearly describe how what is proposed differs from and improves upon existing models. ISE may support prototype projects to be piloted and disseminated through a network of partnering organizations that leverage organizational strengths and resources.

      1. PROJECT DESIGN. How did you select the project deliverables and how will they be integrated to produce the greatest impact? What is your project plan? Identify key milestones in a timeline for their development, clearly indicating the status of every major deliverable by the end of each project year. Describe how the project will be sustained beyond the award, if appropriate.

      Every component should be aligned in such a way as to enhance the ability of the project to achieve the intended impacts. ISE strongly encourages the integration of approaches and techniques across traditional boundaries to accomplish that end. The proposal must demonstrate how the deliverables address the needs and interests of a clearly defined target audience, segmented into audience subgroups as appropriate.

      What is the process by which each deliverable will be developed to achieve the greatest impact, including the evaluation strategies used? Provide a rationale for the approaches taken.

      Front-end research should inform the planning of project deliverables, and formative research should be employed to obtain audience feedback at key stages in their development. For example, prototypes, pilot studies, or other forms of preliminary testing with target audiences are expected as part of the project design whenever possible. Projects also may include remedial evaluation where appropriate.

      What are the areas of greatest potential risk in successfully achieving the intended project impacts? Describe your strategies for minimizing these risks under a separate heading.

      In its efforts to advance the leading edge of informal science education, the ISE program is willing to support projects of higher risk that demonstrate the potential to yield significant payoffs and that indicate how the work is potentially transformative. Proposals must demonstrate an understanding of those risks and identify appropriate measures for managing them.

      1. STEM CONTENT. What are the primary STEM disciplines for the project deliverables? Briefly describe the age-appropriate STEM content. What strategies will you use throughout the development process for ensuring the accuracy of content in deliverables and appropriateness to the target audiences?

      ISE projects focus on STEM concepts and themes, skills, and processes. Appropriate STEM content encompasses all NSF program areas, including biology; computer and information sciences; engineering and technology; environmental sciences; geosciences; mathematics; physical sciences; and social, behavioral, and economic sciences. Strategies and mechanisms must be in place for ensuring accuracy of content and appropriateness to the target audience. Projects are encouraged to incorporate strategies for stimulating interest in STEM-related careers. The ISE program also seeks to engage the public in aspects of current research, including emerging STEM content, the process or nature of discovery and design, and societal implications or consequences. PIs are encouraged to take advantage of the expertise and potential resources available from NSF-funded research projects. Connection of proposed content to student STEM education standards should be made whenever appropriate. While the ISE program requires a primary focus on STEM content, the program encourages connections to the humanities and arts that provide learners with relevant context and increased engagement, as well as proposals submitted by institutions representing those fields.

      1. EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH AND PRIOR WORK. How do your deliverables and project design build on specific findings from informal learning research? How do they build on and extend prior related work in the field? How do they build on prior NSF-funded work by the PI, if any?

      Proposals must clearly demonstrate how the proposed project builds upon prior practice and related work, citing specific examples of related deliverables and how the project design and proposed deliverables benefit from the lessons learned. In addition, they must demonstrate that they are soundly based on educational research in informal learning, citing appropriate literature references to studies that warrant the proposed approaches. This section is critical to demonstrating how the project extends earlier work in meaningful ways.

      Results of Prior NSF Support. For NSF awards received within the past five years, the prospective PI or co-PI must describe the projects and especially the outcomes in sufficient detail for reviewers to assess their results. Full proposals based on Planning Grants must clearly demonstrate how the project builds on the results from that award. Each project should be identified by grant number, funding amount, period of support, title, summary of outcomes, and any publications or presentations that acknowledge the award. Key summative evaluation results and lessons learned should be succinctly described. Also, for projects based on Planning Grants, the Supplementary Documents must include an executive summary of the planning outcomes and findings; for other projects, synopses of evaluation studies (not entire reports) should also be included as Supplementary Documents. Note: NSF will not make a new award unless the PI and co-PIs have submitted all outstanding Final Reports.

      1. Collaboration

      This section of the Project Description describes the project team, the organizational partners, and the process by which they will achieve the intended impacts.

      1. PROJECT TEAM. For each of the following categories, who are the key project team members, their areas of expertise, their roles, and their extent of commitment to this project? Provide a rationale for your selections.

        1. Senior Staff
        2. Advisory Committee Members
        3. Consultants
        4. Contractors

      Project leaders, key team members, and advisory committee members should collectively provide the expertise necessary to conduct the project, including relevant experience based in informal science learning, STEM content, knowledge of target audiences, any media used, and research and evaluation. Projects are encouraged to include members of underserved groups on their teams.

      1. PARTNERS. Who are your primary organizational partners? Identify each organization, its expertise, role in the project, extent of commitment, and contact person. Why were these partners selected? What has been the extent of their involvement in planning this project?

      Potential partners could be drawn from informal learning organizations, media organizations, community organizations, professional associations, research institutions, school systems, and universities. (When the lead organization is a school system, university, or other entity for which informal learning is not the primary focus, it is strongly encouraged to partner with one or more informal learning organizations, which must be actively involved in the project.) Partners should be selected strategically based on their ability to achieve and extend project impacts. It is essential that project partners have been involved in the conceptualization of the project and preparation of the proposal. Letters of commitment from partners indicating their roles in the project should be included in the Supplementary Documents.

      1. COLLABORATION PROCESS. How will the project partner organizations work together to achieve the deliverables and produce impacts that would not otherwise be possible? Describe your management structure and strategy for fostering a true collaboration among the partners.

      Implementing a successful collaboration is not simple. PIs should describe their process for collaboration, explaining how it builds on lessons learned from prior experience and from studies of collaboration.


    Include here references to relevant research literature in informal learning and other areas that support the proposed strategies and approaches.

    1. BUDGETS

    Budgets should provide the most cost-effective means of producing the project deliverables and achieving the intended impacts. All budgets (grantee and subawards) must be accompanied by Budget Justifications that include itemizations corresponding to each FastLane or budget line item.

    Funds cannot be requested for operational or capital expenses, vehicles, major or office equipment, tuition, school field trips, camps, science fairs or other competitions, or projects whose primary focus is health or medicine. Funds recovered through the organization's indirect cost rate, for graduate or undergraduate tuition, or for paid advertising are not allowed. Requested equipment must be essential components of project deliverables, such as exhibits; office-type equipment and vehicles cannot be funded. Courses, with or without credit, are not funded. These projects should strengthen the infrastructure for informal science learning by the public. The program does not fund operational expenses, Although ISE encourages projects to support formal education, the primary audience must be learners in informal settings.

    Include under Travel (Line E on the FastLane budget and Field D on the budget) the cost for the PI to attend a two-day meeting every other year at NSF. Any consultants listed in line G.3 (Field F.3 for users) must be compensated on a daily rate not to exceed prevailing rates for the services rendered. Each subaward on line G.5 (Field F.5 for users) requires a complete set of Proposal Budget forms accompanied by a Budget Justification that includes the basis for selecting the subawardee as well as itemization of expenses and explanations.

    Projects with Budgets Greater than the NSF Request. Even though cost sharing is no longer required by NSF, should a project require other sources of funding, the scope and cost of the entire project must be provided in enough detail to identify the work to be performed and/or funded by parties other than NSF. Reviewers will need this additional information in order to assess the viability of the overall project, as well as the scope and budget to be funded by NSF. The anticipated sources and amounts of funding from other sources must be identified, along with all commitments at the time of submission. The estimated budget to be funded by sources other than NSF should not be entered on a FastLane or budget form, but presented separately using the same format and major budget categories for comparison with the NSF budget. These proposals must include in the Supplementary Documents a spreadsheet that presents the total project budget for each year and cumulative; rows should correspond to the NSF budget line items, and columns should show the funds requested from NSF, the funds provided from other sources, and the total for each line item. Reference to these additional funds is for informational purposes only, and they will not be subject to audit.


    Biographical Sketches: Sketches must be provided for the PI, co-PIs, and other senior project personnel. These sketches need not follow a prescribed format, but must be limited to two pages.

    Current and Pending Support: Required for the PI, co-PIs, and senior project personnel. The proposal being submitted should be listed first on the form and identified as pending.

    Facilities, Equipment & Other Resources: Not required for ISE proposals.


    The first page of supplementary documents must be a copy of the NSF notification of receipt of the Letter of Intent.

    The Project Description must provide sufficient information for reviewers to make reasoned judgments about the proposed work. It may be necessary to provide a limited amount of additional supporting information, as noted in the section on project deliverables. Because reviewers may be asked to assess a substantial number of competing proposals, PIs must be extremely judicious in the number of pages submitted. PIs should submit executive summaries and illustrative samples of materials rather than complete reports or lengthy publications. Biographical sketches of advisors should be limited to no more than a single page for each.

    All Supplementary Documents must be submitted through FastLane or Only media that cannot be submitted in this form may be provided as DVD or CD; 15 copies (5 for Planning Grants), labeled with proposal number, title, and PI, must be sent to: Informal Science Education Program, EHR/DRL, Room 885, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22230 [phone: (703) 292-8616]. These materials, which will not be returned, must be received within 5 business days following electronic submission; clearly mark the package re: Supplementary Documents and indicate the proposal number.

    Planning Grant Proposal Instructions:

    Planning Grants follow the general format described in the section above for Full Proposals. The information provided here is a summary of that format applied specifically to the preparation of Planning Grant proposals.

    1. PROJECT SUMMARY: Same as Full Proposal Instructions.

    2. PROJECT DESCRIPTION: Planning grant proposal narratives should generally be limited to ten single-spaced pages and may not exceed 15. The narrative includes the following required elements, which are similar to those for a full proposal. See Section V.A.1-3 for additional details.

    Impact (audience, intended public or professional impact; and means for evaluating impact; strategic impact;). This section should identify the intended impacts of the project that will ultimately result from the planning activity, as well as any impacts of the planning activity itself.

    Innovation (including main project deliverables; primary STEM content; the project plan; and how this project builds on research and prior work). Although this section should focus on the specific planning activities being proposed, it should also address innovations in the ultimate project.

    Collaboration (primary individuals and organizational partners and how they will achieve the larger impacts of the project). This section should addressed both the planning activity and the ultimate project.

    1. BUDGET: Same as Full Proposal Instructions.

    2. SUPPLEMENTARY DOCUMENTS: Include a statement of commitment from each partner that indicates willingness to participate in the planning process.

    B. Budgetary Information

    Cost Sharing:   Cost sharing is not required under this solicitation.

    Other Budgetary Limitations:  

    Funding for the following are not supported by this program: capital expenses; operating expenses (other than through an indirect cost rate); purchase of major or office equipment; vehicles; graduate or undergraduate tuition; paid advertising; and admissions or similar fees.

    C. Due Dates

    • Letter of Intent Due Date(s) (required) (due by 5 p.m. proposer's local time): 

      March 20, 2008

      September 18, 2008

    • Full Proposal Deadline(s) (due by 5 p.m. proposer's local time):

      June 19, 2008

      December 18, 2008

    Planning Grants: Must submit Letters of Intent and Full Proposals on the same deadline dates as those indicated above following discussion with a Program Officer.

    Conference, Symposia, and Workshop Grants: Proposals may be submitted at any time, generally at least one year in advance, following discussion with a Program Officer. These types of projects do not require Letters of Intent.

    Grant Supplements for existing ISE Awards: Requests must be submitted at least two months prior to the need for additional funds, following discussion with the Cognizant Program Officer.

    D. FastLane/ Requirements

    • For Proposals Submitted Via FastLane:

      Detailed technical instructions regarding the technical aspects of preparation and submission via FastLane are available at: For FastLane user support, call the FastLane Help Desk at 1-800-673-6188 or e-mail The FastLane Help Desk answers general technical questions related to the use of the FastLane system. Specific questions related to this program solicitation should be referred to the NSF program staff contact(s) listed in Section VIII of this funding opportunity.

      Submission of Electronically Signed Cover Sheets. The Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR) must electronically sign the proposal Cover Sheet to submit the required proposal certifications (see Chapter II, Section C of the Grant Proposal Guide for a listing of the certifications). The AOR must provide the required electronic certifications within five working days following the electronic submission of the proposal. Further instructions regarding this process are available on the FastLane Website at:

    • For Proposals Submitted Via
    • Before using for the first time, each organization must register to create an institutional profile. Once registered, the applicant's organization can then apply for any federal grant on the website. The's Grant Community User Guide is a comprehensive reference document that provides technical information about Proposers can download the User Guide as a Microsoft Word document or as a PDF document. The User Guide is available at: In addition, the NSF Application Guide provides additional technical guidance regarding preparation of proposals via For user support, contact the Contact Center at 1-800-518-4726 or by email: The Contact Center answers general technical questions related to the use of Specific questions related to this program solicitation should be referred to the NSF program staff contact(s) listed in Section VIII of this solicitation.

      Submitting the Proposal: Once all documents have been completed, the Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR) must submit the application to and verify the desired funding opportunity and agency to which the application is submitted. The AOR must then sign and submit the application to The completed application will be transferred to the NSF FastLane system for further processing.

    VI. NSF Proposal Processing And Review Procedures   

    Proposals received by NSF are assigned to the appropriate NSF program where they will be reviewed if they meet NSF proposal preparation requirements. All proposals are carefully reviewed by a scientist, engineer, or educator serving as an NSF Program Officer, and usually by three to ten other persons outside NSF who are experts in the particular fields represented by the proposal. These reviewers are selected by Program Officers charged with the oversight of the review process. Proposers are invited to suggest names of persons they believe are especially well qualified to review the proposal and/or persons they would prefer not review the proposal. These suggestions may serve as one source in the reviewer selection process at the Program Officer's discretion. Submission of such names, however, is optional. Care is taken to ensure that reviewers have no conflicts of interest with the proposal.

    A. NSF Merit Review Criteria

    All NSF proposals are evaluated through use of the two National Science Board (NSB)-approved merit review criteria: intellectual merit and the broader impacts of the proposed effort. In some instances, however, NSF will employ additional criteria as required to highlight the specific objectives of certain programs and activities.

    The two NSB-approved merit review criteria are listed below. The criteria include considerations that help define them. These considerations are suggestions and not all will apply to any given proposal. While proposers must address both merit review criteria, reviewers will be asked to address only those considerations that are relevant to the proposal being considered and for which the reviewer is qualified to make judgements.

    What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?
    How important is the proposed activity to advancing knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields? How well qualified is the proposer (individual or team) to conduct the project? (If appropriate, the reviewer will comment on the quality of the prior work.) To what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts? How well conceived and organized is the proposed activity? Is there sufficient access to resources?

    What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?
    How well does the activity advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training, and learning? How well does the proposed activity broaden the participation of underrepresented groups (e.g., gender, ethnicity, disability, geographic, etc.)? To what extent will it enhance the infrastructure for research and education, such as facilities, instrumentation, networks, and partnerships? Will the results be disseminated broadly to enhance scientific and technological understanding? What may be the benefits of the proposed activity to society?

    Examples illustrating activities likely to demonstrate broader impacts are available electronically on the NSF website at:

    NSF staff also will give careful consideration to the following in making funding decisions:

    Integration of Research and Education
    One of the principal strategies in support of NSF's goals is to foster integration of research and education through the programs, projects, and activities it supports at academic and research institutions. These institutions provide abundant opportunities where individuals may concurrently assume responsibilities as researchers, educators, and students and where all can engage in joint efforts that infuse education with the excitement of discovery and enrich research through the diversity of learning perspectives.

    Integrating Diversity into NSF Programs, Projects, and Activities
    Broadening opportunities and enabling the participation of all citizens -- women and men, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities -- is essential to the health and vitality of science and engineering. NSF is committed to this principle of diversity and deems it central to the programs, projects, and activities it considers and supports.

      Additional Review Criteria:

      ISE reviewers will consider the following as specific aspects of Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts.

      Within Intellectual Merit, reviewers will assess:

      Deliverables. Does this project creatively "push the envelope" in enhancing informal science learning? Is it potentially transformative work.  Have the deliverables been selected and integrated to achieve the greatest project impacts? Are front-end and formative evaluation efforts adequate for their development? Are their scope and depth of STEM content appropriate to the target audience? (Innovation)

      Project Design. Are the deliverables, project design, and timeline well developed and integrated to produce the specified impacts? Does the project design build on informal learning research and on lessons learned from prior efforts? Is the proposed budget reasonable and adequate? Does the proposal present meaningful strategies for managing potential risks? (Innovation)

      Project Team. Is the team qualified to carry out the project? Do external advisors provide the expertise necessary to conduct the project, including relevant expertise based in informal science learning, STEM content, any media used, and evaluation? (Collaboration).

      Partnerships. Does the project fully take advantage of partnerships to enhance project impacts? Is there a credible strategy and plan for fostering or strengthening collaboration among the partners? (Collaboration)

      Within Broader Impacts, reviewers will assess:

      Audience. Is the primary target audience, as well as any secondary audience, clearly identified and segmented into subgroups as appropriate? Does the project demonstrate knowledge about the target audiences, their needs, and their interests? (Impact)

      Public Audiences. Will the project likely achieve a significant impact on the target audience of informal learners? Does the project maximize reach to audiences nationally, regionally, or community-wide? Does the proposal offer effective ways to reach nontraditional audiences and underrepresented groups? (Impact)

      ---or---Professional Audiences. Will the project likely achieve a significant impact on professionals in the field of informal science learning? (Impact)

      Impact Evaluation. Are there clear, appropriate measures and criteria for defining project success? Is there an appropriate summative evaluation plan for assessing impact? Is there an effective plan for broadly sharing project outcomes and findings? (Impact)

      Strategic Impact. Is the project likely to advance the field of informal science education in a significant way? (Impact)

    B. Review and Selection Process

    Proposals submitted in response to this program solicitation will be reviewed by Ad hoc Review and/or Panel Review.

    Reviewers will be asked to formulate a recommendation to either support or decline each proposal. The Program Officer assigned to manage the proposal's review will consider the advice of reviewers and will formulate a recommendation.

    After scientific, technical and programmatic review and consideration of appropriate factors, the NSF Program Officer recommends to the cognizant Division Director whether the proposal should be declined or recommended for award. NSF is striving to be able to tell applicants whether their proposals have been declined or recommended for funding within six months. The time interval begins on the deadline or target date, or receipt date, whichever is later.  The interval ends when the Division Director accepts the Program Officer's recommendation.

    A summary rating and accompanying narrative will be completed and submitted by each reviewer. In all cases, reviews are treated as confidential documents. Verbatim copies of reviews, excluding the names of the reviewers, are sent to the Principal Investigator/Project Director by the Program Officer.  In addition, the proposer will receive an explanation of the decision to award or decline funding.

    In all cases, after programmatic approval has been obtained, the proposals recommended for funding will be forwarded to the Division of Grants and Agreements for review of business, financial, and policy implications and the processing and issuance of a grant or other agreement. Proposers are cautioned that only a Grants and Agreements Officer may make commitments, obligations or awards on behalf of NSF or authorize the expenditure of funds. No commitment on the part of NSF should be inferred from technical or budgetary discussions with a NSF Program Officer. A Principal Investigator or organization that makes financial or personnel commitments in the absence of a grant or cooperative agreement signed by the NSF Grants and Agreements Officer does so at their own risk.

    VII. Award Administration Information

    A. Notification of the Award

    Notification of the award is made to the submitting organization by a Grants Officer in the Division of Grants and Agreements. Organizations whose proposals are declined will be advised as promptly as possible by the cognizant NSF Program administering the program. Verbatim copies of reviews, not including the identity of the reviewer, will be provided automatically to the Principal Investigator. (See Section VI.B. for additional information on the review process.)

    B. Award Conditions

    An NSF award consists of: (1) the award letter, which includes any special provisions applicable to the award and any numbered amendments thereto; (2) the budget, which indicates the amounts, by categories of expense, on which NSF has based its support (or otherwise communicates any specific approvals or disapprovals of proposed expenditures); (3) the proposal referenced in the award letter; (4) the applicable award conditions, such as Grant General Conditions (GC-1); * or Federal Demonstration Partnership (FDP) Terms and Conditions * and (5) any announcement or other NSF issuance that may be incorporated by reference in the award letter. Cooperative agreements also are administered in accordance with NSF Cooperative Agreement Financial and Administrative Terms and Conditions (CA-FATC) and the applicable Programmatic Terms and Conditions. NSF awards are electronically signed by an NSF Grants and Agreements Officer and transmitted electronically to the organization via e-mail.

    *These documents may be accessed electronically on NSF's Website at Paper copies may be obtained from the NSF Publications Clearinghouse, telephone (703) 292-7827 or by e-mail from

    More comprehensive information on NSF Award Conditions and other important information on the administration of NSF awards is contained in the NSF Award & Administration Guide (AAG) Chapter II, available electronically on the NSF Website at

    C. Reporting Requirements

    For all multi-year grants (including both standard and continuing grants), the Principal Investigator must submit an annual project report to the cognizant Program Officer at least 90 days before the end of the current budget period. (Some programs or awards require more frequent project reports). Within 90 days after expiration of a grant, the PI also is required to submit a final project report.

    Failure to provide the required annual or final project reports will delay NSF review and processing of any future funding increments as well as any pending proposals for that PI. PIs should examine the formats of the required reports in advance to assure availability of required data.

    PIs are required to use NSF's electronic project-reporting system, available through FastLane, for preparation and submission of annual and final project reports.  Such reports provide information on activities and findings, project participants (individual and organizational) publications; and, other specific products and contributions.  PIs will not be required to re-enter information previously provided, either with a proposal or in earlier updates using the electronic system.  Submission of the report via FastLane constitutes certification by the PI that the contents of the report are accurate and complete.  

    PIs are required to submit the Summative Evaluation of the project for posting to the web site (or other sites designated by ISE) as part of submission of the Final Report and may be requested to provide project data for ISE program analysis and evaluation.

    VIII. Agency Contacts

    General inquiries regarding this program should be made to:

    • Address questions to, telephone: (703) 292-8616, email:

    For questions related to the use of FastLane, contact:

    For questions relating to contact:

    • Contact Center: If the Authorized Organizational Representatives (AOR) has not received a confirmation message from within 48 hours of submission of application, please contact via telephone: 1-800-518-4726; e-mail:

    For administrative questions contact:

    • Phyliss Minn, Senior Program Assistant, or (703) 292-5087.

    IX. Other Information

    The NSF Website provides the most comprehensive source of information on NSF Directorates (including contact information), programs and funding opportunities. Use of this Website by potential proposers is strongly encouraged. In addition, MyNSF (formerly the Custom News Service) is an information-delivery system designed to keep potential proposers and other interested parties apprised of new NSF funding opportunities and publications, important changes in proposal and award policies and procedures, and upcoming NSF Regional Grants Conferences. Subscribers are informed through e-mail or the user's Web browser each time new publications are issued that match their identified interests. MyNSF also is available on NSF's Website at provides an additional electronic capability to search for Federal government-wide grant opportunities. NSF funding opportunities may be accessed via this new mechanism. Further information on may be obtained at

    About The National Science Foundation

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent Federal agency created by the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended (42 USC 1861-75). The Act states the purpose of the NSF is "to promote the progress of science; [and] to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare by supporting research and education in all fields of science and engineering."

    NSF funds research and education in most fields of science and engineering. It does this through grants and cooperative agreements to more than 2,000 colleges, universities, K-12 school systems, businesses, informal science organizations and other research organizations throughout the US. The Foundation accounts for about one-fourth of Federal support to academic institutions for basic research.

    NSF receives approximately 40,000 proposals each year for research, education and training projects, of which approximately 11,000 are funded. In addition, the Foundation receives several thousand applications for graduate and postdoctoral fellowships. The agency operates no laboratories itself but does support National Research Centers, user facilities, certain oceanographic vessels and Antarctic research stations. The Foundation also supports cooperative research between universities and industry, US participation in international scientific and engineering efforts, and educational activities at every academic level.

    Facilitation Awards for Scientists and Engineers with Disabilities provide funding for special assistance or equipment to enable persons with disabilities to work on NSF-supported projects. See Grant Proposal Guide Chapter II, Section D.2 for instructions regarding preparation of these types of proposals.

    The National Science Foundation has Telephonic Device for the Deaf (TDD) and Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) capabilities that enable individuals with hearing impairments to communicate with the Foundation about NSF programs, employment or general information. TDD may be accessed at (703) 292-5090 and (800) 281-8749, FIRS at (800) 877-8339.

    The National Science Foundation Information Center may be reached at (703) 292-5111.

    The National Science Foundation promotes and advances scientific progress in the United States by competitively awarding grants and cooperative agreements for research and education in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering.

    To get the latest information about program deadlines, to download copies of NSF publications, and to access abstracts of awards, visit the NSF Website at

    • Location:

    4201 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA 22230

    • For General Information
      (NSF Information Center):

    (703) 292-5111

    • TDD (for the hearing-impaired):

    (703) 292-5090

    • To Order Publications or Forms:

    Send an e-mail to:

    or telephone:

    (703) 292-7827

    • To Locate NSF Employees:

    (703) 292-5111

    Privacy Act And Public Burden Statements

    The information requested on proposal forms and project reports is solicited under the authority of the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended. The information on proposal forms will be used in connection with the selection of qualified proposals; and project reports submitted by awardees will be used for program evaluation and reporting within the Executive Branch and to Congress. The information requested may be disclosed to qualified reviewers and staff assistants as part of the proposal review process; to proposer institutions/grantees to provide or obtain data regarding the proposal review process, award decisions, or the administration of awards; to government contractors, experts, volunteers and researchers and educators as necessary to complete assigned work; to other government agencies or other entities needing information regarding applicants or nominees as part of a joint application review process, or in order to coordinate programs or policy; and to another Federal agency, court, or party in a court or Federal administrative proceeding if the government is a party. Information about Principal Investigators may be added to the Reviewer file and used to select potential candidates to serve as peer reviewers or advisory committee members. See Systems of Records, NSF-50, "Principal Investigator/Proposal File and Associated Records," 69 Federal Register 26410 (May 12, 2004), and NSF-51, "Reviewer/Proposal File and Associated Records, " 69 Federal Register 26410 (May 12, 2004). Submission of the information is voluntary. Failure to provide full and complete information, however, may reduce the possibility of receiving an award.

    An agency may not conduct or sponsor, and a person is not required to respond to, an information collection unless it displays a valid Office of Management and Budget (OMB) control number. The OMB control number for this collection is 3145-0058. Public reporting burden for this collection of information is estimated to average 120 hours per response, including the time for reviewing instructions. Send comments regarding the burden estimate and any other aspect of this collection of information, including suggestions for reducing this burden, to:

    Suzanne H. Plimpton
    Reports Clearance Officer
    Division of Administrative Services
    National Science Foundation
    Arlington, VA 22230