LEAP into Science

Recognizing that each partner brings their own strengths and has different incentives can create a very versatile network of partners, who can all learn from one another.

In the spirit of inquiry and discovery embodied by Benjamin Franklin, the mission of The Franklin Institute is to inspire a passion for learning about science and technology.  Located in the heart of Philadelphia, The Franklin Institute is a renowned and innovative leader in the field of science and technology learning, as well as a dynamic center of activity. As Pennsylvania’s most visited museum, it is dedicated to creating a passion for learning about science by offering access to hands-on science education. For more information, visit www.fi.edu.


LEAP into Science began as a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded museum-library partnership between The Franklin Institute and the Free Library of Philadelphia in 2007.  The current program, funded by both NSF and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), consists of 27 institutional partners including science centers, children’s museums, libraries, afterschool programs, public television stations and universities located in 11 cities across the U.S. Since the inception of LEAP into Science in 2007, the program has reached more than 20,600 people including children (primarily grades K-4) and adults from underserved communities around the country. Specific demographic data of program participants has not been collected, due to the drop-in nature of many of the programs.


LEAP into Science consists of science and literacy workshops that combine hands-on science activities with relevant children’s books. The program includes afterschool workshops for children grades K-4, family workshops for intergenerational groups of all ages, and newly developed preschool workshops for children ages 3-5. These programs are offered primarily during out-of-school time at libraries, museums, afterschool programs and community centers at LEAP into Science partner sites throughout the country. Programs are facilitated by afterschool staff, librarians, museum educators, teachers, volunteers and community members who receive training in LEAP into Science’s inquiry-based facilitation approach and curriculum resources. The structure of these programs is unique to each site based on the students’ and facilitators’ needs. This flexibility is explicitly encouraged and supported by The Franklin Institute to foster ownership and sustainability of the program for each individual partner.

Preschool children engage in sound explorations by testing, categorizing, and manipulating the sounds of various objects.


LEAP into Science workshops involve 12 themes, each focusing on a specific STEM topic that is content-oriented, process-oriented, or both. Science content topics include wind, water, sound, balance, animal habitats, light and shadows. Science process topics include evidence vs. inference, measurement, sorting, and inventions. Some of these topics also integrate mathematical themes of proportion, equality, angles, as well as simpler concepts of counting and adding. The preschool and afterschool workshops are facilitator-guided experiences for groups of children, while the family workshops are station-based self-paced tabletop activities designed for paired interaction between children and adults. For many themes there are correlating preschool, afterschool and family workshops, so that they can be used in conjunction with one another to offer multi-age or multi-format programming on the same STEM theme. Each workshop also includes age-appropriate children’s books, increasing in literacy level from the preschool (ages 3-5) to afterschool (ages 6-10) and family programs (all ages).

Training Resources for Program Facilitators

In addition to the curriculum, The Franklin Institute has created training materials for facilitators to enhance their understanding of inquiry-based learning, the connection between science and literacy, and strategies for open-ended science facilitation and effectively reading aloud. Enhanced training resources are currently under development, including video training modules and webinars.


Twenty-seven organizational partners are included in the LEAP into Science national expansion network. The Franklin Institute oversees the network by providing curricula and training, allocating NSF & IMLS grant funds for materials, and ongoing support. The expansion partners include libraries, science centers and museums, school districts, universities and out-of-school time organizations. The full list of partners is included on the website at www.fi.edu/leap.


Funding for LEAP into Science includes contributions from NSF and IMLS. Some of the LEAP into Science partners host 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) programs like the Rockford School District and the New Jersey School Age Care Coalition. In addition, The Franklin Institute partners with several 21st CCLC centers in Philadelphia and receives a fee for service.


The primary goal of LEAP into Science is to engage urban, underserved children and families in hands-on science and literacy learning in informal environments. In addition, the program aims to increase the capacity of community-based afterschool staff to facilitate STEM programs for youth, increasing their comfort with and understanding of inquiry-based STEM explorations and its connection with literacy in an out-of-school setting. Lastly, the program aims to demonstrate community partnerships between informal learning institutions like museums and libraries to leverage one another’s resources and engage their surrounding communities in intergenerational science & literacy learning.

Evaluation of the program has been conducted by Jessica Luke from the University of Washington and Jeanine Ancelet from Audience Focus.

  • Initial results from the Philadelphia sites show that accessible science concepts, inexpensive materials, as well as fostering skills in being able to ask questions rather than provide answers are key to cultivating an effective informal science facilitator.
  • Measured in 2009, Philadelphia library facilitators’ interest in science, enjoyment of science teaching, and science teaching efficacy beliefs improved significantly after having participated in LEAP into Science.
    • In a 2012 study of national sites, both library staff and afterschool staff also increased significantly in these areas as well.
  • National partners have indicated that the successful outcomes of the program include increased participant curiosity and interest, enjoyment and inspiration, understanding, engagement, investigation, and creativity. 
  • Ongoing challenges include engaging audiences across a wide age range, program logistics including organizing materials, and comfort with facilitation.

Advice for Success

What feature of your program do you think has been most crucial for success?

Programmatically, the open-ended and hands-on nature of our science explorations, and the unique aspect of pairing children’s books with those explorations, have been major markers of success for this program. Facilitators feel comfortable with children’s books and with the emphasis of the program being on asking questions and exploring, rather than the facilitators needing to know all of the answers. As far as the expansion of our program, our flexibility with the way in which sites implement our resources has been a major contributor to the program’s success and sustainability in these sites. They have expressed repeatedly that our support of their unique adaptation and integration of these resources to fit their needs is highly appreciated and valued, as well as logistically successful for the long term use of the program at their institutions.

What were some of the challenges the program faced in its early stages?

Initially some challenges of the program included garnering excitement and support for science learning among librarians before the program became better known in the Free Library of Philadelphia system. There were sentiments of fear and hesitancy with facilitating science learning, especially for librarians with limited or no background (and sometimes no interest) in science. Also, the collection and management of materials needed for the program continues to be a logistical challenge.

Philadelphia librarians explore the science of magnets in a professional development workshop preparing them to facilitate these LEAP into Science activities with families.

What advice would you have for programs that want to integrate STEM?

Our advice for programs that want to integrate STEM is: 1) Find existing parts of your program that have STEM-related themes or applications, and enhance those without needing to reinvent your program. So much of education and learning involves scientific methods for gathering information—observing, testing, trying again. Highlighting this as a scientific methodology for thinking and learning is a great place to start. 2) Look for resources in your area to integrate STEM expertise—reach out to a local science center, university, or laboratory, or look at national efforts that support science learning—informalscience.org, National Girls Collaborative Project, Afterschool Alliance, etc. There are many ongoing efforts in which interested out-of-school time programs can become involved.

How have you managed such significant scaling?

Flexibility and ongoing support of partnerships are two key factors we’ve found in maintaining success with scaling up a program like this. Recognizing that each partner brings their own strengths and has different incentives can create a very versatile network of partners, who can all learn from one another. Keeping the central goals and responsibilities of the program clear and understandable, while allowing for a lot of flexibility and ownership on behalf of each partner, seems to be a great mix for multi-partner informal learning partnerships. Providing small stipends to partners to support purchasing of materials, and keeping in touch with monthly phone calls/webinars, have also allowed our network to continually offer programs and discuss strategies and best practices for using our resources. We are currently investigating how to support further expansion of the program, whether through seeking additional grant funding or pursuing a fee-for-service model.

Contact leapteam@fi.edu or visit www.fi.edu/leap for more information.

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