What do activities like taking apart a bicycle, remembering a valued science teacher, or admiring the sculpture in the courtyard at the museum have in common? To some, they are simply warm childhood memories. To others, however, these are the moments when a passive interest became a lifelong passion.

At the Activation Lab, a project of the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Kevin Crowley and Dr. Christian Schunn are investigating how moments like these add up to ‘activate’ students’ interest in specific subjects and how this interest can be cultivated over time to increase the likelihood of children’s ongoing participation in science, technology, and the arts.

According to Dr. Crowley, determining how children are activated toward a particular discipline, and successfully cultivating that activation can have an strong influence on the choices they make about college and career. Further, Crowley points out that in order to understand and apply widespread learning activation (and avoid deactivation) in Pittsburgh, the Activation Lab and Kids+Creativity network organizations need to conceptualize and design potential pathways to activation.

As Dr. Schunn explains it, people learn or become engaged in different ways. For the student who finds value in science and believes that it is important to learn what he or she is taught in that area, activation is likely. On a similar note, those who are fascinated by science – maybe those who experience a serious WOW factor in a museum setting – also become engaged and tend to stay activated. And, finally, for those who can apply their knowledge of a discipline, such as science, to understand the world around them, activation becomes a source of sensemaking.

Watch a recap of Measuring Network Impact, an event introducing the ideas of the Activation Lab

The challenge is in designing programs that hit all three notes: imparting the value of a subject, triggering a student’s fascination with the subject, and engaging the student in the application of that subject to make sense of the world. What’s more, as students move through formal and informal learning environments, age groups, and interest-based clubs, organizations must coordinate their programming so that learners experience a continual ‘ramping up’ of interest that leads to activation.

Funding Available for Activation Program Enhancements

To cultivate collaboration between institutions and develop effective methods for handing off students from organization to organization in Pittsburgh’s learning ecosystem, The Sprout Fund has issued a Request for Proposal for Activation Program Enhancements. Seeking proposals for the development and testing of new, intentional pathways to enhance and sustain learning activation in science, technology, and the arts.

Supported projects will work closely with the Activation Lab to design program enhancements for existing activities scheduled for implementation in 2013. In addition to benefiting from the consultation of Activation Lab researchers, collaborating organizations will qualify for up to $5,000 to support the implementation of Activation Program Enhancements.

Applications are due by Friday, October 19. Full details and application materials are available here.

Meet Collaborators at Activation Matchmaking Happy Hour

Collaboration between participating organizations is key to successful Activation Program Enhancements. Organizations can meet potential partners at the Activation Matchmaking Happy Hour on Wednesday, October 10th from 5-7pm at Bar Marco in the Strip District.