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Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)

Grants to USA Nonprofits, For-Profits, IHEs, Agencies,
and Individuals for STEM Education in Informal Settings

Agency Type:


Funding Source:

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National Science Foundation (NSF)

Conf. Date:


Deadline Date:

11/06/19 5:00 PM Submitter's Local Time


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Grants to USA nonprofits, for-profits, IHEs, government agencies, and individuals to strengthen the quality of informal STEM education for the general public and professional audiences. Funding is available for a broad range of project types that allow public audiences to engage with STEM learning. Projects may also involve research and assessment of informal STEM learning environments.

The AISL program supports six types of projects:

1) Pilots and Feasibility Studies

Projects can be funded for up to $300,000 total and up to two years in duration. The AISL program anticipates funding 15-20 per year.

These projects offer opportunities for practitioners and researchers to investigate issues in and approaches to informal STEM learning and to establish the basis for future research, design, and development of innovations or approaches. Such initial exploratory development work and pilot or feasibility studies should produce evidence, findings, and/or prototype deliverables that help the team make critical decisions about future work. These proposals may include high risk strategies or methods that need exploration (piloting) before further research and development is justifiable.

2) Research in Service to Practice

Projects can be funded for $300,000 to $2 million and from two to five years in duration. The AISL program anticipates funding 8-10 per year.

The Research in Service to Practice (RSP) project type focuses on research that advances knowledge and the evidence base for practices, assumptions, broadening participation, or emerging educational arrangements in STEM learning in informal environments, including the science of science communication (NAS, 2017). For these proposals it is important for practice to inform the research as well as having research inform practice. Genuine partnerships between researchers and practitioners are required, such that the project is important and relevant to both research and practice.

Research takes many forms and occurs at different scales. While the range for funding is quite broad, applicants should consider small and medium scale investigations depending on the nature of research questions and focus.

3) Innovations in Development

Projects can be funded for $500,000 to $3 million and from two to five years in duration. The AISL program anticipates funding 10-15 per year.

The Innovations in Development project type is expected to result in deliverables such as exhibits, media products, after school programs, etc., and in innovative models, programs, technologies, assessments, resources, or systems for an area of STEM learning in informal environments. As R&D projects, proposals should describe activities for the design and development of new or improved innovations or approaches to achieve specific goals related to STEM learning, engagement, and capacity building. These proposals build on evidence from the team's or the field's prior research, design, practice, and development work. It is understood that innovations take many forms and occur at different scales. While the range for funding is quite broad, applicants should consider small and medium scale innovations depending on the nature of what is being innovated.

An explicit theoretical framework as well as either a logic model or theory of action should guide projects. In addition, proposals must articulate a plan and process for the design, development, implementation, and evidence-building components (based on research, evaluation, or both) of the proposed work. Iterative, design-based research approaches are encouraged, if appropriate.

4) Broad Implementation

Projects can be funded for $1 million to $3 million and from three to five years in duration. The AISL program anticipates funding 4-6 per year.

The Broad Implementation project type supports the expansion or reach of models, programs, technologies, assessments, resources, research, or systems that have a documented record of success, innovation, or evidence-based knowledge building. The focus is on making innovations or approaches succeed when they are implemented at a larger scale. Sources of evidence may include summative evaluation or research data that indicate readiness for distribution to a broader population or new setting(s) and should be summarized in the proposal narrative.

When thinking about the focus for expansion, consider: geography, age, socio-economic status, cultural or linguistic group, race and ethnicity, gender, disability, learning setting, or another dimension. Where appropriate, investigators are encouraged to emphasize individuals from underrepresented or underserved groups as a target audience for a component or for the entire focus of the project.

5) Literature Reviews, Syntheses, or Meta-analyses

Projects can be funded for up to $250,000 and are usually two years in duration. Investigators are strongly encouraged to contact a PO prior to submission to discuss your idea(s). The AISL program anticipates funding up to 10 projects within this category per year.

AISL supports capacity building through literature reviews, syntheses, and meta-analyses directly related to the goals of the AISL program. Applicants should be clear about which type of proposal they are submitting. A proposal should focus on a question, issue, or topic of critical importance to the AISL program.

6) Conferences

Projects can be funded for up to $250,000 and are usually two years in duration.

Investigators are strongly encouraged to contact a PO prior to submission to discuss your idea(s). For general guidance about conferences, follow the PAPPG guidance under for preparing Conference Proposals (PAPPG II.E.7), in addition to the AISL-specific guidance below. The Project Description section of these proposals is limited to 15 pages. The AISL program anticipates funding up to 18 projects within this category per year.

Conference proposals should demonstrate a command of the literature and/or practice of the question, issue, or topic. Participant expertise and selection should be discussed. Conference proposals should include a conceptual framework for the conference, draft agenda, possible participant list, and the outcomes or products that will result.

Note: For Conferences with budgets over $75K, proposals should be submitted for review by the deadline dates listed at the beginning of this solicitation. Conferences with budgets under $75K are evaluated on an ad hoc basis and may be submitted at any time (not only to the competition deadline), generally at least one year in advance of when the event would be held. Investigators are strongly encouraged to contact a Program Officer prior to submission.

Anticipated Total Funding Amount for all programs is: $33,000,000 to $44,000,000.

Pending availability of funds, it is anticipated that about 15-20 Pilots and Feasibility Studies awards, 8-10 Research in Service To Practice awards, 10-15 Innovations in Development awards, 4-6 Broad Implementation awards, 8-10 Literature Reviews, Syntheses, and/or Meta-analyses awards, and 12-18 Conference awards will be made. AISL will also fund 8-10 awards made through the EAGER, RAPID, Research Coordination Networks (RCN) mechanisms and 2-4 each CAREER awards and REU supplements.

GrantWatch ID#:

GrantWatch ID#: 154919

Estimated Total Program Funding:


Number of Grants:


Estimated Size of Grant:

- Pilots and Feasibility: Up to $300,000
- Research in Service to Practice: $300,000 - $2,000,000
- Innovations in Development: $500,000 - $3,000,000
- Broad Implementation: $1,000,000 - $3,000,000
- Literature Reviews, Syntheses, or Meta-analyses: Up to $250,000
- Conferences: Up to $250,000

Term of Contract:

- Pilots and Feasibility projects are up to 2 years in duration
- Research in Service to Practice projects are 2 - 5 years in duration.
- Innovations in Development projects are 2 - 5 years in duration.
- Broad Implementation projects are 3 - 5 years in duration.
- Literature Reviews, Syntheses, or Meta-analyses projects are up to 2 years in duration.
- Conferences are up to 2 years in duration.

Additional Eligibility Criteria:

The categories of proposers eligible to submit proposals to the National Science Foundation are identified in the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG), Chapter I.E.

NSF welcomes proposals on behalf of all qualified scientists, engineers, and educators.

Scientists, engineers, and educators usually initiate proposals that are officially submitted by their employing organization. Before formal submission, the proposal may be discussed with appropriate NSF program staff. Graduate students are not encouraged to submit research proposals, but should arrange to serve as research assistants to faculty members. Some NSF divisions accept proposals for Doctoral Dissertation Research Grants when submitted by a faculty member on behalf of the graduate student.

Categories of Proposers:

1) Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) - Two- and four-year IHEs (including community colleges) accredited in, and having a campus located in the US, acting on behalf of their faculty members.

2) Nonprofit, non-academic organizations - Independent museums, observatories, research laboratories, professional societies and similar organizations located in the US that are directly associated with educational or research activities.

3) For-profit organizations - US commercial organizations, especially small businesses with strong capabilities in scientific or engineering research or education. An unsolicited proposal from a commercial organization may be funded when the project is of special concern from a national point of view, special resources are available for the work, or the proposed project is especially meritorious. NSF is interested in supporting projects that couple industrial research resources and perspectives with those of universities; therefore, it especially welcomes proposals for cooperative projects involving both universities and the private commercial sector.

4) State and Local Governments - State educational offices or organizations and local school districts may submit proposals intended to broaden the impact, accelerate the pace, and increase the effectiveness of improvements in science, mathematics and engineering education in both K-12 and post-secondary levels.

5) Unaffiliated Individuals - Unaffiliated individuals in the US and US citizens rarely receive direct funding support from NSF.

Unaffiliated individuals must contact the cognizant Program Officer prior to preparing and submitting a proposal to NSF.

6) Foreign organizations - NSF rarely provides support to foreign organizations. NSF will consider proposals for cooperative projects involving US and foreign organizations, provided support is requested only for the US portion of the collaborative effort. In cases however, where the proposer considers the foreign organization’s involvement to be essential to the project (e.g., through subawards or consultant arrangements), the proposer must explain why local support is not feasible and why the foreign organization can carry out the activity more effectively. In addition, the proposed activity must demonstrate how one or more of the following conditions have been met:

- The foreign organization contributes a unique organization, facilities, geographic location and/or access to unique data resources not generally available to US investigators (or which would require significant effort or time to duplicate) or other resources that are essential to the success of the proposed project; and/or

- The foreign organization to be supported offers significant science and engineering education, training, or research opportunities to the US.

7) Other Federal agencies - NSF does not normally support research or education activities by scientists, engineers or educators employed by Federal agencies or FFRDCs. Under unusual circumstances, other Federal agencies and FFRDCs may submit proposals directly to NSF. A proposed project is only eligible for support if it meets one or more of the following exceptions, as determined by a cognizant NSF Program Officer:

- Special Projects. Under exceptional circumstances, research or education projects at other Federal agencies or FFRDCs that can make unique contributions to the needs of researchers elsewhere or to other specific NSF objectives may receive NSF support.

- National and International Programs. The Foundation may fund research and logistical support activities of other Government agencies or FFRDCs directed at meeting the goals of special national and international research programs for which the Foundation bears special responsibility, such as the US Antarctic Research Program.

- International Travel Awards. In order to ensure appropriate representation or availability of a particular expertise at an international conference, staff researchers of other Federal agencies may receive NSF international travel awards.

Proposers who think their project may meet one of the exceptions listed above must contact a cognizant NSF Program Officer before preparing a proposal for submission. In addition, a scientist, engineer or educator who has a joint appointment with a university and a Federal agency (such as a Veterans Administration Hospital, or with a university and a FFRDC) may submit proposals through the university and may receive support if he/she is a faculty member of the university, although part of his/her salary may be provided by the Federal agency. Preliminary inquiry must be made to the appropriate program before preparing a proposal for submission.

Pre-proposal Conference:

October 2019 Opportunities with NSF AISL Program Officers:

Virtual Office Hours
To help you develop and submit your proposal, the Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) invites you to join one (or both) of the following virtual office hours with NSF AISL program officers. Virtual office hours are informal sessions where you can ask questions about the solicitation and/or the NSF merit review process. They are open to everyone.

Tuesday, September 10 from 2:00-3:00 pm ET (register here:

Thursday, October 10 from 12:00-1:00 pm ET (register here: Focused on budgets and budget justifications

Wednesday, October 16 from 2:30-3:30 pm ET (register here:

Read important preparation information here:

Webinar on Preparing Clear and Effective Budgets and Budget Justifications

It is the job of the Principal Investigator (PI) to ensure that the project narrative, budget, and budget justification tell a single, connected story that makes a convincing argument for funding. It is also the PI’s responsibility to ensure that all of these follow the National Science Foundation (NSF) guidelines, based on the Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) and the relevant program solicitation.

In this webinar, on Wednesday, October 17 from 2:30 to 3:30 PM EDT, NSF program officers Catherine Eberbach and Ellen McCallie, along with Daniel McEnrue, from NSF’s Division of Grants and Agreements, will provide insight into how to apply the PAPPG guidelines to develop clear and effective budgets and budget justifications. They will also answer your questions.

Please review the PAPPG section on budgets and budget justifications in advance of the webinar (pages II-15 to II-23).

Pre-Application Information:

Full proposal deadline date: Wednesday, November 6, 2019 by 5:00 PM submitter's local time.

Inclusion of voluntary committed cost sharing is prohibited.

An institution or organization may serve as lead on no more than three (3) proposals submitted to the November deadline. However, an institution or organization may partner as a subaward on other proposals submitted.

An individual may be included as a Principal Investigator (PI) /Co-PI on no more than three (3) proposals submitted to the November deadline.

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. Comprehensive information about using is available on the Applicant Resources webpage: In addition, the NSF Application Guide provides instructions regarding the technical preparation of proposals via

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Contact Information:

Before starting your grant application, please review the funding source's website listed below for updates/changes/addendums/conferences/LOIs.

Applications must be submitted via either FastLane or

For user support, contact the Contact Center at 1-800-518-4726 or by email:

For administrative questions contact the Program by e-mail at or phone at (703)292-8616.

4201 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22230
Phone: (703) 292-5111
TDD: (703) 292-5090

CFDA Number:


Funding or Pin Number:

NSF 17-573

URL for Full Text (RFP):

Geographic Focus:

USA: Alabama;   Alaska;   Arizona;   Arkansas;   California;   Colorado;   Connecticut;   Delaware;   Florida;   Georgia;   Hawaii;   Idaho;   Illinois;   Indiana;   Iowa;   Kansas;   Kentucky;   Louisiana;   Maine;   Maryland;   Massachusetts;   Michigan;   Minnesota;   Mississippi;   Missouri;   Montana;   Nebraska;   Nevada;   New Hampshire;   New Jersey;   New Mexico;   New York City;   New York;   North Carolina;   North Dakota;   Ohio;   Oklahoma;   Oregon;   Pennsylvania;   Rhode Island;   South Carolina;   South Dakota;   Tennessee;   Texas;   Utah;   Vermont;   Virginia;   Washington, DC;   Washington;   West Virginia;   Wisconsin;   Wyoming

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