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Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)

Grants to USA Nonprofits, For-Profits, IHEs, and
Agencies to Strengthen the Quality of STEM Education

Agency Type:


Funding Source:

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National Science Foundation (NSF)

Conf. Date:


Deadline Date:

01/12/21 5:00 PM Submitter's Local Time


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Grants to USA nonprofits, for-profits, IHEs, and government agencies to strengthen the quality of STEM education for the general public. Funding is intended for a broad range of projects that provide the public with access to STEM learning. Eligible proposals must demonstrate clear rationales describing why a project is primarily informal and how it adds value to the informal STEM learning community.

AISL seeks to (a) advance new approaches to and evidence-based understanding of the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments; (b) provide multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences; (c) advance innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments; and (d) engage the public of all ages in learning STEM in informal environments.

The AISL program's priorities are: (1) Maximizing Strategic Impact, (2) Enhancing Knowledge-Building, (3) Promoting Innovation, (4) Advancing Collaboration, (5) Strengthening Infrastructure and Building Capacity, and (6) Broadening Participation. 

AISL projects engage participants drawn from both public and professional audiences.

For more information on priorities and audiences, see the program solicitation:

The AISL program supports six types of projects:

1) Pilots and Feasibility Studies

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

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, proposers should consider small and medium scale investigations depending on the nature of research questions and focus.

3) Innovations in Development

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, proposers 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

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 under-served groups as a target audience for a component or for the entire focus of the project.

5) Literature Reviews, Syntheses, or Meta-analyses

AISL supports capacity building through literature reviews, syntheses, and meta-analyses directly related to the goals of the AISL program. Proposers 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

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.

For more information about the project types, see the program solicitation:

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) 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.

6) 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.

Unaffiliated individuals are not eligible to submit proposals in response to this solicitation.

Pre-proposal Conference:

CAISE is hosting six opportunities to connect with program directors from NSF to ask questions about proposal preparation.

Dates, Times, & Topics

10/28/2020: Introduction to the Solicitation, virtual, 3-4pm Eastern
11/10/2020: External Feedback & Advisory Boards, virtual, 3-4pm Eastern
11/16/2020: New to Proposal Preparation, virtual, 3-4pm Eastern
11/18/2020: Research Questions and Design, virtual, 3-4pm Eastern
11/24/2020: Research Coordination Networks, virtual, 3-4pm Eastern
12/9/2020: Budget Preparation, virtual, 3-4pm Eastern
1/6/2020: Last Chance for Questions, virtual, 3-4pm Eastern

Register here:

Pre-Application Information:

Full proposal deadline date: January 12, 2021

Inclusion of voluntary committed cost sharing is prohibited.

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

For Literature Reviews, Syntheses, or Meta-analyses and for Conferences, investigators are strongly encouraged to contact a PO prior to submission to discuss their idea(s).

For general guidance about conferences, follow the PAPPG guidance under for preparing Conference Proposals (, in addition to the AISL-specific guidance provided in the program solicitation.

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.

Any proposal submitted in response to this solicitation should be submitted in accordance with the revised NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) (, which is effective for proposals submitted, or due, on or after June 1, 2020.

For Proposals Submitted Via
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Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE):

AISL Program Solicitation Overview Webinar:

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 email at or phone at (703) 292-8616.

For questions related to the use of FastLane, contact:

FastLane Help Desk: 1-800-673-6188
FastLane Help Desk email:

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; email:

National Science Foundation
2415 Eisenhower Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22314
Phone: (703) 292-5111
TDD: (703) 292-5090

CFDA Number:


Funding or Pin Number:

NSF 20-607

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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