Teacher Innovator Institute

holt scholars space suit

Learn how to bring the museum experience into your classroom through informal STEM education at our inaugural Teacher Innovator Institute.

Spend two weeks in Washington, DC, working with education and STEM experts to explore the connections between informal STEM education and authentic learning. Develop an individual project that you can take back to your school and gain the skills to incorporate museum learning into your practice, and meet colleagues from around the country. There is no cost for teachers to participate.

The Teacher Innovator Institute will welcome 30 teachers from across the United States in Summer 2018. Teachers will remain with the program for three summers, returning to Washington, DC, each year to reconnect, develop their practice, and mentor the newest classes of Innovators.


Applications Due: April 1, 2018
Summer 2018 Program: Monday, July 9 – Friday, July 20, 2018
Institute Location: Washington, DC

Send questions to Shannon Baldioli

Who Should Apply

Middle School (grades 5-8) STEM teachers with an interest in expanding their practice to include informal education techniques. You may apply with colleagues from your school or district as a team. Efforts will be made to enroll a cohort who represents a diverse set of school types, geographic regions, teaching environments, and experiences.

Teachers Will Learn

Participants in the first cohort—and who continue for the entire three-year term–will grapple with the idea of “authentic learning.” A major buzz phrase in the formal and informal education communities, authentic learning is a broad construct that could be defined in different ways by different educators. At its root, the authentic learning movement seeks to involve real-world problems, use open-ended inquiry, and engage students in social learning. The cohort will work to define the term as it relates to their practice and design content around it as they progress through the program.

Through hands-on activities, museum tours, visits to other museums, group work, and expertise from museum educators and content experts, teachers will use aerospace science, history, and technology to shape their ideas about authentic learning and bring informal education techniques into their classrooms.

Teachers will propose an independent project to be completed over the two weeks. The project must be substantial (a unit plan, after school club, project for students, etc.) and centered around aerospace or content from the National Air and Space Museum.

We Provide

  • There is no cost for teachers to participate. Teachers are provided with lodging, food, and travel (to and within DC).
  • During the institute, teachers will be given VIP museum experiences and access to content experts in both informal education and aerospace content.
  • Participants will also have opportunities to connect with your cohort and museum staff several times during the school year.


  • Commit to two weeks each summer for three summers.
  • Propose an independent project and see it through to completion. Present the project to fellow Institute participants and Smithsonian staff. Participants will use approximately one quarter of their time working on projects independently.
  • Actively participate in sessions led by Smithsonian Institution staff and guests on the marriage of informal and formal learning.
  • Assist in the evaluation of and iteration upon current educational programming at the National Air and Space Museum.

Year One: Connect at least twice during the school year via videoconference (the Museum will provide the videoconference platform) to reflect and evaluate your practice with your fellow cohort. Present at least one professional development session for teachers in your school or district.

Year Two: Support a new cohort by continuing to participate in reflective practice videoconferences. Present at least two professional development sessions for teachers in your local district or region.

Year Three: Create curriculum and activities for a new cohort and actively mentor new teacher innovators. Present professional development to local teachers in the DC metro area.

How to Apply

Submit a completed application form by April 1, 2018. The application form will ask for basic contact and school information. If you are applying as part of a team, each person should submit their own application form.

Please submit the following with the form:

  • Administrator sign-off on participation in the institute. PDF iconTeacher Innovator Institute Administrator Sign Off
  • Letter of recommendation from a peer.
  • Letter of recommendation from a leader (administrator, team leader, etc.) in your school or district.
  • Propose an independent project to work on during the institute that can be implemented during the next school year. The project should be larger in scope than a single lesson plan (i.e. a unit plan, series of lessons, field trip plan (with pre- and post-visit lessons), after school club framework, project for students involving working with an expert to solve a real-world problem). Submit a one-page summary of the project.
  • A short (1-3 minute) video introducing yourself and discussing your role as an innovator in your teaching practice. We prefer a link to a Youtube video (an unlisted video is okay). You may also send us a link to a video on another platform such as Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. or upload your video in the application.