Teacher looking through a telescope

Teacher Innovator Institute

Bring the Museum to your classroom.

Learn how to bring the museum experience into your classroom through informal STEM education at our 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 2020. Teachers will remain with the program for two summers, returning to Washington, DC, in year two to reconnect, develop their practice, and mentor the newest class of Innovators.


The 2020 application is closed. 

Summer 2020 Program:

  • New 2020 Cohort: Monday, July 6 - Friday, July 17, 2020
  • Returning 2019 Cohort: Wednesday, July 8 - Tuesday, July 21, 2020
  • Returning 2018 Cohort: Monday, July 13 - Friday, July 24, 2020


Institute Location: Washington, DC


Who Should Apply 

Middle School (grades 5-8) STEAM 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. Teams can be no larger than three teachers. 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 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 two 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.

The Summer 2020 application is now closed. Check back in the fall for information about TII 2021.

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. You may used the following form or have your admin write a letter of support:"TII Administrator Sign Off"
  • Two recommendation letters. Letters should address your role as an innovator in your teaching practice and other qualities that make you stand out.
    • Letter of recommendation from a peer.  
    • Letter of recommendation from a member of your community. This can be a student, parent, community member or leader in your 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). This project may grow and change throughout your two weeks at NASM and as you put it into practice next school year. The proposal should be no more than one page and should address the following:
    • Goals of the project for students. What will they do better after participating?
    • Timeframe for the project.
    • A summary of potential activities.
    • An authentic or real world problem for students to explore.
    • You may use this template: FileTII Project Proposal
  • A short (1-2 minute) video introducing yourself and discussing your role as an innovator in your teaching practice. If you are applying as a team, you can make a single team video. (Send us a link to video file (ex. Dropbox, unlisted youtube video, google drive, or upload; YouTube strongly preferred). Watch this for video application tips.