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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Introducing the First #scichat Challenge

Eric Brunsell

Asst Professor of Science Education @ UW-Oshkosh

"Let's get this #scichat party started!"
9:01 PM - June 9, 2010

As school was winding down for the summer, #scichat was launched with a passionate discussion about increasing the relevancy of school science. A vibrant community of science educators began to connect on Twitter to share ideas and resources. Throughout the summer, this growing community met every other Tuesday to discuss topics ranging from using web tools in the classroom to assessing science.

As summer winds down and the new school year starts, the #scichat community continues to grow. Details on joining the discussions (Tuesdays @ 9 PM Eastern) are available here. However, if Twitter isn't your thing, you can get involved in other ways too.

A few days ago, the SciDo Collaborative was launched. According to the founders, "The SciDo Collaborative is a loose affiliation of science teachers coming together to help support the teaching of science in K-12 classrooms. It is an attempt to make the ideas shared during #scichat into something tangible and useful." The power of community is already on display as hundreds of science lessons and resources have already been shared.

The #scichat Challenges are envisioned as another way to help science teachers come together, take action to advance science education, and... to have a fun doing it. We even have prizes! (Thanks Edutopia!) Our hope is to hold one challenge each quarter. Most of the challenges will come directly from themes discussed during #scichat. For example, our first challenge comes directly from the third #scichat (07/06/10), What does an ideal 21st Century science classroom look like?

The Challenge

Your challenge, if you choose to accept, is to find a way to connect your students with a scientist, engineer, or other expert and share it with us.

How you make the connection is up to you. It can be through blogging, Skype, or even an old-school face-to-face meeting!

Deadline: To participate in this #scichat challenge, your students must interact with the expert prior to October 22, 2010.

Participation: Participation is simple, share the event via the comment section of this blog. What did you do? Who was the expert? How did your students react? Anyone can participate. The only constraint is that the expert must be STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) related.

Prizes: Of course, the real reward is knowing that you enriched your students' lives. However, where is the fun in that? A few lucky participants will be selected by the community to receive DVDs or other prizes from Edutopia. To vote for a submission that you think is prize worthy, simply click on the "Was this helpful?" thumbs-up icon on the comment.

Why this Challenge?

Back in 1957, 35,000 high school students were surveyed to determine how they perceived scientists. The results of the study were published in Science and a typical response looked something like this:

"...a man who wears a white coat and works in a laboratory. He is elderly and middle aged and wears glasses... he is surrounded by equipment: test tubes, Bunsen burners, flasks and bottles, a jungle gym of blown glass tubes and weird machines with dials."

Unfortunately, our perceptions of scientists haven't changed much. More recently, a 2006 North Carolina study of middle and high school kids found that they viewed scientists as "unattractive, reclusive, socially inept white men or foreigners, working in dull, unglamorous careers." Ouch.

The researchers found that in the three schools that they were working with, only 10-percent of students had ever had a scientist visit their classroom. They took action by organizing a week long, school-based nanotechnology event. Students participated in a variety of hands on activities and had the opportunity to interview working scientists.

In describing their project, the researchers used the analogy of Toto pulling back the wizard's curtain. After their brief interactions with these scientists, many of the students had much more positive views of scientists and scientific careers. One year later, these positive views remained, and a composite response was created from the major themes from these students:

"Scientists are like regular people that study things that they enjoy. They are nice and pretty friendly. They're cool, down-to-earth people and not strange. They aren't nerds or anything... Scientists don't just sit at a desk and do research. They do field work. There are many kinds of scientists that focus on different things. It is interesting that they get on one thing and they study it to find a reason and an explanation. Like they explore the virus and see what's in it and how it moves and then they have a question and they come up with a way to solve the problem."

Your students need you to pull back the curtain and show them that STEM careers can be rewarding. They need you to participate in the #scichat Challenge!

Don't forget to bookmark this page and come back here to share what you've done and to vote for a submission that you think is prize worthy -- simply click on the "Was this helpful?" thumbs-up icon on the comment.

Eric Brunsell

Asst Professor of Science Education @ UW-Oshkosh
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