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Introducing the First #scichat Challenge

Eric Brunsell

Asst Professor of Science Education @ UW-Oshkosh
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"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.

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Eric Brunsell

Asst Professor of Science Education @ UW-Oshkosh

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Bob Hirshon's picture
Bob Hirshon
Senior Project Director, American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science

I direct an afterschool program for middle schoolers called Spark Club, all about "green" energy technologies, like wind and solar power. It's the afterschool portion of a National Science Foundation project we have here at AAAS called GET SET (Global Education for Tomorrow in Science, Engineering and Technology).

A key part of the program is pairing each school site with a graduate student or post-doc in the sciences. The young scientist visits the school regularly and serves as a sort of teacher's assistant. One of my favorite sites this year was a small parochial school in Washington, DC. The neighborhood is very low income and almost all of the children speak English as a second language. Most of the parents speak no English at all. The science teacher there is energetic and skillful, but he just started last year, and prior to that the school didn't have a dedicated science teacher. So the kids had had very little exposure to science of any sort.

The post doc we paired with the school--Megan--is an atmospheric chemist who not only speaks Spanish fluently (she lived in Mexico City for a while), but also grew up on a farm in Nebraska that was off the grid. They relied entirely on solar and wind power! So Megan was ideal.

By some calculations, our Spark Club at this school was disappointing--of 15 slots for the program, we filled only five. By contrast, other schools had waiting lists. But the five girls who signed on were just amazing--especially with guidance from Megan. The program consists of building and testing tabletop wind and solar power generation systems, including basic physics (calculating power generated and work accomplished, building circuits and using a multimeter to test voltage and amperage). This is followed by construction of large scale, commercial wind and solar systems--the sort that would go on a house or boat. The kids also work at an exhibit booth on the National Mall for Earth Day, explaining to visitors what they learned about green energy. The project is capped with an Energy Expo at the school, where the kids host their parents, siblings and friends and teach them about alternative energy technology.

The girls at this particular school had never even picked up a screwdriver, let alone built a power generation system. But they were very excited and adventurous from the first day. Having a woman leading them was a huge plus, as was Megan's ability to talk to them in Spanish. By the time they attended the Earth Day exhibit, they were experts, eagerly buttonholing passersby to tell them about their work. When we didn't need all of them in the booth, some of the girls would be allowed to visit the science posters exhibited at other booths, describing work done at labs all over the country. The posters described work published in science journals, and were written in language that was incomprehensibly dense. But they immersed themselves in those other booths, and spent hours visiting their favorites. Somehow, they were communicating with the scientists there.

A couple weeks later, while they were building a large wind system, their multimeter broke. Undaunted, they unscrewed the back, did some troubleshooting, found a loose solder connection, and fixed it with a paper clip!

Through the in-school portion of the GET SET program, the kids were also getting physics instruction in the classroom, and this undoubtedly made the Spark Club activities easier to handle. But I think the energy of their teacher and especially Megan made a huge difference. Even though the girls are only 12 and 13 years old, I'm convinced they will go on to study science in high school and almost certainly in college. That's what they're saying, and I believe them.

Bob Hirshon's picture
Bob Hirshon
Senior Project Director, American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science

Thanks, Eric! There are a bunch of clubs with bigger numbers, but this was my favorite.

Bridget Brandon's picture

Project Based Learning is now a permanent part of our schools mission. Last April my students were learning about Newton's Laws and in order for them to get a better understanding on how the concepts worked we came up with a driving question and then found ways to answer it. The question was "How can Newton's Laws help me to become an Engineer?" There were many movies, great lab activities from NASA and we even visited a NASA center. My Students also went to an Air Force base and got on the flight line were they saw B2 bombers and many jets, but the best was when we visited Northrop Grumman. We learned about the minuteman missile and most importantly met with several engineers who volunteered to show the students what their jobs were and how they were relevant to Newton's Laws. When we returned to school students made powerpoint presentations that included rocket launching, career choices, and Newton's Laws. Thank you Northrop!

Bob Calder's picture
Bob Calder
Internet and Society

Without actually participating in the event as I don't think what I am going to say is exactly on topic:
First, realize that you might just BE a scientist. I am. Tell your kids what you do and why.
Second, COSEE is a fantastic program *if* you can get 1.) a marine researcher 2.) an informal center (museum) and 3.) your own school all together in one room.

The rub curriculum-wise is that marine science is very poorly connected to state science standards even though it is a no-brainer to do.

Go to the COSEE website and find your state co-ordinator. Ask her to hook you up with the designee at your local research institution. It's your job to get the local discovery/science museum to hook up with the two of you. Then throw students in the water and watch them change into strange beasts.

Marilyn Schlitz, Ph.D.'s picture
Marilyn Schlitz, Ph.D.
President/CEO Institute of Noetic Sciences

How do we know what we know? Where do our beliefs come from? What does it mean to have a worldview? How can we learn to appreciate perspectives that are fundamentally different from our own?

To address these provocative questions, our multidisciplinary team of scientists and educators created and piloted a set of fifteen fifty-minute drop in multi-media modules on worldview literacy. The Worldview Literacy project is an experiential curriculum for middle and high school students that facilitates exploration of the pivotal role that worldview, perspective, or point of view plays in perception, information processing, and behavior. It utilizes several elements of new pedagogy (such as project-based and collaborative learning) that encourage exploration, discovery, and collective learning experiences. It encourages critical thinking, evidence based learning, creative problem solving, communication skills, and cultural competence. Students are encouraged to reflect and share their worldviews while gaining tools for understanding the worldviews of others. Our hypothesis is that participation in this program will enhance academic engagement and improve classroom-learning environments, leading to improved academic achievement.

The dynamic curriculum brings together science, history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and technology in a pedagogy that invites exploration and discovery through shared learning. Through experiential exercises, students participate in experiments from cognitive science that expose them to inattentional blindness, optical illusions, and other cognitive biases. These immediately and directly engage the students in breakthrough science based in their own observations. Neuroscience, cosmology, and social psychology guide the learning about how our perceptions are informed by our expectations and beliefs.

Through short video interviews, students journey to the moon with Apollo 14 astronaut, Dr. Edgar Mitchell. As an engineer, physicist and systems analyst, Mitchell helps students understand both his outer journey into space and the inner journey of his own experience seeing planet earth as a whole, living system. Dr. Mitchell's experience brings space exploration to life and inspires and informs the classroom.

In the course of a guided multi-media tour of the cosmos, students interact through a video interview with astrophysicist, Dr. Brian Swimm. The students literally walk through evolution, step by step, in a guiding walking exercise. In this way, they can understand their own place in the evolving universe.

Through a recorded interview with Dr. Dean Radin, students learn about changing models of physics. They review classical and quantum physics and discuss its implications for how mind and matter may interact. A lesson on maps shows the ways in which our models of reality have changed over time, represented through changes in cartography.

Through the worldview literacy project, science is used in fun and engaging ways. Specific optical illusions become active metaphors in the classroom, as one concept builds upon another. Inattentional blindness helps students to stay flexible in the face of new or conflicting information, bringing discussions of fact versus opinion into direct experience. Science itself is seen through the lens of worldview. We discuss how science is both a worldview and a set of methods that inform our worldview, including our understanding of self and the world. Students are invited to journal about these experiences, engage in-group discussions, and to create projects that represent their understanding and reflections. They are encouraged to bring their awareness to thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, particularly when presented with conflicting perspectives or points of view, thereby allowing them to deal with conflict consciously, rather than reactively.

The program is based upon a change model derived from a decadelong study of worldview transformation that identified metacognitive reflection on worldview, self-awareness, and self-inquiry as precursors to a developmental movement towards greater social consciousness and prosocial behaviors (Schlitz, Vieten and Miller, 2010). This lends itself to an organizational framework that can be examined in relation to student and classroom outcomes. We hypothesize that through increasing students awareness of their own and other's worldviews, and providing skills for effective communication, scientific understanding, cultural appreciation, and systems thinking, students experience greater engagement in learning and improvement of the classroom-learning environment. We are now testing this to see if it leads to enhanced academic achievement. Our preliminary data supports this hypothesis.

Over the past two years, we have developed and pilot tested the Worldview Literacy
Curriculum in schools through the California bay area, reaching more than 1000 students. We then developed a train the trainers program, which we conducted during the summer of 2010. More than 70 people attended, including 20 teachers who are now teaching the program in a variety of settings. Currently, we are in eight schools and in a 15 classrooms, including Sonoma Valley High School in Sonoma, Lionel Wilson Preparatory Academy and the Youth Empowerment School in Oakland. Both students and teachers have expressed their appreciation for the skills that are offered through this program--and the fun way in which they are able to engage in different approaches to the world in which we live. For more information on the work that has been done, go to (

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