George Lucas Educational Foundation

Technical Writing: Noyce Scholars Meet Technical Communication

Technical Writing: Noyce Scholars Meet Technical Communication

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T. R. Girill Society for Technical Communication/Lawrence Livermore National Lab. Technical Writing: Noyce Scholars Meet Technical Communication The Framework The "Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program" ( is named for the founder of Intel, endorsed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and funded by the National Science Foundation (repeatedly reauthorized since 2002). Its goal is to recruit undergraduate science majors to try science teaching, and hence to bring teachers with strong STEM content knowledge into high-need school districts. After graduation, Noyce scholars teach two years in a high-need school in exchange for each year of academic support received (which is usually a $10,000 stipend). The CSUS Visit On August 16, 2011, California State University Stanislaus (CSUS, in Turlock, California) held a series of professional development events just before the start of the fall term for its 20 NFS-supported future science teachers (the "Robert Noyce Scholar Summer Academy"). This academy was hosted by CSUS Prof. Viji Sundar, who since 1995 has led the High School Mathematics Access Program (HiMap), a tutoring and outreach effort in math for local precollege students. In one academy session, I had the privilege introducing these CSUS Noyce scholars to classroom-relevant technical writing techniques. Joining me was Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's (LLNL) external relations officer, Nadine R. Horner. She put our 2-hour workshop in context by pointing out the role of effective technical communication in the professional life of LLNL scientists and engineers. To lead a project one must explain its technical goals to sponsors and managers. To get a patent one must explain one's technical success to attorneys. To mentor junior colleagues one must often explain new and difficult concepts or procedures. The Key Workshop Topics This Noyce workshop followed the pattern of other, similar sessions held for (other) teacher interns at LLNL. In these workshops I always introduce technical communication to science students (or, as here, to future science teachers) by alerting them to several key themes: * The uniqueness of nonfiction nonnarrative text-- These two features together distinguish technical writing from what students usually see (or practice) in English classes. [For details, follow the Technical Writing link at ] * The importance of usablity-- This is the special real-world test for technical writing success, based on empirical research by psychologists, linguists, and engineers. [For details, follow the Usability link at ] * The pedagogical benefits of cognitive apprenticeship-- This is the reliable way to build technical writing skills in the science classroom, integrated with other activities, especially for underperforming students. [For details, follow the Cognitive Apprenticeship link at ] Since the 20 CSUS Noyce scholars did not have their own classes yet to practice with, their workshop ended with a focus on one special application of effective technical communication principles that these students COULD apply immediately: poster design. The Future The motto of Prof. Sundar's Noyce program is "from the [San Joaquin] valley to the valley." Most of her future teachers were previously students in local (often rural) schools, and they aspire to return to those schools with their college degrees in hand. So introducing them to professional technical-writing issues and techniques in classroom-relevant ways is especially appropriate for this mid-degree summer academy. What they learned will amplify their own success as science majors. And they can share these practical communication insights with their future middle- and high-school students right from the start of their teaching careers. That in turn will amplify the science and engineering success of another generation--just what Noyce scholars are supposed to do.

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