I have had quite a few life changes in the last month (hence my excuse for not posting a blog last month!). My partner took a new job, and while we knew it was a possibility we might relocate, it all seemed to happen very suddenly. We had lived in the Eugene area for 15 years, the longest I have ever lived anywhere and the place where our girls had done most of their growing up. Leaving there meant leaving the main social circle I had made since graduating college, my exercise buddies, my yoga studio, and a house we had lived in for 10 years (and had space for us to store LOTS of stuff- but that is its own story…) as well as all the routines I had comfortably settled into over time. Eugene had become the kind of place where I would almost always run into someone I knew at the grocery store- and I appreciated the aspect of my life. Eugene felt like “my place” and I deeply enjoyed living there.

So, it was with a bit of trepidation that I faced this move. When I was in my early 20’s, I relished moving. I actually enjoyed the process of thoroughly going through all of my things and organizing and setting up a new home. However, I loved living in Eugene and couldn’t really ever imagine living anywhere else again. Yet, my partner has been incredibly supportive of me over the years, moving out West because it was my dream, supporting me through my Montessori trainings and now this PhD program, and turnabout is fair play, and that is what couples do for each other! And, really, I am in a flexible position right now. Our girls are in college anyway, and don’t really plan to ever live at home again for any length of time as they start their own lives. My GRA position is flexible in regards to where I do most of my work. So, there was not really any compelling reason for me to resist this change, beyond the normal resistance to change most of us experience.

I put the best face on it, thinking of it as a new adventure, aren’t I an advocate of life-long learning? And Ihelped pack up most of our belongings and trekked up north. We only moved two hours north, but it is a new place, even a new state, and feels much farther away from what I have known. Yet, I find myself actually enjoying the adventure! We moved from a house to a small apartment, as we try to figure out where we might want to put down roots here, and I love the walkability of this new place and the excitement of discovering a new area, as well as a much smaller space to keep tidy. I am trying out new yoga studios, new restaurants, new grocery stores, new theaters, new everything! My partner and I were reflecting that the transition has been much easier than we expected. Maybe I am much more geographically fickle than I realized? But, even in our mid-forties, we are relishing the “newness” of it all. We have decided that for the rest of the year, our focus is just on saying “yes” to new opportunities. I still automatically reply “Oregon”, when people ask me where I am from, but I do feel enthusiasm when I describe my new place in the world.

And, then, as we were packing up our house, my responsibilities for my GRA majorly shifted too- but that is fodder for a future post. Stay tuned as this old dog learns a lot of new tricks these days!

I am writing this blog right now from a lounging area at the Ottawa Convention Center, where a group of us (Laura Good, Michelle Mileham, Jen Wyld, Shawn Rowe and myself) are participating at the North American Association for Environmental Education – NAAEE 2014 Conference. This morning, we tag teamed in the presentation of a workshop to help a diverse array of environmental educators to think about EE and STEM integration at their institutions, what STEM means to them and what would be some STEM integration goals in their workplaces. One of our activities included a “thought swap” exercise with prompted questions to draw on people’s perceptions and understanding about STEM.

As an exercise for ourselves as presenters, we decided to also answer the questions so that we knew where everyone of us was coming from as we all represent different backgrounds and perspectives. It was a good reflective exercise that drew me back to my past and really made me think about identity building within STEM fields. So, I thought I should share my thoughts in this blog and invite you to comment and respond as a further reflective exercise. What is a STEM activity to you? If you have the opportunity, how do you engage learners in STEM activities? Where do you want to see STEM in the future?

NAAEE 2014 - Sharing STEM definitions
NAAEE 2014 – Sharing STEM definitions

 

NAAEE 2014 - thinking and talking about STEM and STEM goals
NAAEE 2014 – thinking and talking about STEM and STEM goals

 

 

When I was  prompted to think about STEM opportunities during my childhood, the first thing that came to mind were my years growing up with the ocean as my backyard. Not having much money, my playtime and built experiences involved a lot of exploration, observation and use of creative tools for play at a natural environment, the ocean. A lot of inquiry, a lot of repurposing, and engineering went on while me and my brothers tried to build floating devices from found natural objects, or just simply got curious about understanding why and how the sea cucumber squirted when handled by us. Those years were full with STEM opportunities, sometimes taken and sometimes ignored, but they consist of the basis of my critical thinking about the state of our oceans and what its challenges represent to me, as well as my career choices.

Past jobs I had almost always involved some sort of science-based activity involving live animal interactions. The insect zoo programs I did while working at Iowa State University are a great example of it, where there was a lot of science inquiry through hands-on, minds-on activities and tasks that related the science concepts in programing with the audience’s daily lives and activities, addressing misconceptions in practical and fun ways. (i.e. Why are people scared of bugs, why do people think hissing cockroaches are big and nasty? Well …lets look at them closely and think about what we know, discuss with ours peers and figure out why we think that).

Perhaps at that point, I did not have a full understanding of STEM, but that was nevertheless part of my work routine. Today, STEM fields are defined and specialized fields receiving much attention in modern society as an important literacy component, especially when we want to address modern world issues. They become important because, although generally seen as complex fields, they are nevertheless part of daily life and routine activities for people. There are many opportunities for STEM thinking from the time one wakes up to the time ones goes to bed. From thinking to actual activity, STEM occurs when those real world applications are materialized in a STEM goal, which one works toward with real specialized tools to further develop understanding.

With that in mind, an important goal I see for this new and ongoing discussion of what STEM is and how we do and promote STEM, is not only the development of the field in its needed scenarios, but also the recognition of the very social aspect of incorporating this new field of “STEM” as a symbolic and cultural tool that societies appropriate. Engaging in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math should go along with clearly understanding why, how and for whom to engage in a particular STEM practice, as a way to truly assign meaning to the activity beyond doing STEM for the sake of STEM.

I started “18th” grade this past week, also known as the second year of my two year program at OSU.  The beginning of a new academic year is a great time to reflect and I’ve been thinking about my evolution as a graduate student and on the work we have accomplished in the Cyberlab thus far.  Since my first posts from last year, much of what I wrote about being patient in the process still rings true.  Iteration and refinement help to direct the course.  As I have made progress in my own research study, I still have to be patient as the project unfolds as some unique results may appear that I might otherwise miss.  Looking forward to where I might be next September is exciting too.  It is unknown at this time, but thinking about all of the potential opportunities…who knows!

I am proud to say that I have transitioned into the analysis phase of my Master’s research.  I have some results from my interviews of the families that used the touch table, but more will be following as I start to review the videos.  One challenge has been to develop a strategy for analyzing the video of families using the table.  This is something I have not done before.  There are some resources for analyzing video in non-school settings, so I am referencing that heavily.  One book that has been particularly helpful is Video Research in the Learning Sciences (Goldman, Pea, Barron, and Derry, 2007).  This is the most comprehensive source with theoretical and methodological guidance I have seen, especially with connections to filming observations in an informal science setting.  As family behavior and interactions in a museum setting has been studied (Falk, Dierking, Ash, to name a few), we have a better idea of the types of behaviors that take place in this environment.  I am interested in the degree to which they are occurring around the touch table.  We know parents may read content on signage aloud, point, question, recall past events…but to what extent is this happening with technology that is not commonly seen (at least scaled to a table on a daily basis)?  I’m going to approach this on a spectrum or scale of low to high levels of the presence of behaviors.  Using a rubric as a way to score the interactions, something done to assess teacher facilitation in the classroom, I believe this is a way to put a “measure” on the adult and child interactions.  From the results, we may have a better idea of what the quality of interaction with touch tables looks like in a science center, allowing us to point to specific areas to improve content that affords these behaviors on a deeper level.

This quarter I also started taking the free-choice learning series through the College of Education.  It is perfect timing as I work through my research project.  I am gaining knowledge and a better understanding of what learning is and the context to which it takes place, and how we do not learn in isolation.  Our perspectives and experiences can be shaped by those around us, one reason for my interest in family learning behaviors.  The first course is “Personal Dimensions of Learning” and I appreciate the new resources to read about motivations and identity as related to self-driven learning.  As this is an Ecampus course, there are students from around the country doing incredible science education projects both in and outside of a formal classroom setting.  I am looking forward to getting to know them better as the quarter progresses.

Next post will recount my first experience at the annual meeting of the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC).  I will be tweeting from Raleigh next week – follow me @East_JennyL.

Welcoming sun, great food, and warm people came to greet us upon our arrival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. For me, it is always so good to be home, and this time home at the “wonderful City” to learn about the advancements in science communication taking place in Brazil and Latin America in general. Make no assumptions, this was not a “have fun in the sun” trip, although I would have liked to have spent some time at a tropical beach where swimming is the main activity. Instead, as hard workers and, let’s be honest, good museum nerds, we got to visit Museums and work on strategic evaluation and research planning around some exhibits.

Our first activity involved a whole day visit to the “Museu Ciencia e Vida” (Museum of Science and life) to see and discuss an exhibit called “Forest of Senses”. Luisa Massarani, a former Cyberscholar and Director of Red-Pop UNESCO (Network for the popularization of science and technology in Latin America and the Carebean) is a part of the team in charge of evaluation and research on children’s experience in the exhibit. After a 4 hour meeting, we discussed and finalized the whole research plan and stages of analyses. It felt very rewarding to be recognized as researchers with valuable expertise and to contribute to cutting edge learning research in the Brazilian landscape. Forest of Senses is a great exhibit designed to work as a game activity  for younger kids (5-8 years of age) to explore the Brazilian forest habitats and, through using their senses, be provoked and able to explore the ideas around biodiversity, invasive species and wildlife traffic (which is a big problem in Brazil). When we walked through the exhibit to see the initial camera installation and testing through the system package we arranged for them to become a “node” of  Cyberlab, it was like reliving the past when Cyberlab started, amidst tons of duck tape and creative solutions for IT problems. As we move forward in this collaboration, it will be interesting to share the process, findings and cultural clashes in the use of cutting edge technology.

To finalize this part I in the summary of our trip, we spent our last 2 days in Rio participating at the RedPop Event organized by Luisa Massarani, with the goal to discuss the science communication scenario in Latin America, where Brazil holds 260 of the total 490 science museums established. It was a great event, I even got to be interviewed by a science journalist for the first time (way to practice my communicating skills). It seems to me Latin America has come long ways not only in the effort of establishing science museums but in the reflection on evaluation and research practices to attend the cultural use of these places. From this event, we came out with fresh ideas on methods for learning research, with many bridges to collaboration in interdisciplinary projects including touch-tank research in Brazilian aquariums, and with a amazing contact list with the names of great science communication researchers throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It was also very professionally rewarding to receive recognition for the cutting edge work being developed at Cyberlab and seeing its potential to really materialize and spread. Stay tune for more!

IMG_20140914_130320_257RedPop2014_3

RedPop2014 RedPop2014_2

What do erupting volcanoes, learning to code, building bridges, creating art, and cooking have in common? They are all STEAM activities! This past year I started working as an external evaluator on Lincoln County School District’s (LCSD) 21st Century After School Program. There are seven sites throughout the county that are funded as 21st Century Community Learning Centers. The goal of the federal program is to “provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children…offer students a broad array of enrichment activities that can complement their regular academic programs, and offer literacy and other educational services to the families of participating children.” LCSD’s program aligns with these goals, focusing specifically on providing students and their families STEAM-based activities.

Being a new project in the 2013-2014 school year, the 21st Century After School Program kept me on my toes as an external evaluator. All documents for data collection had to be written very quickly so they could be distributed as close to the start of the school year as possible. While the tools for collecting data did not fail they certainly could have been better. As the program moves into the second of it’s five years, I thought it best not only to redesigned some of the tools but also to communicate to the site coordinators why collecting this data is important. Site coordinators, one for each of the seven sites, are responsible for distributing, collecting, and turning in all of the instruments I use to collect data. The only part of data collection they are not responsible for are the standardized test scores, which are handled by the school district. Collecting data is no small task for the site coordinators because they already have a lot on their plate. Therefore, the program coordinator and I agreed that sharing results from the first year would showcase the importance of data collection.

Early in September I presented preliminary findings at the first site coordinator meeting of the second year of the program. You can view and listen to my presentation here.  The presentation ends with me addressing the four main instruments for data collection: a monthly recording sheet to document the STEAM activities and resources, the student STEM interest survey, a family literacy and STEAM night reporting document, and the parent survey.

Working as an external evaluator on these types of projects is always exciting for me. They push me to think in new ways and certainly make me a better researcher and evaluator. If you have any questions about the 21st Century After School Program or the documents I’ve produced, please feel free to be in touch.

After all the preparation for my research study, it was finally time to sit and observe visitor behavior around exhibits and collect some data.  This allowed me to personally see what natural behaviors in an informal science setting look like, while applying the skills and knowledge I have gained about conducting research and interviewing human participants.

Over the course of August I interviewed 25 family groups after they used the Ideum multi-touch table.  My goal was to collect data in the Visitor Center over morning and afternoon hours each day of the week to get a wide distribution of visitor attendance.  After each sampling session I was busy processing the data, inputting survey responses and typing up the comments from the open-ended piece of the interview, while downloading video footage of the interactions.  I enjoyed the result of our team’s effort of putting the camera system in place, as it was convenient to go back to the day of the visitor encounter and know that their conversations and interactions were captured unobtrusively on film.  The set-up of the Cyberlab provides an advantage to past methodologies where the researcher physically tracked the visitor or a large video camera was placed right over an exhibit.  Through our methods, I believe we are collecting very natural behaviors by the visitor which will help us understand learning in the public science setting more efficiently and effectively.

Family use of museums and science centers have been investigated over the past few decades, but as learning researcher Doris Ash noted in 2003 in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, there are few studies that investigate at depth the dialogic analysis of interactions with the family group.  This is important to understanding how meaning and sense-making between learners takes place in the informal science setting.  In looking at the research on large touch surface technology, I have not found much on family group use in public settings with science-related content.  The field of human-computer interaction has explored this technology with regard to usability features, particularly with gestures and software or program navigation.  I hope that my research provides insight combining both family learning and how this technology can support that.

While there are many different layers to the informal science experience (physical, personal, and sociocultural elements), I thought about the individual and collective learning in the family group, as well as how they were positioned in the physical sense around the touch table during the “live” observations.  As I look at footage, I will be exploring the interactions and roles that occur within the group while considering the conversations that are taking place.  I am also interested in the overall response to the touch table.  Part of my interview with the group was to hear how they would describe their attraction to the exhibit and how they described their interaction with this type of technology.  I will be doing some content analysis in an effort to see what the common themes are within their responses.

Considering the other technology we have, a familiar digital “interactive” is a single user kiosk or desktop computer with games and information.  The touch table allows for multiple users and inputs and is not commonly seen in other settings.  We have a desktop interactive located near the touch table, and I observed families (in groups of two, three, even up to five) crowding around the computer and “coaching” the user in control of the mouse.  As the desktop exhibit affords one kind of experience, the touch table allows for collective physical action at the same time.  Five people could use this exhibit at once.  Keeping this in mind, how can we (informal science centers with access to the technology) take advantage of this to facilitate learning for the individual and the group?

September and October will be busy months analyzing footage.  I am eager to see just what comes out of all of this data!