This post will be another one where I have a confession to make. I am a bit obsessed with food. However, it is a very complicated obsession. Having recently relocated to a much smaller space, I have an entire bookshelf devoted to cookbooks and recipes. And it is the pile of recipes that is the concern. It is kind of a towering pile of recipes. I also have two recipe boxes, and a few folders that I have gathered these recipes in, but the pile is always out of control. Organizing them is one of those perpetual tasks that makes it on my “to do” list for Winter/Spring/Summer breaks, when I theoretically have time to deal with them, yet I never seem to make any progress! I do try, I attempt to go through them with a critical eye, “will I really cook this?”, I cut them smaller and glue them to index cards, I try to group them in logical ways (main dishes, desserts, etc…), yet I am always cutting out more, so I never catch up. And I find recipes everywhere, not just Vegetarian Times or Eating Well or magazines devoted to food; I cut recipes out of the newspaper, Yoga Journal, or anything else I read. I also check even more cookbooks out of the library and look through them for intriguing recipes.

Now, in and of itself, this might not seem too odd, but the bizarre reality is that I never really use these recipes. I have the best of intentions, I occasionally go through them as I menu plan for the week (which I also don’t do often enough), but most nights when it is time to cook dinner, I look in my fridge and just make something up. My family is vegetarian and has participated in a CSA (community supported agriculture) program for years, so we get a lot of variety of local produce- it is not that we eat the same thing all the time. However, I seem to cook most meals the same way. I get out my wonderful wok (best wedding present ever! And still in regular use) throw in some oil and onions and then just add piles of chopped veggies and a sauce I have thrown together at the last minute, toss it over a starch/carbohydrate of some kind, and add tofu or some other kind of protein, and serve it. I am fairly versatile, I can do Asian (Thai, Chinese, Japanese), Mediterranean, or Tex-Mex in this way, and that is the way I cook most of the time. Sometimes, I mix it up and throw some of these veggies onto a pizza dough and bake it in the oven, or under a layer of eggs for a frittata- that is about as radical as it gets. So, what is up with that pile of recipes?

I started reflecting on this after my younger daughter asked me last month if I considered myself an “adventurous” cook. I still don’t really know how to answer this. I am somewhat creative with food, but don’t seem to try a lot of new things- either ingredients or recipes. I definitely eat much differently than the way I ate when I was growing up, and cook very differently than my family. I use “real” ingredients and actually cook most things from “scratch”. I am confident in my skills and most people seem to enjoy the food I prepare. I even eat differently than I did ten years ago- kale and beets would not have been on my plate then! Yet it is a slow evolution, often motivated by what I get in my CSA box. I am loathe to waste food, so try to eat what comes into my house. For example, last year, I learned that in some Asian cuisines, they use the carrot greens in cooking, so now I can’t with a clear conscience, compost them anymore.

So, again, what is up with that pile of recipes? I am pretty disciplined about only saving ones with ingredients I will probably like, or that are not too time-consuming or complicated, on the theory that I will be more likely to try them, but very few of them ever make it out of the pile and into our bellies. My best guess is that it is somehow tied to my identity- my image of whom I am. In my more idealized version of myself, I try more new things. I do like learning new things, and gathering new ideas, so this is part of it also. I have a similar issue with wishing I decorated more for the holidays or made more DIY gifts (hmm… I could possibly have written a similar post about knitting patterns and that one hat design I have made hundreds of variations of- might be a trend here…). Regardless, when I was going through that recipe pile one more time, I could not get rid of them! I know I could look things up on the internet, or pick one cookbook and work my through it, and mine is not the most efficient system, but those recipes are important to me for some reason and they will continue to collect in my life, for better or worse.

I guess there are worse obsessions…

Last month I attended ASTC (Association of Science and Technology Centers), which was a great opportunity to hear about work in other science centers, visit a new museum, and meet some of the researchers that I often cite in my work!  This year the conference was held in Raleigh, North Carolina — a new state to visit!  Oregon State University had great representation as two of my colleagues, Laia and Jenny, presented their analysis of science communication in natural history museum exhibits.  Dr. John Falk and Dr. Lynn Dierking presenting in research and evaluation sessions.

Dr. Hayat Sindi started off the conference with an inspirational keynote speech.  Born in Saudi Arabia, she followed her interests in science to become the first female from the Gulf to earn a PhD in biotechnology.  She is a co-founder of Diagnostics for All which designs and creates medical diagnostic tools that can be used in areas that may not have the medical infrastructure.  She spoke of science heroes and how we continue to look to the past, which is dominated by white males.  She challenged us to continue to work and inspire young people to look for the heroes of today, many that are female, who are doing powerful things to advance our knowledge in the science field.

One of the more memorable sessions I attended focused on the premise of designing flow experiences and balancing sensory stimulation in the physical spaces of science centers.  As I am still learning about the design of the physical space, at times it seems that science centers and museums try to put so much into a room without considering how overwhelming it could be for the visitor.  With the advancement of technology and digital media interactives, this is creating more stimulation as the visitor tries to navigate and determine where to focus their attention.  Beth Redmond-Jones of the San Diego Natural History Museum spoke about her daughter who has autism.  She showed an interview of her daughter describing what an experience at a museum space is like for her.  For a few minutes the audience had the opportunity to “feel” what it is like to have the sensory overload.  The fluorescent lights of the room were put to the highest level, we had to move in our seats to that we were very close to our neighbors, and they played a recording from a museum lobby that had competing noises of conversations, babies crying, and sounds from exhibits.  This immersion technique was effective to prove a point to the audience.  From this there was discussion on how to make the space more inclusive for those with differences in sensory reception, incorporating spaces that are quiet, and training staff how to effectively engage with these visitors.

As a first time attendee to this conference, I was trying to soak it all in…the Exhibition Hall, the networking, the city surrounding the conference, and a cool museum — the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.  They have some amazing exhibits that incorporate technology.  There was a microbiology lab that allows for formal or informal exploration of DNA which I would have loved when I was in middle school.  The museum also made use of several touch screens in different sizes to present science content.  It was interesting to see their showcase of technology alongside their traditional dioramas and natural history exhibits.  So much potential for learning research with technology as well!  I could have spent several more days in Raleigh, but since I am in the midst of Fall Quarter with a busy course load, I’ll just have to make plans to visit again someday.  Check out #ASTC2014 to see tweets about the conference.






The questions in this blog’s title show the possible goals of a watershed stewardship game being developed right now for the touch-table exhibit at Hatfield Marine Science Center. In collaboration with Oregon Sea Grant StreamWebs Program and using their data, the Cyberlab team is building the backbone of the game, title yet to be defined.

Considering that the game represents a  scenario thinking opportunity,  visitors  will be able to play by taking roles in different aspects of the watershed landscape in order to maintain its health and fulfill the game goal (e.g maintain the water as drinkable). Basically, the hypothetical “Oregon” watershed will be surrounded by a residential area, farm fields, an industrial park and a recreational area (state park). Players will engage in one of these areas while collaborating to reach the goal and working with inputs and outputs from their area influencing the system’s health.

Our general goal for this exhibit as a learning research lab is looking at visitor interactions around the game, how they use it, what they say as they make sense of it, and how effective the game is in communicating the message and promoting learning opportunities. The work of researcher Jenny East at the touch table has been informative in regards to patterns of touch-table use by visitors so that we can think more effectively about elements of the game. For StreamWebs coordinators, Megan Kleibecker and Renee O’Neil, this is a great opportunity to see their data displayed to wider audiences in simple yet effective visual ways, like the game format.

We had the chance to brainstorm the actual game watershed manipulable variables with scientists and Oregon Sea Grant Extension Guillermo Giannico and Frank Burris, and Oregon Sea Grant Communications Joe Cone. With their valuable help, we are moving forward now with a more targeted content for the game beyond design elements. They were extremely helpful in raising the main scientific components we have to incorporate for accuracy and yet in a way to maintain the game as simple and engaging for our audience.

We will continue to blog about our progress in the game development as we go. Stay tuned!

Joe Cone, Renee O'Neil and Frank Burris discussing game components using a printed mock up game board.
Joe Cone, Renee O’Neil and Frank Burris discussing game components using a printed mock up game board.

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.