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On the Road…

“On the Road to College” has become a way to look at what we do. To help us to better understand what our program needs to accomplish to fulfill its mission.  It started as a MS Challenge when students were asked to be game designers and to create an “On the Road to College” board game- the spinner for the game was the “Determinator.”.  It was also a year when we were literally on the road, as the MS Challenges were held at COCC, SOU, EOU and OSU that year.  As time passed, we thought more about the metaphor, the role of navigation, of staying on the road, of a journey, and realized this was a rich metaphor for the necessary elements of what we provided as a program.

For students who will be first in their family to attend college, what are the concerns and barriers to their success along their path to college?  Who helps them make wise choices along the way?  What tools do they have, do they need, to assure they stay along this path, that they have the skills and knowledge, and have acquired the necessary attributes and attitude to persist?

And as we explored, we noted that there are developmental stages as well.  Where they begin to see themselves as scientists, begin to grow a sense of their broader future community, and the role for their interests and capacities within that future community.  They begin to see their interests linked to people and possible careers.  They begin to understand that they have a role in the process of solving real-world problems.  They see that they have a necessary and valued voice in a larger community, perhaps even in a college.

So exploring on the road is rich with meaning and supports reflection. And we welcome fellow travelers!

College-connection programming is central in SMILE’s comprehensive model of STEM enrichment and college readiness. Across all levels, preparation and engagement strategies include:

  • Professional development workshops for teachers;
  • Weekly afterschool clubs for students and teachers;
  • Community projects in the larger community;
  • Annual, level-specific college-connection events for students and teachers; and
  • Implementation and engagement reflections by teachers and students.

These learning opportunities help students gain the skills and attributes of a scientist, engineer, scholar or professional. Often these skills and attributes are grouped into five categories: intellectual skills; communication skills; personality characteristics; habits of work; and mechanical skills.

Some of the specific skills and attributes include (1)

  • Curiosity, imagination and creativity
  • Objectivity, reasoning and the use of data to inform choices
  • Systematic problem-solving
  • Motivation and drive
  • Dependability
  • Capacity to work effectively with others
  • Initiative and sense of responsibility
  • Capacity to retrieve information from published sources

Additionally, developmentally appropriate learning opportunities at the elementary, middle and high school levels support an ongoing focus on and progression toward the four core standards in Oregon’s science standards.

* Core content standards under Structure and Function and Interaction and Change describe the big ideas in the three science disciplines of physical, life, and earth and space.

* Core content standards in Scientific Inquiry and Engineering Design describe the science process skills and understandings that characterize the nature and practice of science and engineering design.

Becoming Scientists through Elementary Outdoor Science Adventure

In becoming scientists, fourth- and fifth-grade students demonstrate skills and attributes that enable them to:

  • Make careful observations
  • Use tools to enhance their observations and improve their accuracy
  • Connect their understanding of relevant content to predictions about results and/or changes in the system
  • Work as a member of a team
  • Share what they learned with others

Growing as Problem Solvers through Middle School Engineering Design Challenge

To grow as problem solvers, sixth- through eight-grade students demonstrate additional skills and attributes that enable them to:

  • Identify a need or define a challenge
  • Frame the problem and break it into smaller components
  • Connect their understanding of relevant content to the problem and its possible solutions
  • Experience the role of teams in generating a variety of options or ideas to address the identified problem

Serving as Informed Voices in the Community through High School Ocean Sciences Challenge

To serve as informed voices in the community, ninth- through twelfth-grade students demonstrate additional skills and attributes that enable them to:

  • Understand the nature of their community and its needs, define broader problems and identify potential solutions
  • Use evidence and science content to enhance their observations and improve their accuracy
  • Connect their understanding relevant science content to the needs of and possibilities for a community


In designing its out-of-school time (OST) programs to support students in gaining the skills and attributes of a scientist, et al, critical questions arise for The SMILE Program.

* How might one determine if specific learning experiences for students in the clubs and college connection events lead to the expected student outcomes?

* How might one address the first question in a manner that is consistent with the context and intent of OST programming?

Because the SMILE teacher-advisors are the primary facilitators of the student learning experiences in SMILE, expanding our community of practice to include an emphasis on teacher research will build community capacity around the planning and delivering of intentional learning experiences and refinement of practice.

On the Road to College (OTRTC) denotes the intentional focus of The SMILE Program to enhance student capacity to gain the skills and attributes of a scientist, engineer, scholar or professional. The associated research within the SMILE community will center on these elements:

  • Teacher observation,
  • Reflection,
  • Sharing, and
  • Refinement.

All within the scope of teacher research in the SMILE context.

Two broad questions frame this work.

1. What is acceptable evidence to support the conclusion that intended learning is happening in a specific setting?

2. What observable student behaviors (e.g., use of content-related vocabulary, involvement in group discussion and decision-making, or use of appropriate tools) would demonstrate content understanding, as well as process understanding?

While they frame the context, these broad questions are not appropriate ones upon which to launch the community’s research into OST educational practice. Rather, SMILE teacher-advisors interested in a specific topic will define their group’s more focused question(s), as well as establish the methodology for the group’s research.

1Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP). 1996. Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond.  Washington DC: The National Academies Press.

Middle School Engineering Design: Engineering design is a process of identifying needs, defining problems, developing solutions, and evaluating proposed solutions.

High School Engineering Design: Engineering design is a process of formulating problem statements, identifying criteria and constraints, proposing and testing possible solutions, incorporating modifications based on test data, and communicating the recommendations.

Engineering Problem:  The goal of good engineering is to define engineering design criteria and then meet, or exceed, those criteria in a way that meets a need, solves a problem, creates a product or furthers research.

Design Criteria

  • Meet with client, customer to better define needs
  • Seek input around costs, applications
  • Make sure that what you are designing will meet the needs of the clients
  • Take the customer requirements and turn them into engineering requirements

Research options for meeting these criteria

  • Define the problem(s) in terms of the engineering requirements
  • Seek ideas and resources to help define options, suggest possible solutions
  • Look a previous solutions, related problems
  • Look at new materials, ideas, and research
  • Test simple models
  • Share these ideas with client

Define metrics for success

  • Constraints on cost, materials and time
  • Define the project/process timeline
  • Metrics for subsets of the overall projects
  • Make sure the clients understands the schedule

Begin testing, prototype process

  • Create subsets of the overall projects
  • Test ideas and make improvements
  • Incorporate into the overall design
  • Refine the options and metrics
  • Meet with client to check that these prototypes meet the client’s needs

Present solutions

  • Restate the problems, customer requirements
  • Define the engineering criteria
  • Note the success in testing that the solutions
  • Design for prototypes, models that meet these criteria
  • Make final design, build, and testing recommendations

One Key Concept–“We are never done!”

The SMILE Community

Oregon State University: The SMILE Community

The SMILE Community is a network of individuals committed to and actively engaged in supporting the academic success and college readiness of underrepresented and underserved youth. Members of the SMILE Community include university faculty and staff, university students, K-12 teachers, K-12 students, family members of the K-12 students, and other members of the local and statewide communities.

Mission Statement

As the network that bridges the work of The Science & Math Investigative Learning Experiences Program (The SMILE Program) and as an extension of this unit of Oregon’s land grant institution, the SMILE Community provides the environment through which the program vision and mission are operationalized. The Community demonstrates through the daily or other ongoing interactions of its members, those practices that:  nurture respect, collaboration, trust, and vision; create environments that invite participation, leadership, conversation, and recognition; and promote the empowerment of each member.

Community Values

  • Strong sense of safety
  • Inclusive community
  • High expectations
  • Positive attitudes
  • Collaborative contributions
  • Creativity

The SMILE Community functions through shared knowledge and promotes its values by using strategies that include: supportive relationships; intentional mentoring; and facilitated lifelong learning through deliberate connections to higher education.

Community Principles

Each community member agrees to:

  • Commit to, share in and be personally accountable for the community’s goals;
  • Remain flexible in one’s role in the community;
  • Demonstrate appreciation for the contributions of individual community members;
  • Be creative risk-takers, willing to fail in order to grow; and
  • Have fun while working effectively and efficiently.

As a collective, the community agrees to:

  • Establish and regularly use reflective practices in accountability and assessment;
  • Listen and be responsive to its stakeholders;
  • Celebrate its accomplishments; and
  • Operate through clarity, candor, commitment and a system of shared power.


Welcome to the SMILE blog

We hope that in the coming years we will all contribute to sharing,  to learning, and in those processes develop our community.

We are, after all, defined as a Community of Practice.

  • Membership and mission
  • Learning and sharing
  • Leadership

Key to this is the process of reflection–we are all reflective practitioners.  We share at workshops, take these resources and ideas into the field and make things happens and rejoin to reflect and refine so that we continue to improve.  What we hope to add through the One the Road to College” blog is intentionality to the reflection.