About Celeste Frazier Barthel

Free Choice Learning PhD Student Bioenergy Graduate Student Research Assistant

Last weekend there was a wonderful free choice learning event at Lincoln City Oregon – The Remotely Operated Vehicle Competition.  It was so much fun to watch and perform the role of judge.  This is an event that is sponsored by the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center and numerous local and national sponsors.  The most interesting thing to me is the level of excitement that surrounds these events from all involved.  However today I am going to write about one particular participant from last Saturday’s event.  This particular sophomore chaired his team for the Rovers portion of the competition which meant they were competing at the level to win the only slot to move forward to the international competition and prize money to help offset costs.  This particular participant had a serious of events on Saturday that would make any person, young or old most likely walk away from the competition.  In my mind his actions truly embodied what it means to be a good sport, but the aspects of free choice learning. 

First of all during the debriefing it was clear that another team his team was competing against had not brought all their materials nor had they read the rules.  I instantly offered to share his supplies and the printed out materials with them which he was not required to do.  When the head judge said he did nto have to do that, the instructions were clear online, he said it is all for learning and fun isn’t it – I’m I allowed to share.  We said sure.  Next thing, his team members did not show up.  This meant that he was instantly disqualified if he did not have at least one more person with him “on deck” for the trails and for the competition.  He enlisted the help of one of his family members.  The judges told him that he still mostly would not advance as the team had changed from the date of submission.  He said ok, but can I still go through the event.  Yes was the answer.  Next his ROV did not meet specs.  He was given 20 minutes to alter it – he did it passed.  He proceeded with the trails and placed higher then I actually thought his ROV could achieve.  Impressive driving for the limited machine.  However this is not all, he watched other competitors, cheered the younger competitors on.  Walked around and read the various posters that other teams produced and encouraged the other teams throughout the event.  When chatting with him, he remarked about how much fun this was and how much he was learning.  All on his own choice!  He didn’t win, he didn’t make the paper, but his actions stood out enough that he was voted to receive a Spirit Award that he did not know even existed.  Congratulations – “Abandoned Ship”

For my blog post today I have been thinking about many different things. So now that it is time, I am going to proceed with the topic that has mostly entered into my head when thinking about this post – testing. I know that it is not truly a free choice learning topic as testing is often associated with standard school functions, however I want to bring forth that the more experiences you have outside of school should in theory support the success of testing. With that said, I am truly not a fan of standardized testing. Recently I read an article about a teacher who retired in New York after over 20 years of teaching and claimed that he no longer has a profession. This article struck me and made me think of what we do with our research in the free choice learning arena. We try to document various experiences that people have and ponder what meaning it has in their lives. Will this experience help them understand a particular concept better? Will it expand their thinking on a particular area – for example environmental issues – Will the experience of being in a free choice learning setting influence the participant to be more “open” in accepting new experiences such as touching animals in a touch tank or petting zoo? Not sure, and as group we were all looking at various data sets to reflect on these issues.

So how is this related to testing? Well our free choice learning environments are tied to the formal environments in many ways. The participants typically have had some sort of schooling. This helps shape the background knowledge brought forth by the participant. If what I am hearing from my teacher friends is true, as well as the information presented by the recently retired educator, then the experiences that the students are receiving in formal schools are largely focused on standardized testing. UGH! This in my thought process is very limiting. This limits active conversation by the teacher and students, sets an imposed timeline on pre-planned topics presented removing free flow of ideas.

How can we as educators and researcher in the free choice arena use this information when planning and when trying to implement change within the overall educational system? Do we still use any form of testing within our field? How is this testing different from the standardized ones given in the formal setting? Food for thought and hopefully future conversations.

Exhibits in museums, how does one go about deciding on what topic to “run with” when designing a new exhibit? Who has this privilege? How is this decided? Well after many years within the walls of museums, it seems to come down to the all mighty dollar – who is willing to pay for what and for how long. An interesting point was brought up the other day that I had not thought of about front end evaluation – if the topic is already decided, then front end evaluation is not really happening. If true front end evaluation was happening, then the topic would not already be decided until the potential audience were surveyed for topics of interest. I had not thought about this in a long time. There is a large amount of what is termed “front end” evaluation conducted on the various aspects of various exhibits prior to the onset of constructing the exhibit, but if this true front end?

When I worked at a science museum several years back they went under a major renovation and expansion. The areas for renovation and themes for new areas were decided in a variety of ways. First was a general survey of the staff. Next was a review of the grants available at that time and the third was personal choice of the direct of the museum. I do not recall one time surveying the general population about topics of interest. Some of the exhibits turned out amazing from an insider’s point of view and are well received by the public. Others are not bad, but leave a lot to be desired from both insiders and the public.

My personal favorite is the kids room renovation. This renovation took the longest and was based on research. The person in charge of this surveyed several other science museums and conducted a thorough literature review. In addition, she observed the interactions of families in kids rooms for hundreds of hours. The result is one of the best younger aged focused play areas for families I have seen to date.

So what are your thoughts? How would you begin to design a new exhibit at museum?

            When I begin to think about spatial thinking, I find it helpful to review what the scientific community has to say.  In my search, I found what the National Research Council, 2006 (NRC) report had to say extremely interesting.  They have defined thinking spatially as a separate form of intelligence based on three individual components: concepts of space, tools of representation, and process of reasoning.  Interesting… In addition, I referred to Gardner (1983); though heavily criticized for lack of empirical evidence at the onset of his theory, he included the ability to think spatially as one of his measures of a person’s intelligence.   The NRC report also claims the ability to think spatially is integral to everyday life, since everything exists in some aspect of a spatial relationship.  This statement struck me especially today in our theory meeting this morning as we were trying to define driving.  Some of the things we were considering about driving included simulator driving abilities, test taking, emotions, conditions, transferability and motor skills.  During this conversation no one mentioned spatial thinking specifically.  So if spatial thinking is so much a part of everyday life, then why do we not explicitly talk in terms of spatial thinking?  Or do we? What do you think?  How does spatial thinking effect your daily life?  Do you agree or disagree with the NRC?  Do you agree with Gardner?

When thinking about creating outreach for a public audience, who should the target audience be? What types of questions can you ask yourself to help determine this information? If is ok to knowingly exclude certain age groups when you are designing an outreach activity? What setting is best for my outreach setting? How many entry or exist points should my activity have? Should there be a take-away thing or just a take-away message? How long should the outreach activity run? How long will people stay once my activity is completed? What types of materials are ok to use with a public audience? For example is there anything I should avoid like peanuts? Am I allowed to touch the people doing the activity to help them put something on to complete the activity? What types of things need to be watched in between each activity to avoid spreading germs? How much information should I “give away” about the topic being presented? What type of questions should I ask the participants in regards to the activity or information around the activity? How much assumed knowledge can I assume the audience has about the topic? Where do I find this information out? What are some creditable resources for creating research based educational activities?

These are some of the questions that I was asked today during a Pre-college Program outreach meeting by another graduate student who works with me on OSU’s Bioenergy Program. Part of our output for this grant is to create and deliver outreach activities around Bioenergy. We plan on utilizing the connections among SMILE, Pre-college Programs and Hatfield Marine Science Center since there are already outreach opportunities that exist within these structures. As we were meeting, it dawned on me that someone who has not ever been asked to create an outreach activity as part of their job may see this task as overwhelming. As we worked through the questions, activities and specific audience needs of the scheduled upcoming outreach, it was both rewarding and refreshing to hear the ideas and thoughts of someone new to the field of outreach.

What are some questions you have when creating outreach? What are some suggestions about creating outreach to the general public verse middle school students verse high school students? Do you have any good resources you can share? What are your thoughts?

What is your definition of consciousness?  How was your consciousness formed?  Have you ever stopped and thought about this before?  What are your thoughts?  Today in Dr. Rowe’s theory meeting we had much conversation about consciousness in relation to Vygotsky and the sociocultural theory of learning.

Here is a quote from Vygotsky and the Social Formation of Mind by James V. Wertsch:

On the basis of this Marxian axiom Vygotsky argues that ‘the socialdimension of consciousness id primary in time and in fact.  The individual dimension of consciousness is derivative and secondary’ (1979, p.30)” 1985, p. 58

In our meeting today the question was proposed that does this mean that for Vygotsky that there is no consciousness without the social aspect of society?  The interactions between people and the formed realization of what these actions mean?  What about the individualism of the person?  What about the biological make-up of individuals?  Do these factors play a role in the Vygotsky view of consciousness?  Do they play a role in your view of consciousness?

The example one can think of when trying to wrap your brain around these questions is the symbol of language.  One does not just know language, but one typically has the needed “biological functions” to produce the mechanics of sound.  Language, and some argue even speech is a social behavior.

It became clear in our conversation that this view seems to have some deficits, mainly the lack of attention to the individual, the development of the individual as they grow and “learn” before the age of five and the role of the of form instruction given (school learning is very different then at home or social learning for example).  As thoughts were brought forth, it seemed that we considered the role of the individual married with the social interaction begins that formation of consciousness.  As the individual grows and develops the skills they acquire from the social group they are in as well as their own physical progression increases the amount of signs and tools for that individual.  When one is able to deliberately choose what tool to use, knows how to use the tool, why they want to use the tool and what outcome they are expecting from the tool use, consciousness is forming.  One statement that even takes this further by Dr. Rowe is that once an individual learns to use a tool, it potentially changes the way that individual will do all future things.

So what are your thoughts?