Proposals, Posters, Advocacy, Curriculum, and STEM Education (2012 PI Meeting Reflection)

Jeremy Price, Boston College

On Being Inducted into the DRK-12 Program
As a CADRE Fellow, one of my tasks at the DRK-12 PI Meeting--in addition to making new connections and learning about the projects that are being funded by the DRK-12 program--is to blog about the sessions that I attend. The first day was a real interesting one, and this is the first of my posts on my experiences.

I have learned that given the scheduling of the PI Meeting, past fellows had met at the beginning of their fellowship while our cohort is meeting face-to-face at the end.  Since we have had numerous phone conferences together, ranging from publishing to applying and reviewing grants, it was with great anticipation that we met for the first time in-person so that we could, as many fellows put it, "put a face to a voice."

So rather than marking the beginning of our induction in the DRK-12 program and the CADRE community, this meeting marks a milestone for us.  At our luncheon we all met each other with our PIs and discussed issues of embarking on a career funded by grants in academia and non-profit research and development.  From the information I was able to pick up as well as the relationships I was able to strengthen in person, I look forward to continuing on this trajectory.

Learning the Language of NSF Proposals
The morning plenary session for Thursday was delivered by Joan Ferrini-Mundy.  I felt like that one of the purposes for this session--while fascinating in and of itself--was to drop hints as to what interests the NSF in terms of proposals.  She made the statement, "NSF would like to challenge you to re-position your current and future work," and then went into more detail as to what she meant by that statement.

Ferrini-Mundy noted the big trends of science in the early 21st century, namely: a "New Era of Science" in terms of the scope of observations possible, the expanded use of experiments, the power of computation, and the rise of "citizen science"; and an "Era of Data and Communications," where there is a great deal of data available and being collected and processed, but that data must also be shared among the scientific community--and outside the scientific community--in a way that makes sense.

She then indicated that it would be important to understand what it is that scientists DO, as the reason that NSF funds education is to increase scientific HUMAN capital (not just scientific capital) in order to build and diversify the scientific workforce and to build a scientific literate society hand-in-hand.  Personally, this is something that excited me and piqued my interest.  Towards these ends, these are the things that Ferrini-Mundy identified as the things that scientists are doing:

  • Collaborating across disciplines on compelling problems (communication);
  • Using computational techniques and algorithms to deal with massive data sets;
  • Building infrastructures;
  • Accessing more data than can be analyzed (and drawing on "citizen science");
  • Networking in orchestrated ways to solve specific problems;
  • Formulating new approaches that could not have happened without new technologies.

In addition to these goals and practices, Ferrini-Mundy also outlined several driving questions for the "Grand Challenges in Education":

  • How does the nation train and develop its workforce?
  • How should we teach and learn in the 21st century?
  • How does the nation create a science-literate society?
  • How should we deploy resources?

She also made the distinction between "Disruptive Innovation" (frontier changing, useful 5-10 years from now, and products move "up market") and "Evolutionary Improvement."  Ferrini-Mundy made the point that these two approaches tend to address different problems and questions and develop different frames of knowledge, understanding, and products, but that the NSF is interested in funding both approaches.

Ferrini-Mundy then put forth some challenges for PIs to address:

  • Producing high quality evidence of impact (not just checkmarks of success);
  • Using NSF-funded resources at scale;
  • Effective partnering;
  • Telling the story of DRK-12 successes.

I felt like this last point was an interesting one.  Does this mean telling the story to a broad audience?  Does it mean to the community of scientists?  Does it mean to the larger society and public?  The challenge of communication I am really quite excited about.  I believe that this is an area that has been largely neglected but is very important.

In what seemed like a direct response to the curriculum development SIG meeting from the previous day, Ferrini-Mundy also talked briefly about the future of curriculum development and implementation. She challenged developers to consider "cloud questions," such as developing networked ways to create resources to meet environments and needs and to develop a standardized mode of creating learning objects and materials.  In the end, she made it clear that the era of big chunks of funding for huge paper-based curricula is done.

Lastly, Ferrini-Mundy also recognized a challenge that is particular to education research in general and work with schools and classrooms in particular.  She said that it is necessary to "build an evidence base for something that is not built on evidence."  I  see this as a challenge of communication, and figuring out how to get different stakeholders to recognize the value (and values) of the other, and I was heartened to see that the NSF was considering these challenges as well.

I also took a picture of basically the DRK12 logic model (sorry that it's blurry).  

Posters and In-Depth Conversations
A wonderful thing about poster sessions is the ability to really converse and discuss issues and ideas around different projects and perspectives.  Although I did connect with some people because I recognized their names or recognized their work from prior projects and articles, there were a number of posters, projects, and people that I was genuinely did not expect to find to be both interesting and relevant to my own work even if the content area/discipline was quite different from my own.  (I should say that I expected every project to be interesting at some level; it was an unexpected and pleasant surprise to find that so many were directly relevant.)  The format of the poster session really allows you to converse one-on-one with PIs and project directors to find out their thinking processes and procedures for their projects with plenty of opportunities to find areas of overlap.  Because I am "between jobs" (moving from doctoral student to postdoc, east coast to west coast), I didn't have any business cards to hand out.  I did, however, collect a number of them during this first poster session, and I look forward to contacting them.

Advocacy, Curriculum, and STEM Education
For my first "official" DRK-12 session, I attended the CADRE Curriculum Design SIG meeting.  I chose this meeting as a large part of my work as a new postdoc at UC Berkeley through the Lawrence Hall of Science revolves around the design and development of curriculum.  The meeting seemed to be a follow-up from the last DRK-12 meeting.  With the end of the IMD grant program, there is less of an emphasis on the development of educational materials.  The members of the SIG, then, were discussing ways to advocate for curriculum projects.

Much of the discussion centered around three questions: what curriculum should look like in the 21st century, what are the relationships between curriculum and technology, and what are the role of partnerships in the development of curriculum.  These are really fascinating, interesting, and important questions to be asking, and I hope that I will be able to contribute to the conversation over the coming years.  There was a project officer from the NSF in attendance as well, who welcomed an ongoing conversation on these issues.  I hope that the conversation continues, and that technology is seen as a force to harness in the service of curriculum, rather than the driver it is often made out to be.