Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How Can WISE Help a Teacher

Extra-curricular Curriculum Support
WISE can most effectively support teachers who keep the institute informed at a high level as to their class schedules and broad curriculum outlines. With even a little bit of advanced notice, WISE can be sure to keep the labs and web logs stocked with complementary experiments, materials, and pointers for research that will extend what teachers discuss in class. We welcome suggestions or brainstorming or requests for anything that might help us better support you.

With strong support from dedicated teachers, WISE is building an environment where students can explore subjects on their own free time to whatever depths their motivations might drive them. Opportunities abound for students to use what they learn in the formal classes and labs, and motivate what future lessons might hold for them.

Student Inspiration and Motivation
The initial student and teacher feedback from our earliest efforts has been uniformly positive. Several students have reported an increase in interest and inspiration where they have begun to realize science is really applicable to interesting things outside of the classroom. Even students who never considered themselves "science types" have enjoyed moments of novel inspiration, creativity and discovery using the tools and techniques learned in the WISE lab. Our goal is to generate as much enthusiasm as possible, and our hope is that as a result, we will all see much more engagement in the classes as well as the complementary extracurricular science activities.

Broader Teaching Support and Networking Opportunities
The initial roster of schools contemplating membership in the WISE network includes some of the leading academic institutions across the United States. Linking these participants into an extended community through WISE web logs, events, sabbaticals and so on, will facilitate the sharing and dissemination of best practices around science and technology education. These materials will become universally accessible resources available to all participating teachers. Students will likewise benefit from more opportunities to visit other schools and universities and to network, collaborate, and compete with other similar students approaching similar challenges at science fairs, robotics competitions, summer camps and technical internships.

Professional Development Opportunities
As WISE develops relationships with research universities and scientifically and technically oriented businesses, one of the Institute's goals is to organize paid summer sabbaticals at leading campuses for participating faculty. There, WISE teachers will participate in ongoing scientific research programs and learn how these might be transferred back to their home schools. These WISE faculty would then serve as mentors, demonstrating by example how science is actually performed, rather than just discussed, in effect teaching through the recruitment and mentorship of students into real science and engineering research projects.

In many ways, this approach offers exciting and unprecedented professional development opportunities for teachers to learn the latest techniques, tools, and software while actually participating in the latest scientific discoveries. With this enrichment will come professional relationships and skills to enhance and broaden both teaching and general scientific and engineering contribution.

Mentorship Opportunities for Renaissance Teachers and Students

Westminster has a history of pioneering programs that develop student leadership through mentorship opportunities like the Discovery Outdoor Leadership program, the Campus Conservation Corps, and all of the philanthropic outreach programs. WISE intends to foster a similar model where both teachers and students can continually advance in responsibility with training and experience in WISE methods, philosophy, and technical disciplines. Ultimately, the best WISE labs should become student-run over time.

Financial Support

WISE does realize that many of these plans will require not only commitment and support from dedicated and inspired teachers, but funds to pay for everything from scientific instruments and consumable experimental materials (though we actually do a lot to ensure that core opportunities are quite inexpensive with plenty of boot-strap strategies). WISE even plans to invest in your extra efforts with expanded teacher payments and stipends for additional hours or off-hour event support, and even potentially, the hiring of additional teachers to cover WISE labs, clubs, and events in addition to normal teaching loads. This is where our experience in raising both investments and philanthropic support on both local and national scales will come into play, in helping to organize and in some cases even help finance the growth of the WISE network of schools.

It is becoming increasingly clear to this nation's civic and business leaders that our country's economy, and in the long term, the American way of life itself, depend on our ability to train 21st century citizens that can create new industries and truly innovate. Together, we can all build WISE into a most powerful fulcrum that will truly leverage the awesome talents of this great generation of students.

Tell Us If We are Missing Anything!
In closing, please consider this a heartfelt request for any suggestions, guidance or feedback that might help WISE support you better. We have thick skin and are primarily motivated by learning to improve our institute along with improving opportunities for both students and teachers!

Go Science, Technology and Math!

The WISE Mission

The Westminster Institute for Science Education [WISE] was founded in order to enrich and extend K-12 science education in schools across the United States. This is a broad mission and involves initiatives aimed at supporting both teachers and students.

The central challenge of WISE is to create, and train teachers to support, environments in K-12 schools which allow students to explore science on their own, to perform their own unguided, mentored research, and to actually create what has never existed before. This mission is intended to be an extension of, and complementary to, existing science curricula rather than a replacement. The principal difference is that WISE pedagogy and curricula is intended to foster open exploration without boundaries and offer students opportunities where they must exercise creativity and innovative problem solving skills, rather than complete specific pre-fabricated experimental or word-problem objectives.

In addition to running programs for specific classes and events, WISE labs exist as places interested students can go in their free times, study halls, lunch, before and after school. There they will find professional grade tools, instruments, and materials where they may construct and experiment with whatever they might imagine in a supervised environment with experienced mentorship. The WISE labs are the science and technology equivalent of a school library.

In support of this mission, WISE also coordinates in-house programs for student and teacher training and professional development as well as summer sabbaticals at leading technical and scientific universities and commercial laboratories.