Sunday, November 17, 2013

WISE Workshop for NAIS Board on Teaching Innovation

Early feedback from the WISE workshop on "teaching innovation" that we hosted yesterday at the Madeira School in DC for the leadership of the National Association of Independent Schools [NAIS] was very positive, and a fun time was had by all. It was a real pleasure to meet such highly motivated and capable school leaders, and have a chance to share the WISE mission with like-minded partners that all share our commitment to improve education across the United States.


Our afternoon workshop covered a broad range of topics, from a beginning discussion to frame innovation, creativity, discovery, and exploration in the context of education, to illuminate uniquely 21st century skills and educational challenges, to a hands-on workshop that embodied the most effective practices in fostering innovation developed over the last thirty years at the world's leading technical universities.


Workshop description:

Teaching Students to Innovate in the 21st Century
By Dr. Phillip Alvelda

This workshop explored 21st Century STEM education challenges and opportunities, and demonstrate (with an extended hands-on technical challenge) the latest pedagogical and curricular strategies developed and refined over the last three decades at the world’s leading technical universities specifically to foster creativity and innovation. We further discussed how those strategies have proven effective when translated and adapted for K-12 students, typical challenges in implementation, and the extraordinary results that make such efforts more than worthwhile, and their material impact not only in the obviously related design and engineering disciplines, but across curricular boundaries from science and math to English and other liberal arts.

After a short training session to establish common language and goals and context, the participants were challenged to complete a novel design task using the new Lego Mindstorm EV3 robotics kits. It was wonderful to see every single collaborative group go from befuddlement at the myriad of unfamiliar parts and the new and complex software design tools, through a frenzy of creative activity, exploration and experimentation, to fully demonstrable working prototypes that incorporated complex gearing systems, driven motors and sensors, each one unique in design and presentation. It was a perfect example of how these techniques can educate deeply without direct lecture or instruction, while driving stronger engagement and explicitly fostering creativity, collaboration, and innovation.

I feel compelled to add that yesterday's group delivered a rather unusual performance, wherein every group in this workshop performed remarkably under severe time pressure, and with minimal mentorship proved successful. I left the event feeling that our nation's private school leadership is in good hands!

I'm hopeful that our efforts will lead to an expansion of these collaborative challenge based approaches across a broad set of new schools, and we can add a few more crusaders to our mission.

Onward and upward!





Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New Program Offerings Draft

Hi Everyone!

Based on our recent work with all of you great WISE schools, we are embarking upon a redesign of our web site which better articulates simple ways in which WISE can work with schools to enrich and extend their STEM programs.

So here's a first draft of how we're thinking about a better productization and packaging of the services and support we offer. Please send us your feedback and suggestions via the comments submission form below! You're the ones who can tell us how we've most helped you and what you most need in the future.



WISE Services:

  1. WISE Design and Innovation Lab planning & equipment for state-of-the-art after-school programs.
  2. Innovative STEM curricular and special event materials inspired by decades of transformative science and engineering education experience at Cornell, MIT, Caltech, and NASA.
  3. Support for participation in external STEM programs like FIRST, Intel-Siemens, and Science Olympiad.
  4. Teacher training workshops and mentorship in the very latest project-based curricula and pedagogy which specifically fosters creativity, innovation, and design-thinking.
  5. Special STEM weekend and after-school events planning, organization and management.
  6. Fund raising and development support to finance all of these new STEM extensions both from within your school community , and from outside agency grants including the NSF, and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.
  7. Speaking engagements and special hands-on events for adults to raise awareness, support, and funds from school parents, boards and communities.
Did I miss anything?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Making Chickensaurus Skeletons from Wired

Here's a great activity for budding paleontologists from the Wired Wiki. Have your students reconstruct chicken skeletons...or diversify and give them many different animals to puzzle out. On the more creative rather than investigative side, have your adventuresome students combine bones from several species to make fantastic new "scientific mistakes."




Check out the wired article for details, but prep and execution are pretty simple..

  1. Boil whole chicken (easily available in Asian markets)
  2. Soak the de-fleshed chicken in Liquid Draino
  3. Hot-glue the bones together, using 16 gauge wire to string the vertebrae
  4. Refer to chicken anatomy pages via Google search (like this one) for reference.
  5. Get creative with other animal skeletons and composites

Thursday, February 7, 2008

WISE Teacher Compensation

Ah yes. 'Tis the season for performance evaluations, everyone's favorite time of the year. So I thought I would weigh in on some of what we at WISE consider best practices in terms of motivating teachers to go the extra mile in motivating and challenging their students to excel in science, math and technology. This is also a post intended to support administrations who ask the important question, "how can we effectively support and motivate change and improvement in our science programs." One very simple supporting answer (though clearly not one that will stand alone) is, "unequivocally tie compensation to the fulfillment of your goals." So since this is the time of the year to make amendments to compensation plans, here are our suggestions.

Let me start this post by admitting that I am a BIG fan of performance-based pay despite die-hard opposition from most teachers' unions. And before you tenured folks get all excited, let me also say that what I am proposing is how merit BONUSES should be applied, and not that some portion of a teacher's regular base salary be variable based on performance (though in the long run, I do think that might also be worth considering).

As we have begun to work with a range of schools, we at WISE have observed that one of the biggest challenges in updating science education practices is that even many of the most capable teachers find themselves operating in an environment of changing goals and motivations. Clear and unambiguous direction is often rare given that school administrations are themselves also struggling with rapid changes in technology practice and what they mean for science and technology education.

So the purpose of this post is to offer some suggestions for updated criteria upon which to base merit bonuses, along with some rationale behind each area of assessment.

What I will offer here is a starting proposal with the fundamental goal of aligning teacher compensation with the WISE mission of extending and enriching science education. In effect, I am proposing that you pay teachers extra compensation for doing extra work outside of their traditional classroom lecture obligations. More work is rewarded with more pay. Pay extra for stuff they are not already doing. They seem like a simple concepts, but we find them out of reach in many schools.

Assessment Criteria:
  1. How effectively does the teacher invest students with interest and joy in scientific discovery?

    This is probably one of the single biggest opportunities for improvement. Subject matter skills and test taking facility pale into insignificance when the students are driven out of science programs and away from life-long science literacy. The goal is to financially motivate faculty to make their classroom and lab activities engaging and compelling. (Note that many teachers will respond that they can do this if they sacrifice efforts to improve test performance, but I would counter that the first requirement doesn't go away and they are already being paid for that one. If they can also accomplish this goal, they can get extra pay.)

    • Student survey answers to the question "did this science class make you more or less inclined to take another science class?"
    • How many of that teacher's students actually signed up for a subsequent science class?
    • Bonus percentages should be granted both for high scores, and year-over-year improvement.

  2. How many hours did the faculty invest in supporting extra-curricular science activities, and how many students did the teacher recruit into said activities?

    Science fairs and Olympiads, robotics contests, regular and long-lasting work in WISE labs, internships, or anything that involves the students in science outside the classroom are fundamental to taking textbook lessons and realizing how they are applied to and relevant in the outside world at large.

    • Count the number of hours invested
    • Count the number of mentored student entries in contests and fairs
    • Bonuses should be offered for both high scores and for year-on-year improvement

  3. How many hours of professional development in improving the teacher's scientific, technical, and research skills were undertaken over the school year?

    The goal here is to improve teachers' scientific literacy and get them to accrue experience in participating in scientific research and technical development such that they can bring these skills and activities back to their home schools. Note that this goal is NOT intended to offer compensation for educational programs or in-services on how to TEACH something. The idea is to breed teachers who are also scientists and role models and mentors in that capacity.

    • Count the number and extent of research or development sabbaticals
    • Offer bonuses for both strong performance and year-over-year improvement.

  4. How effectively and regularly has the teacher collaborated and communicated with other teachers in planning and coordinating classroom and lab activities.

    This goal is probably one of the most important and foundational goals. One of the single biggest barriers to broad improvement is isolated teachers in isolated classrooms. Anything that can get them collaborating and brainstorming to promote honest and non-threatening peer assessment and support is a good thing.

    • This one requires that both peers and supervisors regularly evaluate the effectiveness of each teacher's team contribution.

  5. How effectively have your lesson plans and lab activities been updated to include:
  • the latest computerized data sampling, analysis, and publishing practices, and
  • open-ended activities which offer consistent opportunities for creativity and innovation
  • opportunities for student collaboration and teamwork

    • This one is probably the most difficult to evaluate, and requires that a mentor-class teacher or administrator regularly observe and review class and lab practices. In a way, in order for this assessment to be practical and fair, the communications and collaboration goal needs to be fulfilled first.


How to weight the different criteria:

While all of the above criteria are important, and often new, goals for many teachers, some are more important than others. Some in particular, are foundational for others. The relative weights should also be adjusted to account for particular needs, deficiencies, and strengths of each unique science department at each unique school.

But for programs that are starting this sort of program for the first time, I can recommend a relative weighting:

Let me start by saying that if any one teacher accomplishes all these goals with panache, it should be worth a 20% bonus in salary, because it would take at LEAST 20% more time to pull it off, and in all likelihood, a lot more time than that. Moreover, the impact and benefits to the students would far exceed any expense. I'm also very much a member of the "Aim for the stars, hit the fence-post, aim for the fence-post, hit the mud" school. ASPIRE to do it all, but make it rewarding to do well in even a few of these areas.

If you start with a home-run award of 20%, I would divide the 20% max bonus across each of the above areas weighted something like:

  1. Students interest, joy, ongoing science participation: 4%

  2. Student extra-curricular science participation: 4%

  3. Teacher's scientific professional development: 3%

  4. Teacher collaboration, teamwork, communication: 6%

  5. Technical lesson plans and lab updates: 3%

I would also recommend flexibility in giving extra awards for truly exceptional and noteworthy efforts in any one area, even if other areas come up short.

One other important point is that this proposal is not intended to be a straight-jacket, but rather a template and a starting point for what should be a living document that evolves with the trusting contribution and support of both faculty and staff. It should evolve as a school's needs evolve, and amended where and as necessary to reflect what works and what doesn't.

Finally, I realize that this scheme will raise all sorts of very reasonable questions and concerns from both faculty and administrations. Questions like, "where are we supposed to find the cash to pay science teachers 20% bonuses?" (note that an average bonus is likely to much less than 20%) Or, "how am I supposed to know where to find summer research opportunities for myself or my students," or "How can I best update my lab equipment and practices?"

Just know that WISE exists specifically to answer these questions and support these policies both in practice and financially. Ask away! Challenge us! Let's debate the best processes we can develop!

As always, comments, suggestions, challenges etc... all welcome and encouraged!

How many of you science, math and technology faculty would sign up to undertake some of these challenges with the prospect of a healthy 20% bonus?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Upcoming WISE Conference Recommendations

Hi all,

There are a couple of great science, technology, and math education conferences coming up this month and next that I want to be sure you are all aware of, the February 27-30 NCSSSMST conference in Dallas and the March 27-30 NSTA conference in Boston .

I and a few WISE folks will be attending both shows, and we could likely schedule some fun extra-curricular activities around MIT in Boston that could be good for both faculty and students (the latter get free admittance to the Boston show.) This could also be a fun chance to hook up, broaden the WISE network and get schools actually collaborating. What a concept! Who's in?

Conference details follow:
NCSSSMST 2008 Professional Conference
February 27-30, Dallas, TX

A case study for a great organization that badly needs a better name, the acronym-challenged association for Math Science and Technology specialty schools is a largely under-appreciated convocation of the best practices in those areas of education. With their group's focus on science and technology, you will find the best and most progressive teachers and school administrators talking about what is working for them and what is not. The content quality is very high overall. If you are either looking to hire, or looking for a job at a top-notch secondary educational institution, these are on the cutting edge of future school practices. I would even put in a strong plug for those of you from more mainstream schools to attend, as many of these best practices are universally applicable regardless of overall school focus.

Check out the NCSSSMST 2008 Professional Conference schedule and the final session program.
LOTS of good stuff here. If you like what you see you can register online here.

More info on the organization

National Science Teacher's Association Conference
February 28-30, Boston, MA

The best thing about this show is actually the exhibition, where all the science education vendors hawk their wares (over 500 vendors total). Everything from text books and workbooks to lab equipment, software, and materials, kits, etc... are abundantly displayed. The only challenge is sifting through the self-interested promoters of glossy-but-otherwise-useless stuff and the true gems that can transform your science education experiences. So we're planning some WISE group walk-throughs in order to jointly brainstorm about what we might promote and use.

The second big opportunity is that through our MIT connections, we have been pointed towards a bunch of MIT programs that will be going on in support of the NSTA conference. These MIT research groups are hosting visitors from the NSTA show on the MIT campus for hands-on science and technology education workshops.

Incidentally, these are the groups that have the most active ongoing K-12 outreach programs, and would be the best candidates for summer sabbaticals for any interested WISE faculty. (several of the groups were ones that Chris, Bill, and I met with on our last Boston trip) I can personally recommend the Creating with crickets at the Media Lab, and Open-ended Mechanical Engineering Activities, as being absolute gems applicable from middle school on up.

BLOCK 1 (1:30-2:45 PM)
Workshop Tag and Description Choice
13 of 18 Creating with crickets at the Media Lab
30 of 30 "Highlights for HS" MIT OpenCourseWare ~ Super resource for AP courses
26 of 30 Tour of the Broad Institute biomedical research labs
47 of 50 Scientific breakthroughs ~ Hot topic biology lecture
23 of 25 Investigate the 3-D structure of proteins
99 of 100 MIT Museum: MIT Lemelson InvenTeams and the Cell
21 of 24 Connecting genes to organisms and populations
30 of 30 MIT OpenLabWare for HS ~ Learn in the Lab
22 of 25 Space weather, radio astronomy & cell phones

Long BLOCKS (1:30-4:15 PM)
Workshop Tag and Description
13 of 16 Basic neutron experiments at the reactor
15 of 16 Magnetism, thin-film nanomagnets
7 of 10 Build magnetic induction or "shake" flashlights
23 of 24 Ocean exploration in the classroom
21 of 24 Mystery @MIT: learning through augmented reality
25 of 25 High Energy Astrophysics!

Do let me know via email, blog comment or IM (see the links to the right) if you are planning to attend either show so we can be sure to meet up and plan some joint meals and events!


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Flagging Economy Needs Science Investments

A very topical Op-Ed piece from Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle by Intel Chairman Craig Barrett. I liked it so much I include it in its entirety here.

Flagging Economy Needs Science Investments

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"Two years ago, the National Academies published the seminal study on U.S. competitiveness entitled "Rising Above the Gathering Storm." The study identified major shortcomings in U.S. investments in basic scientific research as well as in math and science education for our youngsters. The suggestions contained in this study were immediately picked up by the Democratic House Leadership as their competitiveness strategy and later by President Bush in his State of the Union message under his American Competitiveness Initiative. Legislation in the form of the America Competes Act was passed in the House and Senate in 2007, and it appeared the United States was finally going to move forward after years of neglect to increase investment in math, science and basic research. All parties agreed that our competitiveness in the 21st century was at stake and we needed to act.

So much for political will.

The recent budget deal between Republicans and Democrats effectively flat-funds or cuts funding for key science agencies. Excluding "earmarks," the Department of Energy funding for fiscal year 2008 is up only 2.6 percent, thus losing ground to inflation. The National Science Foundation is up 2.5 percent, with the same result. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is up 11 percent, however the labs where research happens only get 2.3 percent, again losing ground to inflation. Key national laboratories, such as the Fermilab, which focuses on high-energy particle physics research, face the likelihood of hundreds of jobs being lost and the closing of some facilities, helping to shortchange defense research. Predicting the impact of such funding cuts in basic research on future job creation is difficult. Who could have predicted a $300 billion semiconductor industry from the invention of a transistor? But our kids who are heading to college are very smart. They will make their career decisions based on where they see the priorities of our government and economy.

The funding decisions on the America Competes Act took place a few days after Congress passed a $250 billion farm bill. In the eyes of our political leaders, apparently, corn subsidies to Iowa farmers are more important for our competitiveness in the next century than investing a few billion in our major research universities. The president expressed his happiness with the budget and Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, said, "The president didn't get his priorities, we got ours."

At a time when the rest of the world is increasing its emphasis on math and science education (the most recent international tests - NAEP and PISA - show U.S. kids to be below average) and increasing their budgets for basic engineering and physical science research, Congress is telling the world these areas are not important to our future. At a time when we are failing our next generation of students, politically charged topics such as steroids in Major League Baseball and the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes command instantaneous congressional hearings while the seed corn (no pun intended) of our future is ignored and placed lower in priority than billions of dollars of earmarks.

Perhaps this would all be a moot discussion if we could continue to import the best and brightest minds from around the world to start and staff our next generation of high tech startups. But Washington can't even get that strategy straight, as legal immigration - the process by which bright, highly educated workers immigrate to the United States - is being choked by our inability to control illegal immigration. While the EU has proposed a simplified and expanded program for importing highly educated talent from the rest of the world, we continue to make if more difficult for the same talent to work in the United States, even when some of these knowledge workers have received their education in the United States at partial taxpayer expense.

Where are the voices in Washington to bring reasoned debate and action to these topics? Where are the voices among the presidential candidates to propose solutions to these challenges? What do we elect our political leaders for if not to protect our long-term future?

The United States stands at a pivotal point in our history. Competition is heating up around the world with millions of industrious, highly educated workers who are willing to compete at salaries far below those paid here. The only way we can hope to compete is with brains and ideas that set us above the competition - and that only comes from investments in education and R&D. Practically everyone who has traveled outside the United States in the last decade has seen this dynamic at work. The only place where it is apparently still a deep, dark secret is in Washington, D.C.

What are they thinking? When will they wake up? It may already be too late; but I genuinely think the citizenry of this country wants the United States to compete. If only our elected leaders weren't holding us back.

Craig Barrett is the chairman of Intel."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Build your own ROV

OK, it's too late to apply for this February, but it appears an ongoing annual (?) workshop for teachers building underwater ROV's (Remotely Operated Vehicles) at the Georgia Aquarium has lots of cool WISE potential.

The robotics connection is obvious, potentially offering our robotics teams some off-season practice in a cool new venue. Also, there are some ROV competitions offered by the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center.

The best part of this is the potential of a project like this to provide open-ended opportunities for student exploration and research. With mounted cameras and probes, you need not restrict yourself to ocean exploration. What about venturing into the Chattahoochee River or any of the lakes around us. ROVs are also useful to explore areas where human beings cannot or should not venture for reasons of safety, size, access, etc. It would be cool to explore scalability issues with ROVs. What other engineering possibilities are there?

So, it looks like the GA Aquarium is offering this for teachers, but I see absolutely no reason why high school students couldn't be involved with something like this immediately.

I'll post more information when I hear back from the GA Aquarium about their ROV training session schedule. For those in other areas, a quick Google search shows current or past ROV teacher training in Santa Barbara, CA, Norfolk, VA, and other areas.