Too often in science education we require students to grind through foundation building lessons before we give them the opportunity to apply their creative, problem-solving abilities.
The RET vision statement echoes this and is the founding principal of this program.
Unfortunately, this is exactly the weakness of the CSULA STEER Program. My strongest suggestion for improving this program is to involve the teachers in research projects on the FIRST days. After the teachers have an opportunity to grapple with the larger vision of the main research project and its enormous complexity, then they can more-effectively and efficiently engage in lessons and tutorials that will help them understand and participate in the research related to the main project. The teachers will be more motivated, more interested, more ready to learn the tutorials and lessons, and more connected with the P.I.s, the students and the projects.
My suggestions fall into 5 areas:
Awareness of the research hypothesis on which we are working.
Throughout the 5 weeks the teachers should be presented a problem or hypothesis they will be working on. The teachers should be lead though a variety of tutorials and assignments with an opportunity to apply those developing skills to a larger context or project.
Involved in research with the PI and students.
The teachers should work with a PI or student on any of the main research projects. Even though the projects might require high levels of sophistication and understanding it would have been valuable to allow the teachers to grapple with the complexity of these projects. This would have been helpful to provide motivation and context for the tutorials and lessons.
Choice of projects.
There was too much interest in one of the research areas and too little interest in the others. Most teachers wanted to work in the digital imaging lab. This problem would not have been so important if the teachers were involved in the main project in the other labs. However, I suggest that the teachers should choose the projects they would like to work on when they apply. When teachers submit their application next year, they should be presented an abstract of the 5 different research projects offered by the program as well as the computer applications and conceptual lessons they will be trained on to participate in that project. Then, the P.I.s can select 2-3 teachers for each project type, based on the teacher's interest.
Teaching applications and concepts in the context of the research.
Most people learn best if they are learning concepts and skills AND APPLYING those concepts and skills to a larger project AT THE SAME TIME. This structure of learning and teaching is difficult for the teacher because it requires them to stop, review, and jump around their linear lessons. However, with motivated and curious teachers as their pupils, this method would be far more beneficial to all in the end.
- Weekly schedule and coordination
On each Friday, the P.I. , student assistant, and teachers for each group should meet to coordinate the next week's schedule. It should be clear what the teachers are working on, and who, when and where to meet each day.