Why am I presenting at Fall CUE?

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I took this image during a recent trip to Vermont. Somehow the combination of beauty near and far seems like a metaphor for my posting.

A lifetime ago, or so my pre-social media time feels, I asked Michelle Pacansky-Brock which education conferences she recommended. Michelle was and still is a major inspiration in my journey of teaching and learning innovation (check out her blog and her recent keynote at Focus on Teaching and Technology), so I took her recommendation of CUE at heart. “They are mainly K12 folks, she said , so a lot of what is presented does not directly apply to what we do (we both teach at the college level). But they are some of the most passionate, creative, and engaging educators I have met, and I always learn a lot from them.”

So I attended my first CUE a few years ago, and felt slightly out of place, but at the same time she was absolutely right about the energy and the enthusiasm. I also loved that everybody was running around with laptops and tablets, that things presented were immediately accessible real time, and during those 2 days I learned a huge number of tricks and came back full of ideas.

In the past 2 years I have been blessed with a position that allows me not only teaching and education research, but also some bench science research. I have come a whole circle at a higher level, and while biology education research is still my main focus, I enjoy being in the lab streaking microbes and planning experiments.

So why am I presenting at Fall CUE?

Michelle’s reason still stands. I follow through Twitter some of the CUE regulars and I cannot wait to learn hands-on about Google tools, or how to use games in education (another of my pet peeves), or get deeper insights into Project/problem based learning.

But the main reason is that I want to bridge the divide. Most people are aware of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education problems in the US: there are not enough qualified graduates, and in spite of a growing number of STEM jobs, there is just not enough qualified candidates to take them. Minorities tend to be a minority in STEM careers too.

I have taught and teach a variety of biology courses. It is fun to teach advanced courses where students are already interested and passionate about science, and want to become researchers. But the course that really touches me, both in the sense of challenge and responsibility, is the Bio101 or similar. Students’ first biology course in college, mainly for non-majors. ALL students are interested in biology, as biology surrounds us. The issue is, how to make them realize that they ARE interested? How can we make them realize that we can all use the scientific method and analyze complex issues with just a handful of tools and concepts? These are some of the issues I discuss in my presentation (still a work in progress).

Thanks to my collaboration and ongoing conversations with education faculty at my college, I am aware much more now about the challenges they face, especially with the new Common Core standards.

One of the most respected journals in science, Science magazine has a collection of materials and published recently a special issue about education. Some of the materials are dedicated to science at the K12 level. Because, let’s face it- most of us love or hate science because of a teacher in middle or high school. I hate physics because a teacher way back when accused me of lying (she told me to stop talking in class and I replied all hurt that I had not- which was true). I love chemistry because of fun labs and inspiring teachers, and I was hooked on biology because of a wonderful teacher in 7th grade who showed me that I could explore chemistry in living systems. By the time I entered college I knew that I liked science.

How can we, K12 and college educators and researchers make this journey smoother for students? Science teachers in K12 can collaborate with researchers to involve their students in real life, applied research. Some biology research requires complex instrumentation, but others may require just computers and internet (think bioinformatics projects, of which there is a number already). College educators can learn how to improve their teaching approaches. We want the same thing: well-rounded individuals who appreciate the beauty of science. They make take that route or not, but we all want adults who understand how science works and are able to make informed decisions on everyday matters. Think healthy nutrition, stem cell research, climate change, use of antibiotics in feedlots, GMOs, cancer treatments, or vaccinations. It is frightening to think how many of our policy makers do not understand science.

Ok off my soapbox for now. If you are at Fall Cue and are involved or interested in science education, please see me, tweet to me, or check out my presentation. I am in Orange County CA, and would love to talk to science teachers in the area and see how can we collaborate. And if you are reading this and have comments, advice, ideas, additional resources, please comment. The more the merrier!

Two days left…

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picture showing Fall foliage

Lincoln Gap Road, Green Mountains VT

…and I will be back to Real Life. This includes: an ongoing online course, a conference presentation next week, couple of important meetings related to a program proposal, finishing an IRB application, writing handouts for labs, developing a set of lecture powerpoints, and getting serious about my grad student’s project.

This vacation week was planned months in advance, with the Vermont Fall Colors in mind. While we were told to be a tad late, I was still blown away by the explosion of colors. Since my Swedish days I had not seen so many hues of green, yellow, and red; resulting in hundreds of pictures of trees and forest paths. I had bought my first nice lens (35 mm, f1.8) for my camera, and am still learning its possibilities. Besides foliage I have tried my hand at covered bridges and quaint white churches, cemeteries, waterfalls, and art exhibits. Add family visits, eating, drinking, and playing board games. This is all very relaxing.

Except it is not 100% vacation after all. Emails still roll in vacation autoresponse notwithstanding, and I still answer them as some are time sensitive. Meeting invites come in. Official matters submitted weeks ago start getting responses.

Many have written about how difficult is for Americans to let go of work, and how common it is to check emails and keep working even during vacations. I am guilty, but I cannot really help it. In a way, being an early adopter of technologies has been very helpful in my professional development, and this includes being, if not “on top” of everything, but being “aware” of what is going on.  That said, I am not happy with the nagging sense of bad conscience when I see my virtual colleagues actively involved in discussions such as the Scientific American blogging/harassment fiasco or the debt ceiling debacle and its implications on scientific research.

I am trying really hard to forgive myself.

Just sent an email to my students. I feel better now.

Time to go for a hike 🙂

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