STEMbook: Connecting Classrooms to STEM professionals

What if teachers had an easy way to connect with STEM professionals who could lend expertise, collaborate, or just share their stories?

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Interactions with working scientists and other STEM professionals transform students' understanding of who can be a scientist and engineer. In addition, visits from experts can invigorate a lesson and add authenticity to student projects, but they can be difficult to set up without a lot of existing connections.

What would it look like to have a functioning network of STEM professionals interested in outreach that teachers could connect to as easily as logging onto Facebook? STEM professionals interested in outreach of various types could create profiles describing their research and the kinds of roles they would be willing to play.  Teachers could engage with this network to arrange classroom or virtual visits from experts in their students' areas of study or to seek expert feedback on a new piece of curriculum. A network of this type would also make it easier for teachers to create projects that follow students' curiosity and tackle real-world problems, by giving students access to expert guides.

More information about this idea can be found HERE.

Here are some rough mock-ups of what profile pages on STEMbook could look like: 

Teacher Page     

STEM professional page

I would love your feedback on these pages. What would encourage you to participate in a network like this? What would you want to know about other participants? What would make building connections easy? Click HERE to leave feedback or just leave a comment below.


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Photo of Tiffany Fourment
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I've gotten a bit out of the loop, but it doesn't seem like much has changed. I'm a little confused about the structure of this... were we supposed to do anything else as a team for the "Ideate" phase? I'm definitely still interested in developing this idea! 

Photo of Julie Ron
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Hi Tiffany Fourment! No worries. I think we're in great shape. In my understanding, ieate was mostly about idea generation. In the Build phase (starting tomorrow!) we can continue to expand this idea through the doc and I think we'll get some coaching on what we should be building towards. I'm excited to continue to collaborating on this with you!

Photo of Margaret Powers
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This would be so useful Julie Ron It sounds like Jacob Goren is thinking about this too in Exposure 

Maybe you two could team up and start to outline what a Stembook would look like? How would you get people involved? How would you use it?

Photo of Lisa Yokana
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This sounds like a really cool and useful resource. And it's awesome that you've started a google doc. Are there others that you'd like to invite to your team and continue to collaborate on the google doc?
Lisa

Photo of Tiffany Fourment
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I was just about to enter a very similar idea, and then found yours! A couple of years ago while working in education and outreach at NOAA, I created a "pool" of scientists who were willing and interested in doing outreach to local schools - virtually or in person. Sadly, I moved away before being able to really implement the program and share with teachers, but I think there is a lot of potential for this. For consideration, the main challenges I ran into were: 1) finding scientists who were both willing and ABLE to connect and communicate with students well... there are many people who are so brilliant in their work, but don't really know how to share that in relevant and age-appropriate ways.  2) Management of this "system" - I planned to act as the point of contact, take requests/questions from teachers or students, and then match with the appropriate resource person, because I did not think that our scientists would take it upon themselves, on top of all the work they are already doing, to take requests, figure out how to respond, set up times, etc. 

What are your ideas on how such a cool resource would be managed?  

I'd love to keep chatting about this! 

Photo of Julie Ron
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Hi Tiffany! I'm so glad you commented. It sounds like we have a similar vision and experience. In grad school I set up a program linking mostly grad students and post docs to local teachers. It was successful while I managed it, but didn't survive long after I left. Ever since I've been playing with exactly the issues you've described!

A couple thoughts:
(1) I think grad students and post docs are often an untapped market in this regard. They often have a little more time and motivation to do outreach at this point in their careers and, anecdotally, I've noticed they often connect more easily with students. However, unless a classroom teacher has experience in academia they might not know to reach out to this population.

(2) For a network of this type to succeed at a large scale, we would have to minimize the amount of management. This is where emulating Facebook and other social networking sites comes in. My vision is that if signing in, finding, and responding to contacts is as easy as interacting your FB feed, more people will participate. Building tools into the network that make it easier for folks to connect around common interests and contribution level will make it easier for everyone. I’ve started a google doc with more ideas about this functionality and I’d love your ideas! (see below)

(3) The other big issue is recruitment and I’ve been thinking about how to incentivize participation beyond fulfilling the general need to do outreach (e.g. due to grant requirements or corporate policy). What would it look like to offer limited mentorship to help professionals build more effective outreach presentations or tools, in exchange for participation. This could just mean videos that cover key ideas and then targeted feedback from a small group of teacher-mentors. (Perhaps akin to coaches in this program!) This also gets to the issue of “quality control” which is certainly a critical one.

More ideas here:  https://goo.gl/UEGwBC

I’d love to hear your thoughts!
-Julie

Photo of Tiffany Fourment
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Hi! It's great to hear your experiences on this. I agree with your points about post-doc/grad students! That's a good demographic to engage. I also like your idea about offering mentorship/training on outreach - this seems to be a hot topic in science right now - how to communicate one's research/work.
Also motivation-wise, it would be cool if this resource could become known as a boost to one's professional experience - almost like a "certification" but not literally - just something that one could list, for instance, on a CV that they are part of this network. 

I still see the commitment part being tricky... whether it's grad students or professionals... there has to be something that makes it not "just more work". 

And, I definitely think involving students is important!  Some kind of Q&A platform would be great. Still thinking.... 

Photo of MK
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This is a great idea, and there are R&D firms who might be interested (MITRE, perhaps), and might sponsor awards (e.g., Northrop Grumman). I'm sure there are others.

Photo of Julie Ron
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Thanks for your ideas!! Do you mean funding for setting up a network or participation of employees or both?

I think including professionals working in industry would be an important component of any network of this type. It's a side of STEM students don't always see and industry is often the one to tackle concrete needs that feel very applicable to students' lives. In my experience these stories are very motivating to students!

Photo of MK
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Fairfax County, VA, holds a science fair each year for high school students. When my son participated, NG was one of the sponsors--probably because they were looking for interns. Think Tanks sponsor HS internships, too, because fresh minds have great ideas and they might want to come work at the company later. Consider: http://www2.mitre.org/tech/nanotech/ourwork/studentprogram.html. Were you to investigate the larger companies and federally funded R&D centers, you might find many opportunities

Photo of MK
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Also consider the potential of conversations with some of the great science writers of this era: Natalie Angier, The Canon; James Glieck, The Information; Wired; Stuart Firestein, Ignorance; Randall Munroe, Thing Explainer, What If?, and xkcd. If you are interested, I have lots more suggestions!

Photo of Julie Ron
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Including science writers is a great idea! Higher profile science writers and other STEM professionals, who may not have time for classroom visits, might be willing to post videos and possibly offer limited virtual feedback.

Photo of MK
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Examples of stories: https://publish.mitre.org/kde/blog/

https://www.mitre.org/