Category Archives: Uncategorized

Project Exploration Recipient of Presidential Award for Excellence


Just received word that earlier today the White House announced recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Mentoring… Project Exploration was on the list.

At a time when the field of science does not yet represent the diversity that is America this award offers validation for our work to change the status quo – and is just plain AWESOME!!!!



NCLB meets New Haven firefighters? Curious…


Earlier this week the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of White New Haven firefighters, overturning a previous ruling by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. At the time I heard about it I mostly listened to the coverage and thought about the event in terms of the nomination process for Judge Sotomayor.

However, listening to a discussion earlier today on the Tavis Smiley Show amongst Tavis, UCLA Law Professor Kimberle Williams Crenshaw and Supreme Court columnist for the New York Times, Adam Liptak, made me rethink the issues surrounding the test from another perspective – testing and K-16 students’ promotions – or lack thereof.

Crenshaw summarized during the conversation: New Haven “decided there were other ways to fairly assess who should be a firefighter. ” What implications might this kind of thinking have when it comes to discussing the role of to determine who gets promoted in school? Or who gets promoted to go to college? Or what kinds of schools (and teachers and students) have access to what kinds of programs and funding?

There is longstanding recognition of an “achievement gap” between Whites and Latinos, African Americans among others, as documented by standardized tests, tests which inevitably help set the course for students’ lives and workforce options long before they become adults. (See “A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education.”)

So, when I think about these issues and then read the following, (quoted from the June 29th New York Times article) in terms of education, I get a little anxious:

“In a concurrence, Justice Scalia predicted that the court would soon have to reach the larger constitutional question. “The war between disparate impact and equal protection will be waged sooner or later,” he wrote, “and it behooves us to begin thinking about how — and on what terms — to make peace between them.”

The rabbit-hole of NCLB is being re-dug these days by the Department of ED. And I’m wondering if Sec. Duncan and the Justice Roberts court might end up on the same curious playing field… the tilted one.

Promo for “Lost in Time ‘literally'”

Jehad, on left, prospecting in the Pierrer Shale.

Jehad, on left, prospecting in the Pierrer Shale.

Promo for a Project Exploration student post from the field…

Science in action? Here tis! Hot off the presses from Jehad.

Whazzup with “problem” kids?

I just got through reading a compelling guest column by David Stovall in the June issue of Catalyst. Stovall, now a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, spent most of his childhood labeled as “the one in class who “didn’t know when to keep his mouth shut.”

As I write this I’m in the heart of the Montana badlands rained out of fieldwork. Around me indoors and out are Project Exploration students – the inaugural team of the “Best Science Program Evah.” These Chicago Public School high schoolers are reading, writing, talking, drawing, cleaning fossils, taking photographs (to scale, with a scale bar) and even blogging. They’re having an adventure, not only in science, but in life. (The group is being led by Elena Schroeter, a graduate of CPS’ Curie High School, a Project Exploration alumna who studied geology at the University of Chicago, worked as Project Exploration’s youth programs coordinator, and is now pursuing a PhD at Drexel University in Paleontology. She came back this summer just to help Project Exploration launch this program.)

Stovall’s piece makes me wonder as I see our students in action, whether the “problem” kids, especially African American boys, who are getting expelled out of school are perhaps EXACTLY the kids we need to get into science.

I think of the kids I regularly meet who are the ones who “just can’t stay in their seat.” When I see these kids I think of them as explorers and wanderers. The challenge for me is to find a way to meet them where THEY are at (which, most often, isn’t in their seat). Then there are the kids that can’t seem to pay attention – if anything is out of the ordinary they draw attention to it immediately and everyone in the classroom ends up being along for the ride. These are the kids who “just can’t stay on target.” I see these kids as “noticers,” “wonder-ers”… curious ones.

What if these are the scientists we need?

Except they’re invisible; we can’t find them because we can’t see them. Sometimes we can’t see them because they’re corralled into the principal’s office, or out of school, or into a cell… not a living cell, a concrete one.

The enduring, relentless picture of suspensions provided by the data Catalyst brings to bear requires us to ask not “what’s up?” with problem kids but why we’re so limited in how we see kids and education.

Perhaps a decent piece of advice we could give to policy makers and funders calling for the creation of a new generation of scientists and engineers is that the students they are looking for are already here – they just forgot to check the principal’s office.

Redefining Science Education – Remix


In an essay entitledRedefining Science Education,” the Editor in Chief of Science Magazine, Bruce Alberts, essentially bit the hand that feeds him. According to Mr. Alberts, scientists – the ones who consume and produce the content of Science magazine – may have created the biggest problem in science education.

So what’s the problem that Alberts raises? Rather than teach students how to think scientifically what is generally happening is, “students are being told about science and being asked to remember facts.”

Mr. Alberts is disturbed. (He says it himself; I’m not saying it about him!)

In body of his essay Mr. Albert promotes an approach to “science education” that those of us working to inspire students to become engaged and inspired by science would likely find familiar and embrace. He advocates for helping students “generate and evaluate scientific evidence and explanations, understand the nature and development of scientific knowledge, and to participate productively in scientific practices and discourses.”  In sum, Alberts calls for equipping students to develop science as a way of knowing.

Unfortunately, Alberts points out, this is not how science is taught. (Remember, Alberts is criticizing the way scientists teach science in this article, though the standards he refers to are designed for K-8 teachers to employ and he ultimately roots the dilemma in science education in problems in elementary and high school teaching). The outcome of this flawed approach to science education is large numbers of adults who don’t use evidence to solve problems or embrace non-scientific explanations of how the natural world works.

Here’s the squelcher for me: Albert’s suggested solution to the problem. He recommends what we need is new assessments; tests that would better measure the strands of science education that are getting short shrift in the face of the facts.

I disagree with this “assessment.” While certainly having thoughtful, more inclusive assessments could be helpful in understanding how students are doing, such an approach may distract us from the heart of the matter.

We have standards and goals. We even now have standards for informal science education. The big problem in science education isn’t that we’re not testing appropriately, or that we’re not teaching appropriately, though these are, in fact, well documented issues that need attention and resources (and appropriately so). The real issue in science education that science, by design, is not for all, it’s not really even for most. Science is just for some. Until this aspect of science education is embraced as a real one we likely will not see much change  – regardless of how, or who, we test.

It’s critical we remember the primary sites where “real” “fun,” “engaging,” “authentic”and educational science experiences – (the ones Mr. Alberts implies we should aspire to) –  happen are ones in which participants are students who are performing academically at the top. These are the places – both in and out of school – where students get to dissect pigs, launch rockets and see their own DNA. (To name just a few of the more “fun” things students, if they’re lucky, get to do).

We need act on the idea that science  is valuable for everyone – not just for students who will become scientists and not just for students who are academically successful.

In this realm scientists do have a role to play – both in and out of college. If students are not interested in science by 8th grade it is unlikely that they will choose to pursue science in high school or beyond. They may take AP classes in science as part of a college-track program but if they don’t actually LIKE science they certainly won’t pursue it in college as a possible profession.

Some things could change bit by bit: Scientists could come out of the ivory tower and off the printed page to share their work in person. Museums could take their researchers from behind the glass and put them on the museum floor. Not to run “demonstrations” but to have conversations about the questions they’re asking, the way in which they are trying to answer those questions and the progress and challenges they work through along the way. Bring some show and tell, tools of the trade.

One of the arenas in which the kind of science that Mr. Alberts calls for  can most increasingly happen is in out of school time settings, in learning environments like the ones created by Project Exploration, where we work to level the playing field – while also offering more time, flexibility, and personalized experiences. Students are invited regardless of what their grade point average is. Programs are free. They work on real science with scientists.

Last week I was talking with one of our students, DeAndre, at our Senior Celebration. DeAndre is about to go into 11th grade. “What keeps you coming back to Project Exploration?” I asked “This is a vacation day, and yet you’ve come to hang out with us. Why?” Here’s his answer: “What I love about science is that it can be different every day. It’s like a little surprise. It’s exciting. You can always learn something new.”

Scientists that work with Project Exploration – and we are lucky to have many – embrace a progressive approach to teaching. But they include a lot of facts. Facts take on meaning because the work the students are doing is meaningful to them. They are empowered by knowing information that they can use – and information that they can share with others.
There is a real problem in science education. Cf course teachers absolutely should have resources to become better science teachers.  Students – all students – should have a chance to do science that enables them to work through problems in a hands-on way regardless of their socioeconomic or academic standing or their reading ability. Such efforts require not only cool science “stuff” but also time in the day.  Until we believe that science really is for everyone and actually has value beyond a role in ensuring economic viability (aka “pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge”) at a national level, not much will really change.

Mr. Alberts, your assessment of the problem, and your assessment of the solution,  may need testing. I hope that we can work together to ensure all students have the opportunity to become inspired to be curious, to observe closely, to describe their observations in detail and effectively, and to share their passion and ideas with others.

(Did I say “students?” – maybe I meant “scientists.” I might need to get my facts straight.)

“Fave five” lessons about high school graduation and changing the face of science

The new face of science.

The new face of science.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009 was not really an exceptional day – unless you count having a glimpse through a window onto a world often unknown, rarely understood: What does it take to change the face of science? We got a sighting of it at Project Exploration’s Senior Celebration, held at the Garfield Park Conservatory. READ THE FULL POST and “Fave Five” recommendations on the Project Exploration Blog.

VANISHED! The achievement gap between boys and girls in math performance…

An exciting story in the New York Times yesterday: science departments at universities may be starting to become more equitable for women: “…men and women faculty in science, engineering and mathematics have enjoyed comparable opportunities,” said the report, issued Tuesday. It found that women who applied for university jobs and, once they had them, for promotion and tenure were at least as likely to succeed as men.” That said, women applicants were still underrepresented and, if you read the actual news release from the National Academies, we see that the picture is still pretty grey:

  • Access to institutional resources: Men and women reported comparable access to many institutional resources, including start-up packages, travel funds, and supervision of similar numbers of postdocs and research assistants.  And in general, men and women spent similar proportions of their time on teaching, research, and service.  Although at first glance men seemed to have more lab space than women, this difference disappeared when other factors such as discipline and faculty rank were accounted for.  However, men appeared to have greater access to equipment needed for research and to clerical support, the report said.  
  • Tenure: In every field, women were underrepresented among candidates for tenure relative to the number of female assistant professors.  In chemistry, for example, women made up 22 percent of assistant professors, but only 15 percent of the faculty being considered for tenure.  Women also spent significantly longer time as assistant professors.  However, women who did come up for tenure review were at least as likely as men to receive tenure.
  • Salary: Women full professors were paid on average 8 percent less than their male counterparts, the report says.  This difference in salary did not exist in the ranks of associate and assistant professors

However, embedded in the New York Times story, was another story about another report from the National Academies that may get more play in upcoming months:  “The achievement gap between boys and girls in mathematics performance had narrowed to the vanishing point. “U.S. girls have now reached parity with boys, even in high school and even for measures requiring complex problem solving,” the Wisconsin researchers said. Continuing from the New York Times, “Differences between girls’ and boys’ performance in the 10 states were “close to zero in all grades,” they said, even in high schools where gaps had existed earlier. In the national assessment, they said, differences between girls’ and boys’ performance were “trivial.”

All of which makes me wonder a few things about the second report:

1) Should we be celebrating?

2) Does this mean that girls in poor schools are performing equally as poorly as boys?

2) Why is a subscription required to view research published an organization funded by public tax dollars (an ongoing irksome issue for me).

[Oh, I meant “3” not “2” for that last item. Math is not one of my strong points.]