This educational collaboration between Washington University's Tyson Research Center and the Missouri Botanical Garden's Shaw Nature Reserve is designed to engage St. Louis area high school students in scientifically-based exploration of the natural world. Linked programs of field training (SIFT) and field research (TERF) provide teenagers with experiences that realistically reflect research in environmental biology. Participating teens learn a variety of field investigation skills and then have the opportunity to put those new skills to work assisting career scientists with real research projects.

Monday, May 19, 2008

SIFT Orientation Session Great Success!

Thank you to everyone that made the SIFT Orientation Session such a great success yesterday! (Lydia Toth, Jon Chase, Kathi Beyer, Barb Addelson, and James Trager)

After dealing with data projection issues and very early attendees, we had smooth sailing. Close to 100 people attended the event on a gorgeous late spring afternoon!

You could feel the excitement as everyone explored the Dana Brown Education Center. Several parents asked if they could attend the overnight during the summer session. What a testament to the unique and comfortable cabins and assembly building. I'm looking forward to spending the night myself...

I'm pleased to report that all of our administrative goals for the session were met. We received back the enrollment forms from the participants, we communicated the project overview, we secured consent/assent forms for the educational research study, we administered the pre-program surveys to both participants and parents/guardians, we got information for planning the summer session bus routes, and most importantly, we met with the families in person.

There were 44 SIFTers in attendance. Two additional SIFTers could not make the event, and five did not show up despite sending a response to attend. So, we do have a little bit of catch up work with those who missed out. If we get final confirmation of participation from all of these, then we will have 51 SIFTers for 2008-09.

I think yesterday quite a bit of reassurance happened on both ends - we were reassured to see the participants show up and the participants and parents were reassured to see the quality of the program, facilities, and staff.

I also have to say that it was really exciting for me to see all of us together presenting a unified project! We had Shaw, Tyson, Science Outreach, and our evaluator all there representing the different parts of the partnership. To quote Col. Hannibal Smith from the A-Team, "I love it when a plan comes together..."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

SIFTer Update
Our final applicant count is 52. Not bad for such short notice!

There are 38 confirmed SIFTers as of this morning. I sent out an e-mail yesterday afternoon that generated a few more RSVPs. I would really like to hit the 40 mark and would be thrilled if we had more than 40. Attrition is an issue with year-long programs, so the larger the starting numbers, the better.

There are 19 participants signed up for Session 1 and 17 signed up for Session 2. Two additional participants do not have a preference on session and we may ask them to be in Session 2 for balance.

The enrollment packages did go out as planned. I went ahead and sent them to all accepted applicants even if they had yet to confirm their participation. Need to keep the ball rolling...

Orientation Session Update
I've sent around the tentative agenda to Lydia, Jon, and our evaluator Kathi Beyer. It is amazing how quickly you can fill up 1 1/2 hours...

Kathi is getting the participant and parent surveys finalized for the orientation session on Sunday.

I will need to find time to make some PowerPoint slides before the end of the week.

Curriculum Update
Lydia and her staff are meeting this morning to go over the curriculum for the week-long summer sessions. There should be draft lesson plans in place with the all-important materials lists! It is time to start ordering supplies...

We have decided that final versions of lesson plans will be written up during the week between the two summer sessions. This way we can account for last minute changes and refinement after seeing the activities in action during the first session.

ISE PI Summit 2008
I have registered for the ISE PI Summit to be hosted by CAISE in Washington DC at the end of July.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

We're In It Now!

We are now up to 30 confirmed participants in SIFT 2008-09! Fingers crossed for more...

All of the documents for the enrollment package are being finished up and I plan to get the packages in the mail on Friday, or Monday morning at the very latest. Time to make the copies and stuff the envelopes...

Lydia and I met this morning and we now have a tentative agenda for the Orientation Session on Sunday, May 18th. I will need to get some slides together for the welcome and overview of the whole project. I'm hoping Jon will be willing to show some slides of Tyson research projects in action. Lydia will be handling the bulk of the presentation on the plans for the SIFT program for 2008-09. And then I need to address the whole educational research project angle and administer the first evaluation tool. I will try to think of a way to keep the presentation flowing and not too boring. Hmmmm. Props? Field tools? Is there a comedy angle? Maybe I should get everyone to tuck their pants in their socks... :) Oooh, just got a great idea for an ice breaker that involves screaming about ticks.

The summer session curriculum draft is looking good and the Shaw team has assigned the lead instructor roles for each activity. Those individuals are currently writing up their activities and the team will be meeting on Tuesday, May 13th to show progress. I'm very excited to see how it is all fleshing out from our original curricular skeleton.

I'm hoping to post a blog at least once or twice a week, but this might be hard as the programming season gets under way. I want to capture my thoughts, ideas, and conclusions as they happen, especially during the summer session weeks. I'll have to get in the habit of blogging at night, I think.

And then there's the wiki, too...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"Yikes, it's May!" Update

As of this morning, we have 25 confirmed SIFTers. And so far, only one will be unable to attend the orientation session on May 18. Lydia and I will construct an alternate orientation plan once we have all of the RSVPs on Friday. Obviously the best case scenario is that only one SIFTer misses the session, but we can still squeeze in a shorter session if necessary. I am concerned that we could lose the data point for that participant if we don't get the pre-program survey/assessment administered. Will have to think on that...

Interestingly, I have received an additional application for the program. This is significantly after the application deadline, but it is from a student in a targeted school district and she has very strong recommendations from her teachers. I will consult with Jon and Lydia to see how they think this should be handled. My inclination is to accept her, especially with one of her recommending teachers mentioning that she is "the very best student I've ever taught!" That is definitely the kind of student that we want to be engaged in this program...

Lydia and I will be meeting with an additional instructor tomorrow. Jon has found someone with teaching and field research experience to act as a link between the SIFT and TERF programs and we would like to bring her on board as soon as possible. It will be good for her to establish a relationship with the first cohort of SIFTers so that they are familiar with her when some of them move on to become the first cohort of TERFers in 2009-10.

Friday, May 2, 2008

We Have Our First SIFTers

After the short and intensive recruitment drive, we received a total of 50 applications. This was about what I had expected, but apparently significantly more than others thought we could get. I'm pleased to know that my extensive network of St. Louis area biology teachers stepped up to the plate and helped me find good kids. They made me look like a magician!

We also had help from Mary Burke with the Academy of Science-St. Louis, the St. Louis Public Schools, Felix Lui with the St. Louis Science Center Youth Exploring Science program, and Ken Mares with the STARS program at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. All of these people showed enthusiasm for the project and passed the information on to teens that they knew would be interested. Amazing that a few well-placed e-mails can have such a large ripple effect. Gotta love the new technological communications age...

After setting up the database and reviewing the application files, we selected 48 participants. All of these kids had strong recommendations from their teachers and their short responses expressed sincere interest in the learning about the natural world through scientific investigation. They are also a great mix of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.

The acceptance notifications went out yesterday via e-mail and I've already had confirmations from 14. So, we have our first SIFTers! Lydia and I decided to give them until May 9 to respond and confirm participation, so we will know the final numbers in a week.

Getting the pieces of the enrollment package together is next on the To Do list... (Along with a million other things!)