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.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Between the SIFT Sessions

On Wednesday, June 18 all of the SIFT staff met to debrief the first session. While we were fairly happy with how the week-long curriculum was implemented, we all agreed that there were places where we would like to make adjustments. Interestingly, the comments from the first group of SIFTers supported this and seemed to align with our identification of weaker areas. Thanks to Kathi for providing timely formative assessment!

The biggest change we decided to make was in our "wrapping" of the curriculum in the bigger picture. We found that the first group didn't seem to "see" the point of some activities and we must have lost the communication of each day's theme in our quest to get the SIFTers up and doing things. We did find ourselves "reading" the group as needing to stay active in order to keep their interest, but it may be that the group was just more quiet and less likely to appear engaged during presentation moments.

Lydia came up with the idea to introduce concept mapping to the morning intro and afternoon wrap up. This is a potentially powerful teaching tool that we think will make the big picture of the SIFT curriculum more transparent to the SIFTers. We decided to place even more emphasis on the key words of collaboration, skills, and content by placing them as the three key components of the SIFT concept map. And, we decided to reinforce use of the concept mapping tool by using it in additional activities, like during the introduction to outdoor safety (Tim) and introduction to field biology (James) on Day 1. It will be interesting to see how this process is received by the second group of SIFTers and if we see a corresponding difference in the climate survey responses during Session 2.

Feedback from the first group of SIFTers indicated that they would really enjoy more time learning and mastering the use of the GPS units. So, we rebuilt sections of the Day 1 activities to incorporate GPS training for the whole group and added use of the GPS units into all field activities for the whole week. It is an increasingly critical skill for field scientists to possess, so it makes perfect sense for the SIFTers to have as much exposure to it as possible. And the GPS points are also something that we can build into the content of the SIFT and TERF wiki...

A major logistical change between the SIFT sessions is the change in bus transportation providers. There was not a single bus run during SIFT Session 1 that did not result in a late program start or a late return trip. It was very frustrating to have the one thing out of our direct control have so many problems. We have fired First Student and contracted with Durham for SIFT Session 2. We may investigate renting two 15-passenger vans for summer 2009.

Next post will report on the second group of SIFTers and how they handled Day 1...