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.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Assessment between the June and July TERF sessions

As we did for the first summer of SIFT programming, we scheduled a week in between the sessions of TERF for formative assessment. We definitely wanted to allow time to assess how the first session went and what changes need to be put in place for the next session. Last night the research team leaders, TERF staff, SIFT program director, and evaluator all met to debrief the first session and talk about moving forward into July.

Our external evaluator Dr. Kathi Beyer captured pages and pages of qualitative data from her interviews and observations, and quantitative data was provided through the results of climate surveys. We had the TERF teens complete a climate survey on each Friday afternoon of the four week internship. We also asked the research team leaders and field mentors to complete climate surveys at the ends of Week 1 and Week 4. All of this information provided us with assessment of both participant and mentor perspective, and ultimately with a more objective view of the first TERF session.

The good news is that the model we have implemented appears to be working!

There was some surprise at the high level of physical work and occasional monotony of tasks, but we have excited and engaged teens learning new skills and new content within an authentic research environment. And along the way they are gaining respect for the persistence and dedication required of field research.

Overall, the research team leaders appear to be pleased with the integration of the teens into their research projects. However, there were some bumps along the way, and there appears to be a difference in the experiences of large teams versus small teams. One-on-one tiny teams have a vastly different vibe compared to large teams with more than one TERF teen assigned. Consequently we have decided to form a "Plant Consortium" to make a larger team of three smaller research groups.

Other than the loose union of plant-related projects, there did not appear to be major change needed in the TERF session design. The communication lines and transportation logistics are all functioning well. There will be some additional topics to be covered during the on-boarding of the next set of teens. All research teams will make sure to present detailed project overviews to their assigned teens as a first thing, and the TERF staff will place additional emphasis on field safety, work level expectations, and hierarchy.

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