If you’ve been following our Twitter feed this past week, you may have noticed some new faces that have popped up on our team (if you haven’t, there’s a handy Storify at the end of this post to catch you up!) We’ve been joined by 12 outstanding Kenan Fellows at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. They are embedded teacher-scientists, our first cohort of Students Discover Fellows, learning and doing science alongside our very enthusiastic team of researchers. Last week, the Fellows hit the ground running, on the trails of the Prairie Ridge Ecostation and behind the glass lab walls of the Nature Research Center. And that’s just the Who, What, When, and Where. The real interest falls on the Why.
Folks,For a while we have been talking about rethinking science, about imagining a scenario–a place, a time, a university, a museum–in which education, outreach and science come together into a single vision, an endeavor in which the public, teachers and scientists work together to, simultaneously discover new, outrageous, unfathomable truths.…And maybe there should be doubts. After all, the way we teach science today has been, in tangible ways, the same way we have taught science since the dark ages. In the year 1400, anatomists stood over bodies while the book of truths was read aloud and students searched for the known realities. The same happens in every introductory biology lab. Add to this that the way we do science, our default approach, pushes us increasingly toward specialization in our fields, specialization that distances us from all but our closest peers.…One would be forgiven for thinking that a new science and a new education are impossible. I know some of my colleagues do. Sometimes I do too. Then came this week. This week 12 teachers from around the state of North Carolina arrived at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to work with postdoctoral researchers to develop lesson plans for their classrooms around citizen science projects. The goal is that the teachers will make, in collaboration with the postdocs and other scientists, and each other, lesson plans that they take back to their classrooms, lesson plans that also spread around the world. The goal is that the teachers and their scientist-collaborators will make something together that neither could make on their own. The goal is that, ultimately, along with thousands of other teachers and even more students, we will see into the darkness of our collective ignorance further than any of us on our own could see. But who am I kidding. Could this really work?…Then it started to happen. Yesterday, on the State of Things, I listened to a teacher, Amy Lawson, voice the vision, our vision, the vision we have fallen in love with, the vision we think could change things, in her own words, to anyone who, on the other end of the radio, might listen. She voiced it after just a few days of having been a part of the group. Then today, at a lunch among teachers, I heard teachers talking about collaborating. I heard teachers talking about making discoveries and bringing back a new way of teaching to their students. Later, I heard scientists talking earnestly about learning from teachers, about what students might discover. And I have seen something too over these days. I have seen people who don’t fully like each other working together toward common goals. I have seen education experts at the museum and scientists working together as though holding up the side of the same shed in the rain. I’ve watched social scientists, experts in the study of scaling, get so excited about the science that they say, at the end of the day, “Is it supposed to be this fun?” I’ve watched exhibits staff who I struggled to convince to make things in line with our vision, make them now, of their own volition, of their own belief in the greatness of what we are after. I have fielded calls from other teachers and educators and scientists who want to work with us, at first dozens of calls and now more. I have seen a circus of particulars and people begin to come together to start to push toward something that no one could lead from above, something that could not be administered. I have seen the first flame of a fire that hardly seemed possible.…Now, before I get carried away, this is just beginning. Many things can fail in many ways. But as the fire gathers another reality is beginning to seep in, that even if some things do fall apart, someone forgets to order lunch, a postdoc decides to pursue an alternate career in emotional dance, a new director of this or that takes charge, that a revolution is brewing in the museum, the university and the classroom, a revolution in the shadow of dinosaurs and plastic trees. The multitudes are dreaming of something great, with the big eyes of ambition. The multitudes are giving me chills.…This is what I took away today from my lunch with the teachers, teachers ready to light fires in generations of kids, fires of knowledge about the subjects most vital to our future-evolution, ecology, and climate to name a few. I took away an inspiration that will keep me awake tonight, an inspiration we can only hope will keep others awake for generations, brooding over what might just be possible.…-Rob
And in the details is the How, which is always a work in progress (check out the Storify below to see some details of the “How”)…
Be sure to check out our Flickr group to see some more behind the scenes of Students Discover. For even more information about Students Discover and our education initiatives visit education.yourwildlife.org.