Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from?
That’s never a short answer for me. I was born in South America and educated in the States. We moved around quite a bit. Now that I am raising two American children, I am discovering odd gaps in my cultural education that I never realized were there. It does make for some occasionally hilarious family moments. I came to the Orlando, FL area right out of college and I’ve been living and working here ever since. It’s the longest amount of time I’ve stayed anywhere, so I guess this is where I am from. At least, until the next time we move.
What is your background? Any scientific education?
My focus on science began fairly early. I went to the MAST Academy for high school (a maritime science magnet school), where I had a concentration in Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. I went on to major in Biological Sciences at Smith College. After teaching for about 10 years, I decided to pursue a Master’s in Science Education. That experience was very eye-opening for me, in terms of how other educators teach and perceive science. It was sobering.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
Thirteen years into teaching, I am only now beginning to feel like an expert in my field. I used to think of myself as a “science teacher” but now I realize that I’m actually a “high school teacher.” The fact that I teach science is almost incidental to how important it is to understand the developmental challenges of the adolescent age group. Doing my Master’s program after teaching for a long time helped to crystalize some thoughts that I have had on changes that need to happen in teacher-training and curriculum development. The PhD bug has bitten me hard, but I am waiting a few months to see if the urge passes.
At my own school, I have been given the opportunity to develop a program for high school students to engage in authentic research in sciences. I am open to anything from local science competitions to lab-based research internships to national science fairs. It is pretty open ended, so the challenge for me has been to define the scope of the project so that it suits the needs of the students here.
It is easy to over-reach, and I’d rather start small and build it up over time. I’m finding that I have to constantly curb my enthusiasm. I am also excited to be working with Stacy Baker on her ScienceOnlineTeen event next year. My focus for her unconference will be to address needs of teachers who are looking to use blogging as a learning tool, so that they can better support their students.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
Apart from the full time work and full time parenting, I’ve been thinking a lot about curriculum development. Anti-science legislation makes it clear that science curriculum needs to be developed by teachers. Specifically, by experienced teachers with science training. I can’t imagine ever leaving the classroom, but I think if I did it would be to work with science education policy writing and curriculum development. There is so much to learn in classroom teaching. There will never be a time when I’ll feel I’ve mastered everything there is to learn. That’s the fun of teaching. Even if I give the same course for 50 years, each cohort has its own challenges and personality. No two years are ever the same.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
The interactivity of the Web is incredibly appealing. The internet has dramatically changed access to current research, scientists, and science writing. The combination of journal publications, professional and personal blogs, and science journalism means that readers (students, in my case) can engage the research on multiple levels and in a combination of ways. The immediacy with which scientific findings can be reported, dissected, commented on, and defended is wholly attributable to the internet.
I get frustrated when I see educators trying to make the Web conform to traditional classroom styles of communication. Didactic, front-loaded teaching styles don’t mesh well with effective internet communication. The internet is dynamic. That’s what makes it valuable. In order for teachers to be able to use Web 2.0 tools effectively, they’re going to need to loosen the reins quite a bit. As technology becomes more accessible, more integrated into our daily lives, I am interested to see how educational practices will change. The generational change of teachers will be very important too. We’re in a transition right now, where some teachers consider themselves digital natives and others don’t.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, Google Plus and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
I am connected absolutely everywhere, and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Blogging (as a writer) is new to me, but I use Twitter for microblogging, bookmarking, compiling to-be-read lists… you name it. I don’t deny that some people take to connectivity better than others, but all of our students need to become proficient with it. Schools can’t wait until they have to accept digital communication to get along. They have to seek it out and innovate. In many cases, our students know better than we do, and we should let them show us what works.
When and how did you first discover science blogs?
I stumbled on to the Deep Sea News crew early on in 2011. Through them, I became aware of the main ScienceOnline event and my network just branched out from there. I mainly use Twitter to keep up with blog posts from SciO12 attendees. I find that I don’t read specific blogs so much as I sift through my twitter feed and click on titles that interest me.
Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
I’ll confess that I arrived at #Scio12 feeling like a bit of an impostor. I was there on an information-gathering mission, hoping to bring back ideas that I could pitch to my administration for how we might integrate the Web into classrooms and curriculum. As I have written elsewhere, what I found at #Scio12 was nothing short of inspirational. I met people who, despite busy schedules and demanding work, find time to blog and engage online.
In my own work, I am always conscious of the fact that I have so much to learn. I love asking questions and watching other teachers work. I left with a “can-do” attitude and a lot of confidence in my own abilities to become a teacher for other teachers. It isn’t such a large leap from how I already engage information online to doing my own writing and curating in a formal way. This is what I most want to communicate to my fellow teachers.
Blogging for learning isn’t really an “add-on” to other things. It is an extension of a skill that young people are developing naturally as they interact on the Web. I also realised that people at every level of education, from grade school to post-professional, are encountering the same kinds of difficulties in how young people communicate. I think blogs can be exploited to bridge the gap between informal and formal science writing.