Outreach Sessions at EB2016

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Science cafes. Social media campaigns. K-12 classroom programs. There is a whole world of outreach going on out there. The challenge for anyone looking to participate in an outreach event or even start their own outreach program is sorting through this morass to find the opportunity that is right for them. Luckily, the ASBMB Public Outreach Committee has organized a series of events during EB2016 that will showcase and highlight several of these programs that will give you the chance to figure out which type of outreach activity is right for you, and how to go about getting involved.

We’ll start with “Building Your Outreach Program from A To Z” on the morning of Saturday April 2. During this session, we will hear from recipients of the ASBMB HOPES seed grant program, as well as individuals from other community outreach programs, who will talk about how they organize their activities and what scientists can do to get involved. These presentations will give you the opportunity to ask the questions about outreach that you’ve never gotten answered, and to form some real collaborations with others in the audience who are (or have been) in your shoes.

One of the biggest challenges with outreach is how to go from a good idea to a functional, sustainable program. That requires funding. One source is the National Science Foundation (NSF), which requires any proposal to the agency to include a section describing the broader impacts of the proposed scientific endeavor. Traditionally, the Broader Impacts requirement has been a challenge to navigate, so to help you out we have lined up a panel of experts who have extensive experience with the NSF funding process. The panel includes individuals who have been successful in obtaining NSF grants, former NSF program officers, and a university official whose job it is to help researchers prepare their grant applications. This lively discussion will help walk you through the process from start to finish, and provide insight on how best to go about constructing your proposal.

Poster session

If a formal session is too intimidating, or if your travel plans mean you won’t arrive at the meeting until later, no worries. Grab a drink and come hang out during our outreach poster session during the ASBMB Opening Reception on Saturday night from 7 – 9 PM. This informal event will be a great chance to casually interact with members of the ASBMB community who are currently involved in outreach. We have lined up nearly 20 different presenters from around the country who have posters that describe their individual programs, giving you a chance to get your questions answered in a one-on-one setting. Come see the variety of programming that the outreach community has to offer!

These outreach sessions are a great way to kick off your meeting in the right way. See you there!

K-12 STEM Outreach: A New HOPE(S)

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Developing instructional STEM curricula for deaf students. Using sports to teach STEM concepts to high schoolers. Organizing a C.S.I.-themed research project for 5th graders. The eclectic range of projects being undertaken by this year’s batch of awardees from the ASBMB Hands-on Opportunities to Promote Engagement with Science (HOPES) seed grant program showcases the myriad creative approaches to improve STEM education for K-12 students across the country. In 2015, the seed grant program received 27 applications, of which a total of nine were ultimately funded. To read more about this year’s HOPES recipients, click here.

Now in its fifth year, the goal of the HOPES program, which offers grants of up to $2000 for STEM partnerships between academic researchers and K-12 teachers, is to foster the development of sustained, mutually beneficial outreach partnerships that will enable educators and community leaders to leverage the resources and expertise of scientists from local colleges, universities, and industry as a means for engaging students and members of the public in active, stimulating, and informative STEM experiential learning activities, regardless of their background or level of experience.

This year saw the introduction of two new twists to the HOPES program. Awardees are now able to apply for a second year of funding from ASBMB, in order to help ensure the sustainability of their project. One of the main drawbacks pointed out by previous recipients was that, while the funds provided by HOPES were great for setting up a pilot project, ensuring that this project continued on in subsequent years was difficult without guaranteed funding support. Tacking on a second year to the award will help alleviate this issue by providing a short yet significant level of sustainability, thus allowing for buy-in from other potential stakeholders such as local companies and private foundations, or even school systems.

A second twist was holding the annual HOPES workshop outside of the confines of its traditional home within the Experimental Biology (EB) meeting, in order to increase the geographic diversity of HOPES participants beyond San Diego and Boston, which have between them hosted the past four EB meetings. This year, HOPES PI Regina Stevens-Truss led the interactive workshop, in which attendees hear from previous HOPES grant recipients and get a chance to network with potential partners, during the ASBMB Transforming Undergraduate Education in Molecular Life Sciences special symposium, held at Missouri Western University in St. Joseph, MO.

Moving forward, the HOPES committee (Dr. Stevens-Truss, Dr. Peter Kennelly [Virginia Tech] and Dr. Ray Sweet [Janssen Pharmaceuticals, retired]) aims to expand the reach of the HOPES program by presenting the workshop in a diverse set of geographic locations and venues, including  meetings such as those for the National Science Teachers Association and National Association of Biology Teachers. The committee is also collaborating with a professional evaluator to assess the efficacy of the programs supported by the seeds grants, as well as the HOPES program overall. Moreover, the committee is constructing a public interactive network of former recipients, current awardees and potential applicants that will provide a platform for sharing of information, ideas, resources and opportunities. Currently included on this website are project descriptions and activity manuals that can be used by anyone to help enhance the STEM experience for their students.

As a model for improving the K-12 STEM educational experience, five years of the HOPES program has proven an unqualified success. The next five years promise even more.

Click here to see data from the past five years of the HOPES program

 

SciTrek- Helping students learn “How Science Works”

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Mealworms are ~1 inch long larva with a slightly hardened exterior to help them burrow underneath rocks, logs, or in stored grains, but how do mealworms find food and a comfortable environment? To find the answer, 3rd graders at numerous elementary schools in the Santa Barbara, California area worked with staff and volunteers from the UCSB SciTrek program, a K-12 science outreach venture created by Dr. Norbert Reich to improve science education in 2nd-8th grade classrooms by bringing the resources, people, and modules in order to help teachers.

SciTrek_1 The members of SciTrek have created modules that combine a fun activity and test subject (in this case worms!) with learning how to be a scientist.  Each module balances the need for efficient classroom management and meeting specific Next Generation Science Standards with the freedom for students to reason and think critically about each aspect of doing science.

For the mealworm module, SciTrek members worked with a number of local area teachers to develop an interactive, 6 lesson module to test what factors affect the direction a mealworm travels, in order to explore the role of food, moisture, light, and surface texture on mealworm habitat and health.

After learning about and making observations on the mealworms, students were guided through developing testable hypotheses with controllable variables. Many hypothSciTrek_2eses were different from each other, with no “plug and chug” protocol stifling scientific inquiry. For example, “If there are more than 6 mealworms in one pill container slot at time point 0, then the mealworms will travel away from each other until there are 3 mealworms per container slot at time point 5 minutes.” Students formulated an experimental plan and ran the experiment, making sure they conducted each trial multiple times so that they could calculate elementary statistics and gauge confidence in their results. Finally, students analyzed their data and presented their findings at a classroom poster session. Students were encouraged to make statements on what makes a mealworm travel based upon their data, with the understanding that there wasn’t necessarily one correct answer.

This type of module is typical of the SciTrek approach. Besides providing equipment and materials, SciTrek’s roll during the actual module is to create an environment that encourages students to think like scientists, meaning students learn to make observations and then try to objectively figure out why those observations are true and what they mean. This process requires patience, and breaking bad habits that limit exploration by discouraging experiments that don’t always work or by following experimental plans instead of creating them.

SciTrek offers a comprehensive online resource containing numerous modules (including mealworms), along with teacher instructions and student lab notebooks for nonlocal educators teaching 2nd-8th graders. To learn more about SciTrek, read our interview with Dr. Reich to learn about aspects of SciTrek’s creation, maintenance, and future plans, or visit SciTrek’s website.