A Story of Collaboration: A Scientist and a Teacher Share their Experiences

—by Catherine Cramer, Staff Writer

At COSEE-NE’s Telling Your Story pilot workshop, held in January 2004 at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), twenty scientists heard first-hand how to work with a classroom teacher to plan, conduct, and follow-up on classroom visits; how to prepare materials, how to engage with students, and how to focus a presentation.

Dr. Jian Lin, a geophysicist in the Department of Geology & Geophysics at WHOI, participated in the workshop, and Nicki Bibbo, a fourth grade teacher, was one of the workshop facilitators. In June, 2004, Jian visited Nicki’s classroom. Evaluator Carol Baldassari asked them about their experiences. Following is their story:

Feedback from Jian:

“I visited Nicki Bibbo's School, Witchcraft Heights Elementary School, in Salem, Massachusetts on Monday, June 7th. During the visit I had three sessions (each 40 to 50 minutes, with 20 to 30 students) with Nicki's 4th grade students.

Our discussion topic was earthquakes on land under the oceans. I used a Power Point slide show, including movie animations, throughout the discussion. I also brought with me an emergency kit package that is recommended for residents of California to keep in preparation for earthquakes.

Overall the visit went well. I love those kids and felt connected to them!

Most importantly, I contacted Nicki many times by e-mail to find out about her kids. That was clearly a good idea suggested at the workshop.

I had done some homework beforehand. For example, I found out the maximum magnitude of historical earthquakes in Massachusetts, which I am sure kids in Massachusetts schools would want to know.

I also talked to my two boys (the younger one is 9 year old) about the subject beforehand, so that I know what subjects would excite them, and what may not get their attention. And I followed the workshop's recommendation to ask for a follow up evaluation of my visit, so that I will know what worked and what can be improved for future visits.

I also received detailed notes from the kids in the school, which are also very illustrative. For example, it was the first time that I described small quakes as small "popcorns" in my movie of the earthquakes in the ocean. Based on the words and drawings in the "Thank You" notes from the kids, I see that this simple analogy works very well.

Overall my feeling is that the COSEE-NE Telling Your Story workshop was very useful. It was through the WHOI workshop that I was hooked up to Nicki. I hope that as researchers working on the forefront of Earth sciences we can do more for our school kids and teachers!”

Feedback from Nicki:

Participating in Telling Your Story was very invigorating. I was really taken aback by how interested the scientists were in the teacher's perspective. They had a lot of questions directed at me. Having Jian visit my classroom was very exciting. He really listened to the suggestions we made during the workshop. I couldn't believe that he was willing to travel so far to visit my classroom. His presentation enthralled me and my students. He presented his information and expertise in a way that we all could understand and relate to. That was made most evident by the questions that the students asked. When students ask questions, it is a true indicator that they have been attentive and are processing the information.

It is very important that students get the opportunity to converse and interact with people in the field of science. The interaction of the teacher and the scientist ahead of time to organize and plan the presentation so that it addresses the interests and curriculum of the students is very important. Jian was very receptive to both of those and came with extremely interesting information [about] his work. He was very personable and responded very openly and honestly with the students.

Jian's visit was such a wonderful follow-up of the workshop. It showed me that what we had presented made sense and was very effective. I would like to hope that I will have more experiences like this. This model should be broadcast and implemented in many arenas.”

Just as Nicki suggests, Telling Your Story is indeed being replicated. It was offered again at WHOI on September 14th. Based on feedback from the first workshop, the format for the second was modified to provide an even better experience for participants. ``Here at WHOI we are trying to engage scientists, to present them with opportunities without arm-twisting,’’ says WHOI scientist Debbie Smith. Six participating researchers have been invited to the Boston Harbor Conference this fall. At least one will present her research for 30 minutes, and will then get feedback regarding best ways to present to a student audience.

COSEE-NE’s current strategy is to replicate the program after the second workshop. ``At the conclusion of the second workshop we want to be able to write a Request For Proposals (RFP) and perhaps produce a small handbook for researchers,’’ says Debbie Smith. Telling Your Story is a test for the node concept: how do you replicate projects in other areas? What keeps it going?’’ Carolyn Levi, Director of COSEE-NE at the New England Aquarium, drafted an RFP which will be revised based on evaluation of the program on September 14th. ``The first workshop led to the second,’’ says Levi. ``Now we want to enable others to take what we’ve learned and run with it.’’ The plan is for three or more workshops to run between November 2004 and February 2005.