Practical Tips

Failure

I’m an old queen. Whatever you’re thinking that’s probably not it. In 2013 I competed in the annual Eugene SLUG Queen Competitionand won. I am Old Queen Professor Doctor Mildred Slugwak Dresselhaus[1], named in honor of the late great Queen of Carbon Nanonscience, Millie Dresselhaus[2]. It wasn’t my first time competing for the crown, you see, I tried in 2012 and I failed. We put up a valiant fight, bribing the old queens with the gift of SCIENCE! for the masses [3]. It was a close thing, but I was edged out by Queen Sadie Slimey Stitches and her Naughty Knitters. 

It’s not my defeat in 2012 that makes me cringe though. It’s what came after winning. SLUG Queens started out as a sort of kitschy joke, but sometime in the early aughts the queens upped the ante and started advocating for causes. It is now traditional for the Raining Queen [4] to hold a gala fundraiser for her chosen cause. I was the first (and so far only) Science Slug Queen and I was raising awareness and money for the SPICE program. For months I worked on beautiful posters, collecting donations, getting out word of mouth on social media, and planning a night full of fun science activities. The gala was lovely . . . and about 25 people came for a space designed to hold 200. Ouch! The only thing that save the event from taking a loss was the heroic MC work of Old Queen Bananita who cajoled and amused the few folks on hand to buy enough stuff from our auction to get us (barely) into the black.

I made lots of mistakes along the way to my very public face-plant. Just thinking about it makes my eyes go squinchy. I keep the lovely poster made by my friend and co-conspirator Pinky (aka Jen Weber) in my office as a reminder. Failure is never far away.

I am a motivational researcher. Understanding the impacts of failure is key to understanding all sorts of aspects of motivation (identity and self-efficacy being two big ones). I spend a lot of time proclaiming the value of failure in learning, but I’m gonna be straight with you, failing sucks. It’s no fun to take a risk and fall flat on your face. No one likes to feel incompetent or foolish, especially in front of witnesses. The desire to avoid this kind of embarrassment can lead to some pretty impressive avoidance strategies. Adolescents and youth in particular are keenly tuned in to the dangers of social embarrassment. Many pre-fossils like myself have any number of embarrassing stories we can trot out for amusement now that we are at a remove (and I do think being able to laugh at your own mistakes is a sign of maturity), but I bet most of us also have a few we do not care to share, even decades later (I know I do).

Science, by its very nature, is a process of failure. Failure is not merely an option in scientific inquiry, it’s a prerequisite to even the most humble success. Consider the scientific method:

Ask a question

(admit you don’t know something)

Investigate

(learn more, because you don’t know enough)

Hypothesize

(take a risk by making a guess)

Design

(try to figure out how to answer your question)

Test

(collect some data and hope it makes sense)

Analyze

(can you figure out what you did actually means?)

Share

(tell the world all the ways in which you were wrong, and if you are very lucky the one or few things you got kind of right)

Scientists become old friends with failure. More like frenemies who don not actually like each other and engage in a lot of one-upmanship. One of the ways scientist do this is by contextualizing failure and making room for it in the process. Scientists know they aren’t going to get everything right the first time, they build a learning curve into their experiments, reach out to experts for advice, and collaborate with people who have experience. They document their failures and try again, hopefully having learned something that will help with future attempts. 

The scientific community is actually experiencing a problem right now. There’s a heavy bias in the publishing of data only to report positive results. Negative results (aka failures) rarely make it into the literature which is resulting in duplication of effort and an incomplete picture of what is actually known. After all, if you’re trying an experiment, wouldn’t you like to know if someone else did it before and found it doesn’t work? Often, when learning new things there is value in repeating something that’s been done before, even if it doesn’t work. Just as often it’s just a big waste of your time. Why do that? But our fear of failure and collective bias toward success is creating a problem. 

Failure becomes particularly problematic for out-group members. If you read my Nerding While Female post, then you have heard at least a little of how women’s membership in male dominated identity groups such as sports fan, cultural geek, and science are often subject to heavy gatekeeping and policing. Any time an individual is not perceived as a natural member of a group this extra barrier to membership identity can be found. For in group members, failure is just a small set back. For outgroup members failure is yet another symbol of not belonging. Couple this with the fixed mindset that often manifests in out-group members seeking entry and stereotype threat (illustrated beautifully in this comic) and failure becomes a serious threat to integrating a science identity for anyone who does not fit the scientist stereotype.

There is hope though. There are ways to make failure into an ally.

First and foremost educators and mentors can help students contextualize failure. Often when students are first introduced to the scientific method they think the goal is the come up with the correct hypothesis and prove it. This can make science projects a crushing experience when they should be an exciting process of discovery. When teaching science fair projects through SPICE, we always emphasize that a hypothesis is just your best guess and that the point of the process is to learn something new. There is no “right” answer. Doing it right means being thoughtful, observant, and analytic. The most valuable thing any scientist can do is find and proudly share her mistakes and incorrect assumptions. Mature scientists spend far more time on the shortcomings of their work than on the successes [5]. Understanding what went wrong is so much more valuable than getting everything perfectly right the first time. 

Failure is only true failure if you didn’t learn anything. 

In SPICE we tell our girls that failure, is not only an option, but a prerequisite for any scientific endeavor. Perseverance, analysis, and a good sense of humor when it comes to your own mistakes are the most important skills for being a scientist. 

Use failure as a sharing opportunity. Whenever we carry out a complex of difficult experiment in SPICE I ask for volunteers who want to share their failures and what they learned from them. Hearing that others have flopped is a powerful learning experience. My favorite times are when students learn from the mistakes of others. Once at an engineering Saturday workshop a team shared how explained how they had tried something a little different with their structure that had not worked and another girl piped in, “I saw what they did and I thought it was really cool, but it wasn’t working. So I tried it with a different setup and it worked great. I would never have figured it out if I hadn’t seen their idea.” 

When you provide a space for sharing failure it helps others learn from your mistakes and creates a shared sense of what it means to be a learner who fails. Students who started out with hanging heads or frustrated glares are soon laughing at their peers stories and sharing their own face plants.

“I can tell you one, thing,” said one of the campers I interviewed. “I don’t know how to get that experiment to work, but I can tell you 5 ways it won’t!” And that is a beautiful thing.

***

[1] NOT former, darling. Once a Queen, ALWAYS a Queen. We’re all Old Queens here.

[2] Yes, I asked her permission before using the name and she was “tickled” by the idea.

[3] Bribery is traditional and I like to think I elevated it to a new level. We set up tables in the square and did free science activities will all the kids and families who attended.

[4] Nope, not a typo. Slugs love rain and it the Pacific Northwest after all.

[5] Though sometimes we can go overboard on the qualifications.

Growing the Gap

There’s plenty of evidence that k-5 children (boys and girls, white and minority) have a pretty strong interest in science and are confident in their science abilities. We also know that STEM careers tend to be dominated by white men. So what is happening in the tween to adult years that results in the gender STEM gap? Well, a lot. 

Ignoring the simplistic, and thoroughly debunked answer that girls just don’t like science, there isn’t just one answer to this question. There are many answers that when stacked together paint a rich portrait. While not all explanations apply to all girls, the layers and layers of small barriers and messages form what J Clark Blickenstaff calls the gender filter

There are so many layers to this filter that I cannot possibly cover them in one blog post (or many, many blog posts). I’m an identity researcher, so I’m going to focus on explanations around identity. Also, because I think that understanding these elements is the key to correcting the gender gap in STEM.

Even though young children express enthusiasm for science and confidence in their science abilities, gendered inculturation into science and math is already at play as early as second grade in the form of implicit bias and gendered associations [1]. Very young children have already absorbed stereotypes about who is more suited to careers in math (and science) and who is “better” at math and science. These early perceptions of suitability play a pivotal role in later decisions.

As I’ve mentioned before, middle school is a very important time for identity development. Kids begin trying out different identities, processing feedback about their identity performances, and making important choices about who they are, and perhaps more importantly, who they are not or cannot be. This is also a crucial time for establishing gender identity, testing out sexuality, and finding social niches. I think most people who’ve been through middle school can remember this time pretty vividly. The pressure to find a place of belonging and avoid social shaming is powerful. When you add to the mix gendered notions of science as being the native realm of (white, cis, hetero, upper middle class) boys - and unflattering stereotypes of scientists as asocial, obsessive, geniuses - a female science identity becomes quite fraught. For most girls, trying on a science identity is a risky proposition that could undermine a more socially desirable identity as feminine and sociable. 

11-Gap sm.png

In their hugely influential studies of tween and teen youth, science identity ninjas Archer and Dewitt [2] have described the very circumscribed path toward a female science identity. Basically, girls have two choices in successfully integrating a science identity, neither of which is reasonably attainable by most girls. The first example is the well-rounded, socially adept girl. This is the girl who can do it all, sports, academics, social-status. You know this girl. She’s the one you desperately wanted to hate in high school, but you couldn’t, because she was just so nice and awesome, and her hair was super shiny and always looked great - but like she didn’t even try, she just rolled out of bed fabulous without any makeup and could spike a volley ball like some sort of Grecian goddess. She could be a cheerleader and captain of the brain bowl team. She built houses for poor people in Honduras, where she spoke flawless Spanish. Dammit Alicia O’Brien [3], you haunt me.

So yeah, that’s not an option for any but the .01% of Alicia O’Briens in the world. The other option Archer and Dewitt observed where what is known in the UK as “blue-stocking” scientists. These are girls who strongly identify with academic pursuits and have largely desexualized themselves. They typically have parents who take a strong hand in the daughters education and discourage the normal socializing and gender goofing off of early adolescence. You know this girl to, she’s serious, hard-working,  intellectually intimidating, but not socially threatening. She’s above the game. This identity is also not terribly accessible (or desirable) for many girls. 

Imagine, you are a middle school aged girl. You’ve already absorbed the implicit bias that science and math are the natural realm of boys. You probably think (though you may not admit it) that being good at math and science requires an innate talent (see fixed mindsets). Even if you are pretty good at math and science your performance in those areas doesn’t impact your interest in them as much as it would for boys, because most careers in math and science are not really “thinkable” for a girl. So, when you’re choosing extracurricular activities, you’re less likely to choose math and science options that conflict with your feminine (or non-binary) gender identity. Even if you’re an academically high performing student, you view math and science instrumentally, as hurdles to climb to get where you want, rather than interesting journeys to take just for the wonder. Over time these small biases and little choices feed into growing identity gaps and a future in science seems less and less like “you” as other things (art, sports, social ties) become more integrated into your sense of self.

In this way, the narrative around choices about science and identity get muddled and feel less like a narrative of oppression and exclusion and more like a natural arc. These choices away from science and toward something else were simply the journey to being who you always were. Sure, you liked science as a kid and you enjoy a good podcast about developing a missions to Mars, but science is not a part of who you are

I like to tell a story about when my son was very little. Between the ages of 2-4 my son had a plan, and it was the best plan ever. When he grew up he would spend his days as a construction worker using massive equipment to tear down roads and buildings and then build other roads and buildings. By night he would be a janitor, cleaning up all the grossest messes of the world and vacuuming up all the spiders. In between he would sneak in princess time, art, and legos. He had all the accoutrement for these vocations. Big dump truck and excavator with real moving arms. Check. Janitor cart with feather duster, spray bottle, and working mini vacuum. Check. Art supplies and Legos. Check. Closet full of mermaid princess costumes. Check.

In the mind of a three year old, there are no limitations. You can literally be anything you want and you can be as many things as you want. Researchers, parents, and teachers, spend a lot of time and effort talking about adolescence, what it is, what it means, what’s happening. For me, the biggest discovery of adolescence - I mean, big flashing 50 foot tall sign type of discovery - is scarcity. This is the time when you realize, “Oh wait, I can’t be a cowboy, ballerina, astronaut, president. I’ve got to narrow this sh!t WAAAY down.” The world suddenly becomes very big and very small all at once. There’s an infinite array of choices, but you’ve got to pick and you’ve got to pick while walking a tight rope balancing 5 plates with a weasel crawling around in your hoodie. So just like hiring managers pouring through massive piles of resumes, you start looking for quick and easy disqualifiers [2]. There’s a typo on this resume. Trash. This person doesn’t have a degree. Trash. There are very few girls scientists. Trash. Science is for boys. Trash. I’d have to give up a lot to be a girl scientist. Trash.

So . . . is there nothing we can do? Is this just a viscous cycle of inescapable socialization? Not at all! There are some really great rays of hope. After all, lots of girls (not half, but still a good chunk) do choose science and there things we can do to help more girls view science as “thinkable.”

Leaping the Gender STEM Chasm  Image Credit: P. Kim

Leaping the Gender STEM Chasm

Image Credit: P. Kim

Bucking the Trend

Among girls and women who identity with scientists, two common themes emerge in their narratives of how they came to love science: mentors and peers. 

Opening Up the World of Science

Every girl I have ever spoken to who identifies with science talks about a teacher [3]. They talk about teachers who brought so much enthusiasm and passion to science that their love for the subject was infectious. They talk about projects and activities that encourage creativity and centered on investigation. They describe instruction that enables students to see themselves as agentic beings in the world of science.

“He made science feel so fun it didn't really feel like the science that we

used to do.”

“Well, she's just fun! I mean, she won't let you off if you don't finish your homework, [but] she just finds a way to make everything interesting.”

In their excellent 2014 paper, Carlone, Scott & Lowder juxtapose two different classrooms. In the classroom of 4th grade teacher Ms. Wolfe the idea of what makes someone good at science is broadened to include creativity, supporting the learning of peers, and asking interesting questions. In Ms. Wolfe’s classroom the “celebrated figure” of the scientist was constructed much more inclusively than the fuzzy haired old white dude of stereotypes. Children had many venues to develop their own style and approach to building a science identity. None of which were centered on getting the “right answer.” A diverse array of children in Ms. Wolfe’s class identified as being good scientists. Each had his/her own way of being a good scientist that was personal and included their own intellectual and social strengths. Enthusiasm for the subject was high among her students.

Two years later, the same students were in the classroom of Mr. Campbell which was structured around the traditional ideas of completing worksheets and getting right answers. Knowledge in this classroom was passed from the teacher to the students and questions were for clarification, not creativity or curiosity. Gendered ideas about science were prevalent in the classroom. It was clear that Mr. Campbell, while thought of as a nice and “fun” teacher, was rooted in traditional ideas of what it takes to be a good scientist (compliant, perfect, organized). There was a notable dip in enthusiasm for science in Mr. Campbells class and a much narrower field of students who identified (and were identified by peers) as scientists.

How teachers approach the idea of the scientists and the role of students in their science education can make a difference in students identity development. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it long after everyone just rolls their eyes and says, “I know, mom/Dr. Todd, I know!” Welcoming all children into the world of science and supporting the adoption of science identities is as, if not more important, than the content we teach them. 

Peers: Push and Pull

Another theme I’ve observed in the literature and from my own research is the presence of science-engaged female peers. Girls who unabashedly enjoy science and pursue it with vigor have peers and friends who share their interest. Having a group of friends to “nerd out” with and do experiments with is a way to overcome the gender STEM thinkability gap. The girls with the most positive outlooks about their future as scientists, in my research, are the ones who talk about doing science experiments at home with friends. They talk about taking apart electronics picked up at thrift stores, weekends spent wrecking the kitchen doing chemical reactions, and doing school science projects together.

Outside-of-school time with peers also appears as a theme in developing science identities. Tan and colleagues (2013) document an instance of one girls journey from a disengaged science student, to a fully-fledged science identity through an after school environmental science club. Kay, found a voice, and the respect of peers through the informal science club where she used her social skills and drive to become a science leader.

 Peers can just as easily pull girls away from science. Tan and colleagues also found that jumping into more difficult science classes had social costs for minority girls who found themselves as one of the only non-white students in their classrooms and also due to scheduling conflicts, no longer shared classes or lunch time with their longtime friends. The pull to remain with fellow minority peers who understood their history and personality was strong for girls in this position. Many girls may feel a loss of connection with friends who do not share their interest in science, while boys will be much more likely to find relatable peers in the science milieu.

Concluding Thoughts

For girls who find passionate, inviting science teachers and peers who share their interest, science can be a wonderful playground of discovery and integrate into an enduring identity. Of course, finding those teachers and peers is the trick no, isn't it?

In my own research, however, I have found that just one teacher who welcomes girls into the world of science can make a huge difference, especially when girls can maintain contact with that teacher. Some do this by volunteering in their old classrooms and through clubs and special projects. 

Parents can also play a role in helping girls build science engaged peer groups. More than a few girls I’ve known have “tricked” their friends into enjoying science with the help of parents. Families who have the time and resources to invite friends along to science outings (nature hikes, museum visits) can help foster interest in their daughters peers. Some parents go above and beyond, providing girls with fun weekend science activities, often bringing in elements of creativity that appeal science and non-science oriented children. I’ve known parents to weave arts and crafts and baking into lessons on chemical reactions, reflected light, and botany. It can be a tall order, especially for parents who themselves feel intimidated by science, but even an occasional small activity in which girls are free to explore the scientific world, outside of school, among friends, can be a powerful bonding experience.

~~~~~

[1] Yes, Alicia is real. No that’s not her name. Yes, she really was just the nicest person ever.

[2] Yes, I like metaphors. It’s not technically mixing metaphors if just serially stack them on top of one another.

[3] In a sad corollary, I have also heard plenty of tales from girls about how a teacher has damaged her connection to science or a particular discipline.

~~~~~

Archer, L., et al. (2013). "'Not girly, not sexy, not glamorous': primary school girls' and parents' constructions of science aspirations." Pedagogy, Culture & Society 21(1): 171-194.

Blickenstaff, J. C. (2005). "Women and science careers: Leaky pipeline or gender filter?" Gender and Education 17(4): 369-386.

Carlone, H. B., et al. (2014). "Becoming (less) scientific: A longitudinal study of students’ identity work from elementary to middle school science." Journal of Research in Science Teaching 51(7): 836-869.

Cvencek, D., et al. (2011). "Math-gender stereotypes in elementary school children." Child Development 82(3): 766-779.

Todd, B. (2015). Little Scientists: Identity, Self-Efficacy, and Attitudes Toward Science in a Girls' Science Camp. Educational Methodology, Policy, and Leadership. Eugene, OR, University of Oregon. PhD: 313.

So You Want To Do Science Outreach. Why?

Many practicing scientists, parents, and educators turn their hand to outreach as some point. They offer lab tours, give public lectures, host school day out workshops, coach after school robotics teams, and mentor students working on science fair projects, just to name a few. 

Outreachers spend a their precious time, energy, and resources laser focused on the “what” of outreach, but few take a moment to think about the “why” of outreach. 

I doubt you’ll be surprised to learn that I’m going to argue that the “why” is the most important part of outreach. Everything else should stem from your personal why. Here are just a few reasons why you might want to engage in science outreach:

  •              To address inequities in STEM

  •             To help my child enjoy science learning

  •             To bolster my resume

  •             To try out science teaching

  •             To share my passion for science

 All of these are good reasons to try outreach [1]. Your particular reason should inform how you choose to engage with outreach. What you shouldn’t do is go off and reinvent the wheel creating a program from ether because you think it’s expected or might be a cool thing to do. Outreach is cool, like a puppy or a hamster, and like those small mammals it’s a commitment and if you don’t nourish it, it will die. Of course a dead outreach program isn’t as sad as a dead pet, but you get the idea.

 I’ve known many, many a scientists who have gotten involved in outreach because it seemed like a thing to do. They tried a few furlough day workshops for grade school kids, visited a classroom or two, or mentored a high school student for a summer. In most cases after a while, their careers and family life got busy and the outreach fell by the wayside. They enjoyed their time doing outreach, but aside from a few lines on the resume it never really amounted to anything.

Effective outreach has four elements: clear goals, appropriate theory, engaging activities, and evaluation. All of these things begin with WHY. Without why, you’re just goofing around. Hundreds if not thousands of outreach activities and programs have come and gone. Some were really good. Some are better off gone. We can’t really say much about almost any of them, though, because the people who ran them didn’t follow any process, document what they did, or evaluate their programs. They are, effectively, lost, never to be seen or learned from.

Image Credit: B. Todd

Image Credit: B. Todd

  It’s sad to me to think of those programs, like the cats in Cats, forgotten, abandoned, eating from garbage cans with other sad, lonely abandoned outreach programs. Singing epic ballads for no one to hear [4]

Let this be a lesson so we may save future outreach programs from the dustbins of education history! To that end, here is Brandy’s, definitely not patented, short guide to starting with outreach.

Why do you want to do outreach?

 Be honest! It’s going to be a lot easier to set reasonable goals and sustain (or see to completion) your outreach efforts if you have a clear idea of why you’re in it.

Look around to see if someone else is already doing something you could join in on.

Seriously, don’t reinvent the wheel. If you’re looking to try out informal teaching, if you want to share your passion for science, or if you want to pad your resume . . . I mean flesh out your experience. You can probably do that with an existing program. See what groups are doing science outreach around you. Find out what their goals and focus are. You may be able to slot into their programs and save yourself the hassle of handling administration and recruiting participants.

Set goals!

This applies to joining other groups or starting your own outreach program/event. What do you want to achieve? What is reasonable with the time and resources you have available?  How might you go about measuring success (more about that in a bit)? Remember, in science, if you can’t measure it, it didn’t happen [3].

Align your goals to an appropriate theory and/or practice!

 I can guarantee you, whatever it is you want to achieve, a lot of really smart people have already done work that can help you do better science outreach. Do you want to increase awareness of a particular career or discipline? Do a little searching on Google Scholar. What have people done before around career awareness? Where did they get the best bang for the buck? Lectures, mentoring, multimedia presentations, job shadowing? Do you want to increase participation in STEM by underrepresented groups? I’ll give you a hint. Developing new curriculum is probably not the best use of your time. Take a look at motivational theories. I’ll even say something blasphemous for an academic. Check out Wikipedia and Youtube while you’re hunting for theory that will be a good fit for you.

 Operationalize

Yeah, that’s a 10 dollar word my spell checker doesn’t like. This means, take what you’ve learned in your investigation and set out some concrete practices you will use to meet those goals. Maybe even draw out a logic model

Evaluate

Now that you have goals and practices, think about how you will evaluate what you’ve done. In my program we do a triangulated evaluation with self-reports from our participants, observations and fidelity rubrics completed by researchers, and measures of participant science affinity before and after camp. That’s a lot. You probably don’t need to go that far. 

Why should you evaluate? Well don’t you want to know if worked? Don’t you want to get better at what you’re doing? We’re all science nerds here. What’s a science nerd without data?

Do it again! But better. Or don’t!

 If you tried it and you liked it and you learned something, then you WIN! If you think you’d enjoy doing it again and that you can do it well, then GO FOR IT! If you hated it, then stop! Outreach should be fun for everyone. That means you to!

 That’s it, Brandy’s tried and true method for doing outreach that works without reinventing the wheel.

It sounds like a lot, and it is. So by all means, borrow from what other people have shown works. Join in with experienced outreachers and learn from their past mistakes. And if you have a really great idea that no one else has tried, go for that as well! Just make sure to do your seven steps and keep revisiting them. Over time your goals and practices may need to change. That’s a good thing! It means you’re learning and growing as an outreacher. 

Before I sign off I’ll give you an example of how this process can work for something simpler than a monster like the SPICE program.

The local chapter of Society of Physics Students wants to apply for a $500 grant from the national organization to do outreach so they get together to plan [5].

1)   Why do we as student physicists want to do outreach?

  • Get experience teaching

  • Share our love of physics

  • Inspire young kids to love physics as well

2)   Are there other groups doing outreach or events that we can join?

There are a number of other outreach groups on campus who’ve done similar outreach and there’s a science fair on campus each year that features fun science activity tables in addition to the science fair projects.

3)   What are our goals?

The group decides to focus mostly on attracting kids to physics, but will also do some evaluation of how the teaching aspect went for the group members.

They decide to adapt 4 activities (gravity, forces, diffraction, aerodynamics) from the American Physical Society curriculum for k-8 age kids. They will test simplified versions of these activities out at a table at the science fair and then host their own Saturday physics event a month later. The fair will give them a chance to test and tweak the activities and to make connections to help recruit participants to the Saturday event.

4) Aligning goals and identifying theory

The group asks a STEM outreach practitioner from another program to come and talk to them about how to inspire young children to enjoy science. They learn about some key motivational theories and practices from the guest speaker.

5) Operationalize

They take what they’ve learned from the curriculum and consulting with other groups to develop an approach to how they will lead these lessons. They will use doublespeak to introduce complex science words. They will emphasize big concepts and relate those concepts back to kids lives. They will focus on leading kids to discover natural phenomena through inquiry.

6) Evaluation  

They talk about their goals, look at some research done in education about measuring interest and come up with a short postcard sized survey they hand out to their Saturday workshop participants. They ask kids to report something interesting they learned. Ask them if they feel more likely now to want to learn physics. They have a similar card for parents to complete and ask if parents want to be added to an email listserv to get more info about future events. Afterwards, they poll the group. Were the events a valuable teaching experience? What would they do differently next time? Do they want to have a next time?

7) Future Plans

 The group decides that outreach was more work than they realized, but they liked it and they learned a lot. They agree to make this an annual event, and let local summer camp programs know that a few of their members would be available to do short demonstrations or lead activities with those programs. They write up a 3 page report with color photos from the event and send it off to the national organization, along with their intent to keep participating in outreach.

This is a fairly basic example of doing outreach the right way. These students will be well positioned to do more outreach in the future and are armed with data that will help them show that the efforts were worthwhile and help them improve. Hopefully, over time the group will internalize good outreach practice and increase the sophistication of their evaluation methods. Maybe they’ll partner with an educational researcher or publish a paper in the society journal to share their lessons with other chapters.

 And that’s what good outreach looks like. I’ve seen a lot of outreach in my time as an educator and it’s still pretty shocking how willing people are to sink time and effort into outreach without any clear plan. A lot. A lot of scientists think that because they are experts in their subject area that they will be good at sharing it with others. Very few scientists are naturally good at sharing science with the public. But there’s hope! Everyone can get better. Remember, you wouldn’t expect me to dive into quantum mechanics with only a social science background. So don’t expect to dive into organizing informal learning without at least a little planning and some new learning on your own part. The wonderful thing about science lovers, though, is the we LOVE learning new things.

 Happy outreaching! 

 ****

 [1] Yes, it’s totally OK to be career minded!

[2] Psuedonym

[3] Of course if it happened it happened, but good luck proving it without DATA!

[4] No, I’ve never actually seen cats.

One great thing about grant funded outreach is that the sponsor will usually require you to do a lot of the things I’ve laid out above before they will give you money.