inspirations, ambitions, and new calls

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One of the most impressive components of working on Science Education at the Crossroads is finding out what happens after any given meeting, even years later. Last spring, I coaxed Angela Johnson to visit my campus and present her work and wisdom on retaining students in scientific fields, something that she’d been stirring around at Crossroads back in the fall. Those discussions continue to resonate and result in real action within my department. In other venues and meetings, long discussions with Andy Gilbert have impacted what I do with preservice and inservice teachers, and now Andy’s idea of creating “wonder journals” is something that I advocate to my own students, and in turn it gets passed on to my students’ students like some bonus inheritance from a long lost uncle we’ve never met but have heard apocryphal tales about. Meeting Sara Heredia in Cleveland made it possible for me to beg an invitation into teacher workshops at the Exploratorium in San Francisco back in March, seeing how ongoing professional learning in dynamic contexts can take shape. And, I got to spend a day at a world renowned science museum as a bonus.

Beyond my own direct experiences, there’s much, much more. Steve Fletcher puts into practice his Left Brain / Right Brain Retreat— I’ve seen the photos of the group working and making dinner together. Brian Williams returned from Costa Rica on a trip with students one day and was putting pieces together for his “Sources” conference the next. Folks put out publications that I can trace back to discussions around a conference table. And, John and Sherry Southerland now sit at the helm of a little journal that specializes in science education research.

There’s so much more. I recognize that I’m leaving out lots of other pieces of projects that others are working on. The point is that I’ve come to realize that the extraordinary is really quite normal for the people with whom I work, and especially for the kind of people who are inclined to show up at Crossroads.

And that’s a nice segue, perhaps. “What about Crossroads, along with the extraordinary work I witness there?” you may be asking. Although this fall is a break for us, we’ve perennially been in the habit of preparing a gathering about this time of year after a spring and summer of soliciting proposals and reviewing papers. In fact, every fall when I see the leaves start to change on the face of a faulting slope above my home and my university, I think back to that Crossroads in Ogden. And as I’m writing out my task lists and other prompts, I’m wondering where the “revise Crossroads” or “finalize catering menu” items are. Fortunately, we’ve found something that takes its place.

Announcement(s)

We have our own new endeavor and a new potential mode for hosting Science Education at the Crossroads. If you take a look at our Call right now, you’ll see that John and I are positioning ourselves as the conference organizers for a spring meeting that is hosted by David Stroupe and Hosun Kang. There’s a longer story, as there always is, but David and Hosun and others were looking for ways to gather together a small conference of people focused on science teacher preparation, and John and I happen to have a model and structure for a small conference format. We blended those together to create a new possibility: John and I can organize and facilitate a conference that is conceptualized and hosted by others.

So, this news blurb has a couple of cogent points and possibilities to it:

  • First, you should take a look at the current call for proposals, especially if you’d like to confer with thoughtful others around the topic of science teacher preparation programs, reforms, and other associated ambitions. Note that this spring timing and placement is exactly in between NARST and AERA in San Antonio, so it’s likely that you can get two (or three!) conferences in on a single flight. We’re confident that one of those conferences will be especially useful.
  • Second, John and I think that there may be a lot of room to build on this model. As we expand our own ideas of what Crossroads is for, what makes it work, and how to continue to move forward even after 10 years, we can imagine that there may be others who may want to do the same things that David and Hosun are doing. John and I have figured out the logistics and the philosophy of the conference, and you may be able to put that to your advantage at some point in the future. And, there are many other possible variations on this theme. Let us know if this intrigues you, and we’ll let you know how this first variation on the theme goes in San Antonio.

We’re looking forward to what’s to come, both this spring and beyond; and we hope that you’ll all continue to be a part of it as well as invite others to the table.

making space

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Clear a space” is a song by Lake Street Dive.  Like many of their performances, this tune gets stuck in my head and then in my bones, staying with me in interesting, all encompassing ways. The song features pickings of an upright bass, light percussion, a trumpet accenting it all, and then the rich vocals that begin with, “Let me clear a space for you to sit beside me.”  It’s probably no coincidence that this stuck-in-my-head line coincides with our emphasis on “space” at this year’s meeting. That voice and the bass line don’t hurt, but especially with lines like, “I could tell you things that don’t come easy,” it’s only a little bit of a stretch to suggest that this is relevant.

As we cleared, shaped, and otherwise made space around the tables during the meeting, we also extended our gaze on spaces as we set out into the spaces of Cleveland.  At the art museum, I admired the lighting, the respite from the rain, the tall and wide halls with unobtrusive furnishings, and ways to approach art up close, the proximity tempting me to put fingers into the topography of the impressionists’ oil. These spatial elements were all essential, but the critical — and most enjoyable — part was when Bhaskar, Rachel, and myself were staring up into the red toned oil delineating four dimensions of the settlement of the West in a piece called “Soft Borders,” by Mark Tansey.

RedOilWest Why is the painting all in red?  Was it to emphasize the red of sedimentary rock, or the blood on our hands, or the sepia tone of old photos? Why oil? Why not turn it ninety degrees? or upside down? What did he mean to say by having Native Americans positioned just so, overlooked by incoming land surveyors drilling down from the upper frame?  And what did it mean that the toxic waste clean-up was upside down?  Are these visitors looking upon one another, or are they oblivious as they are separated by a chasm?  And on and on.

We learned that the Cleveland Museum of Art not only provides place for the artists’ works, but a way to put the three of us side by side by side, moving forward and backward in the presence of creations and with one another. The museum afforded the space, yet it was the art and my friends that really created and shaped it. As we considered wonders of visual composition, I wondered what spaces others found in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the science museum, the waterfront, or even at the Arcade that surrounded our meeting space.

When we met with Chef Sawyer, we learned about his own creation of spaces. Becoming a chef and proprietor, he didn’t just learn to make and sell food; he crafted environs for patrons to eat pig’s head and pot de creme, and he shaped a business that honors employees’ contributions and personal development.  As we returned to the Greenhouse Tavern for one last meal that Saturday night, some of us got to sit at a community table in the heat of the kitchen.  We took in the space, the welcome of our server, the clatter of pots and pans and the searing and soaring of flames off to the side.

It’s our hope that you found space at Crossroads and in the field trips in Cleveland.  (Feel free to tell us about these in the comments, below.)  More than this, we hope that you have some of this space to take with you to add to and shape your own spaces.  As we are looking into the more distant future for our next Crossroads (we’ve started announcing that we’re taking next year off) we’ll look forward to hearing how things are going, what you’re doing, and just generally imagining all the possibilities.  You might want to report on these here, and we’d welcome contributions that you might send to us. Or, you could post a quick piece of news in our Facebook group; or tag us (whatever that really means/does) with #sciedxroads; or just drop us a line.

Until next time.  We’re looking forward to seeing you again, hearing more about what you’re up to — “let me clear a space for you to sit beside me” — and raising a glass.

does it matter?

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I know that loose physics analogies drive physicists to irritation, but I need to invoke one here: matter and antimatter. Those who have familiarity with CERN know something of the underlying science, including the understanding that these oppositional particles originate as pairs. One begets the other.

Similarly, there would not be any Science Education at the Crossroads were it not for the simultaneous presence of its exact opposite*. And yet, like matter/antimatter pairs, the two can only exist in separate spaces; otherwise they annihilate one another. This is why they are scheduled six months apart and why people shudder at one when “the conference that shall not be named” is invoked at the other. Yet, as profound and important differences exist, stories of contrast and origin are often apocryphal.**   When we tell these stories over pints at a pub, important contrasts and truths can be lost if viewed through the haze of unfiltered ales. Here I seek to re-clarify.

In spite of a rich history, stacks of journals and proceedings, and longstanding traditions, much of what occurs at NARST and the many gatherings like it does not matter. In fact, the longstanding traditions of the organization disable it. There are few authentic debates about substantive issues. When contradictory views are raised they typically emanate from old-timers eager to dismiss innovation.  Formal structures suppress deliberation. And, any movements in the direction of real action are absent. In defense of any mega-scholar-organization, intellectual indifference is its lifeblood.  And, either because of or in spite of this fact, it continues to attract ever-increasing numbers each year.

Miraculously, in the midst of indifference, lively and substantive debates thrive in the interstices where they can avoid collision with their opposites.  Celebration of academic discourse is consigned to the unscheduled and unsupervised spaces — third spaces, white spaces, open spaces — choose your space.  That’s where professional learning really transpires: not during keynote talks or symposia or anything scheduled in Ballroom C. To access these powerful moments you must violate the norms printed in the program and recommended by the President-elect.  In those spaces, you may even happen upon a pair of individuals getting to a point where they break past the tradition and enact something new.  But, alas, it’s rare, and for good reason.

The rarity is unsurprising because those spaces are not programmed nor planned.  The premise of Crossroads is that people — specifically you — are invested in coming together to discuss ideas that matter. This is enabled by the deliberate space, separated from the antimatter, but it desperately requires something more of the active participant. To be a productive collaborator at Crossroads, you must present yourself as somebody concerned about what matters. Your paper and presentation must reveal WHY you want to share. Is it because the topic is central to who you are and/or who you want to be? Is it because you are seeking compassionate critique from others who share your drive? Are you designing ways to empower a disenfranchised group?  Beyond nurturing deliberations about issues that matter, Crossroads serves as a springboard for doing things that matter. Don’t bring the lamentations about the insensitivity of your supervisor or the struggles you’ve been having with accreditation. (It’s a close competition, but we’ve got you beat on both fronts.) More important, we’ve learned that that stuff doesn’t matter. It will always be there and trudging through it only slows us down.

In contrast, if you find yourself longing to engage with others in a community that talks about what matters and considers ways to do something in response, we urge you to make that evident in your Vexation and Venture.  In return, we (the coordinators of the conference along with all of its participants, including you) dedicate the space to support and even push you forward in your actions.  We can save the antimatters for somewhere else — we all know where those papers can be accepted for presentation.  For Crossroads, we embrace the challenge to not only talk about what must be done, but to take responsibility to see it through.  We look forward to witnessing each of us take up that challenge and responsibility.

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* This entire argument is built on the premise that NARST is real. You can look in Wikipedia to see that a page for NARST does not exist.  Of course, its non-existence puts it in good company.

** Adam was not banned, the membership simply lapsed.  I resigned from the Board not out of protest, but to minimize conflicts and maximize focus.