First I want to comment on the event overall. I admit that I was initially skeptical about the idea of an “online” poster session. I wondered how it would be possible for the presenters to get information across when they wouldn’t be able to talk with their audiences directly and how it would be possible for a visitor to look at an entire poster on a small computer screen. The first challenge was effectively handled by having the presenters prepare an audio clip that served as an introduction and guide to their poster. The second was addressed by allowing visitors to zoom in and out and even download entire posters in .pdf format and look at parts of them more closely. After looking at only a few posters, I realized that I was learning quite a bit about the projects. By the second day of the session, I felt I was having conversations with several of the presenters as well as with other visitors. I plan to follow up with a few individuals in the future because their projects and mine have the potential to develop mutually beneficial collaborations. I don’t think anyone could expect a better outcome from a poster session and - in short - I’m convinced that the online approach was effective. This was particularly gratifying to me because I was unable to attend the 2012 face-to-face meeting and I’m glad that I have now had the opportunity to learn about some of the ongoing projects and some of the new projects that are just starting up.
I visited several of the RETA posters and I was struck by the fact that the MSP program has provided researchers with the opportunity to collect a large amount of data from extremely diverse sites. One of the biggest challenges in education research is to demonstrate that an intervention ultimately had an impact on student learning. Even the best teachers, working with the best possible curriculum and supplementary materials are only able to interact with their students for a relatively small amount of time. The number of students taught by teachers involved in a PD study must almost always be very large if the PD intervention is going to any demonstrable impact. The MSP program as a whole has given the RETA researchers access to large numbers of students and as a result sufficient data are being collected to test hypotheses and develop useful models. For example, I found the MOSART project and its work with misconceptions to be intriguing. This project and others have the potential to transform teaching (and learning) because they may force us to rethink the way that we plan out courses, units, and lessons.
I was also struck by the fact that many of the projects are emphasizing the interconnections among the standards for various disciplines (e.g., physical science and mathematics). I think this is important because it helps us to identify key cross-cutting concepts and to emphasize understanding rather than memorization. There seems to be a growing appreciation that not all standards and benchmarks are created equal and that there are “big ideas” that deserve special attention. Just about all of the posters I viewed were clearly engaged in building teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge (which has many definitions and manifestations) and PCK now appears to be recognized as just as important as disciplinary content-area knowledge. In terms of STEM content, increasing teachers’ depth of understanding, particular in regards to some of the “big idea” topics, is emphasized by many projects. The scientists and engineers involved with the projects are helping to ensure that teachers will know more than what they are expected to teach. At least one project found that building greater depth of content knowledge was critical to preparing teachers to effectively communicate the concepts that their students are supposed to learn.
The development of professional collaborations among K-12 teachers from several grade levels, as well as university faculty and students, was highlighted in several posters. Obviously, today’s K-12 students are the prospective college students of tomorrow, so it is only reasonable to expect that MSP projects will lead teachers and faculty to collaborate toward the common goal of preparing today’s K-12 students to be the college students of tomorrow – hopefully in STEM. Developing these partnerships was clearly a goal for NSF when it designed the MSP program, and it appears that the program portfolio as a whole has been successful at attaining that goal. I think we are now seeing some new types of professional learning communities emerge which include pre-college and university teacher-researchers that share a commitment to improving student learning at all educational levels.