The 2007 SENCER Summer Institute passed quickly, as always, with full days, much discussion, and hard work done by all who spent the early part of August in Portland, Maine. Warm afternoons saw groups of participants and facilitators scattered around the university quad and seeking shade under the sloping white tent, using the outdoor areas as impromptu classrooms. Others clustered around tables on the mezzanine of the conference center, taking advantage of the cooler area as a place to work on team plans.
For the first time, the Institute was held on the campus of the University of Southern Maine. Our host institution has sent teams to the Institute and regional meetings many times, and has taken the SENCER approach as a guide for course development during the reform of their general education system. Honors courses have been created with the SENCER ideals in mind. A course sequence on “The Body” has been launched with success. Many other courses, concerned with oceans and the environment, are also operating on campus.
The decision to change the location of the Institute this year was made to accommodate attendees from smaller, local institutions who might not otherwise be able to attend the national meeting. A number of new teams and individual representatives from the New England and Midatlantic regions participated this year. In total, around 300 people participated in SSI 2007, representing 94 domestic and foreign institutions concerned with the improvement of STEM education. Nearly fifty percent of the attendees had participated in a prior Summer Institute. SSI 2007 was different in many ways from past Institutes, but for all of the changes, the core motivation and attitude remained constant. The group of educators, administrators, students, and other officials who attended the Institute were thoughtful, energetic, and determined in their efforts to work toward greater student understanding and achievement. Cora Marrett, head of the directorate of education and human resources for the National Science Foundation opened her plenary talk with a title that reflected the goals of all who attended, “the engagement of learners.”
The maturity of the work of the SENCER community is evident with just a glance through the Notes on the Program. More alumni presentations were submitted and accepted than ever before, and the topics covered address a broader range of pedagogies and STEM issues. Several of the courses reported on during the concurrent sessions were supported by Post-Institute Implementation Awards, which were granted for the first time last fall. Three new model courses, highlighted in both the July e-newsletter and in sessions at the Institute, also indicate the quality of work in the community. Two, the “emerging models” – Science on the Connecticut Coast (Southern Connecticut State University) and Slow Food (Beloit College) – grew specifically out of SENCER work. The third, The Power of Water, is a featured model course, and the result of work by alumni at Longwood University.
The Institute program included activities specifically designed for people who are at an advanced level of their work with SENCER, such as a plenary session on planning for further assessment of SENCER, offered by Rich Keeling. Discussion groups on topics like introductory STEM courses, pre-medical education, two-year schools, formative assessment, strategies for deans and department chairs, and social science allowed both alumni and novices to work on areas of concern for the future phases of SENCER work.
Many Institute attendees also chose to report on their campus work by displaying a poster during one of the scheduled presentation times. Two separate sessions were set aside to allow more display space and time to discuss posters with colleagues, as well as to accommodate the increased interest in participating in this year’s session. Forty posters featured new and developed projects, and included a number that focused on work done by faculty at the University of Southern Maine and students in SENCERized courses. Students displayed posters on projects relating to HIV/AIDS, epidemics, and sustainability. Copies of many of the actual posters are available on our website.
We were fortunate to have plenary speakers who considered topics relevant to both alumni and newcomers. As mentioned earlier in this article, Cora Marrett of the National Science Foundation discussed improving learning for all students. Barbara Tewksbury returned to give her popular talk on designing a SENCER course, while Rich Keeling, Matt Fisher, Alix Fink, and Terry McGuire discussed assessment techniques. Robert Full, who also spoke at SSI 2006, gave a “mesmerizing” and “inspiring” address, according to participants. John Bransford, who was not able to be in Maine in person due to a last-minute emergency, was kind enough to deliver his talk live, virtually – another first for the Institute.
The Institute was both proceeded by and followed by special-topic seminars. Last year, we introduced SENCER’s involvement in the scholarship of teaching and learning with a plenary session directed to alumni who were looking to deepen their work. In the fall of 2006, the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement became an affiliate of the Carnegie Foundation, strengthening that collaboration. This year, invited participants took part in an intensive, day-and-a-half Pre-Institute Workshop on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, led by Spencer Benson and Matt Fisher, a Carnegie scholar and senior fellow for the NCSCE. The workshop was only the beginning of a year of work for the participants, who will continue their research projects during the year and report on them next summer.
Post-Institute Workshops allowed participants to spend an afternoon focusing on an area of interest. Though briefly interrupted by a lightning strike and hotel evacuation, they encouraged thoughtful discussion on a number of topics, including grant writing (Myles Boylan), writing in SENCER courses (Cathy Middlecamp), new avenues of assessment (Rich Keeling), course design (Barbara Tewksbury), and K-12 education. The last topic, K-12 education and SENCER, was considered during a dynamic symposium that brought together specialists in many fields of education to work through the question. Richard Duschl of Rutgers University, the chair of the committee that drafted Taking Science to School, a National Academies publication that explores learning processes of children, effective teaching methods, teacher preparation, and professional development as key factors in student success participated, as did Jean Moon, the director of the Board on Science Education. Jay Labov represented the National Research Council. A number of educator from high schools and colleges also took part: Erin Pittman and Kevin Varano (SciTech High), Susan Mooney, Karen Anderson (Stonehill College), Stephanie McNamara (former education student, Stonehill College), and Adrienne Wootters (Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts). Karen Oates, David Burns, and Ellen Mappen represented SENCER and the NCSCE. We hope that the discussions begun at the Summer Institute in this and other sessions will continue this year and grow into solid projects and collaborations.
Throughout the planning and follow-up to the Institute, we have worked to make as much information as possible available to the SENCER community. A main part of achieving that goal was the revitalization of our website, which now accommodates much more information in a more intuitive format. Many PowerPoint presentations from plenary sessions, concurrent sessions, and workshops are already available online, as are handouts from selected sessions, copies of posters, and other materials distributed in print form.