Synergies Everywhere!

By Jennifer Wyld

Taking a break from beating my Maker drum this month, I thought I would write about the actual paid work I do while working on my degree.  I have a research assistant position on a longitudinal study happening here in the Northwest, in which I was lucky enough to get hired my first year of this PhD process and will see me through to my graduation.  Lucky indeed, in this world of expensive educations! The project I am part of is called Synergies, and the PI’s I work with from OSU are John Falk and Lynn Dierking- the other two-thirds of the FCL staff in our department.  We also have some colleagues from other universities, such as William Penuel,  in Boulder, Colorado.  The goal of this project is to follow the interest development of a cohort of early adolescents from 5th through 8th grade.  While we are particularly interested in STEM, we are noting other interest development as well.  To gather data, we are using both quantitative and qualitative techniques.  Each academic year, we are surveying every member of the grade cohort (who we can get a consent form from!) with a questionnaire covering topics such as interest in STEM fields, career aspirations, family practices, and out-of-school activities.  We are supplementi

The first two years of the study focused on establishing a base-line of understanding about what is currently happening in the community and with this group of youth.   We are using this data to start creating an asset map for the area as well as an “agent-based modeling system” that we intend to use as a predictive tool (if we tweak the community ‘x’ way, ‘y’ happens).  Our next step has been to build a collaborative relationship with both in-school and out-of-school organizations that we will leverage to create interventions to see if we can positively impact interest development around STEM.

Two graduate projects that are hoping to use these interventions are around gardening and Maker experiences.  You can probably guess who is working on the second one! However, the one of the overall goals of funders of the implementation part of  the study is to help create sustainable programs, so Deb Bailey (the other grad research assistant) and I will be working with groups already established in the greater area of our study, but who are not currently active in this particular community.  We are both still just in the planning stages- but we will keep you posted!

Learning and emotions

I have been watching a lot of superhero movies.  Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, even the Hulk provide me a lot of fuel for thought.  The biographies of many of these fictional characters are replete with narratives of lessons learned and relearned often not through the use of their super powers or acumen, but most often because of their human frailties and feelings.  It is the feelings that allow these superheroes to use their power for good and fight evil.

I often think that emotions play a large role in how we learn and what we learn.  I see this often in one of the classes I teach.  My students take a look at the subject matter and fear drives them to believe they cannot learn it and that they are incapable of being successful.  A different side of the same coin, self-confidence in a subject matter will make anyone feel like a Sheldon Cooper to that content.  (In case you don’t watch Big Bang Theory, that means uber smart.)  Emotions are often overlooked component to learning and learning environments.

New research on emotion and learning can give us some of the biochemical reasons how emotion impacts reason.  Research by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang from USC’d Rossier School of Education shows how emotion can be used by teachers to stimulate creativity.  She has even created curriculum for teachers to access these findings (  She explains that the “neuromechanisms responsible for feeling and managing the body’s physical survival and consciousness have been co-opted to also manage social survival” (mindshift blog,  In other words, the very feelings that help us survive in the physical world also help us navigate social setting such as learning environments.

So this week, I would like to challenge you to consider your feelings as you are learning something.  Do you experience excitement, concern, anxiety, or joy?  How do these feelings impact how you learn?  Can you interrupt your negative feelings, address them, and then move forward all at the same time?  If not, then how would you recommend that we as practitioners can motivate our students when they encounter strange experiences or unknown content area?  What personal experiences can you share about moving through feelings, whether positive or negative, to finally get at a learning experience?  Let us discuss…

“You are not at Liberty to Quit”

In the first day of class, my philosophy professor asked us to think about and report if we were in agreement, or not, with the notion of a largely increasing environmental crisis. There was a diverse array of responses, ranging from an absolute yes to a negation of it in the support of a view that nature will fix itself and technology will provide solutions for everything. My first reaction was one of disappointment, how can people still deny the huge humanly produced chaos we live in right now? But as we move further in the term I am diving in deep philosophical thoughts about how history, economical modes, culture and religion contribute to this interrelated chains between various worldviews and perceptions about the relationship between humans and non-human nature.

As radical ecology poses, getting to the root of the problem is not about negating one view or another, dwelling on what is true or false, or on what is scientifically valid or not, but about learning from diversity and filling in the blanks toward an environmental ethic that is respectful and concerned with both the human and non-human life, with social and environmental justice. The multicultural/partnership worldview is an emergent view in a world long dominated by egocentric and homocentric ethics, which are focused on a mechanistic view of nature that creates an “otherness” in regard to who we are and how we fit within the web of life on earth.

We discuss mainstream environmentalism, the group of ten, the greens, deep ecology, spiritual ecology and social/socialist ecology, ecofemism, etc., all within the historical and current social, cultural, political and economic contexts. We talked about influential people from John Muir and Aldo Leopold to contemporary philosophers and ecofeminists as Carolyn Marchant and Kathleen Dean Moore (former OSU Philosophy professor). We debate the concept of wilderness, the dichotomy between man and nature, the notions of spectacular nature and spectacular violence as opposed to the slow environmental violence going invisible to most. We discuss activism in the first and third world. We talk about fear, hopelessness but also about empowerment and success. This all to me touch on education in many different dimensions of people’s life. Then the Talmud saying speaks to me… “You are not required to finish the job, but you are not at liberty to quit”.

J. Baird Callicott wrote in his book “Earth’s insight”: “We are in fact the dominant species on the planet; we do in fact hold the fate of the earth in our hands; and we are indeed moral beings in a largely amoral world. Without taking the Bible literally, one may feel, further, that somehow there is more to haven and earth than science can know and tell and that humanity is somehow a uniquely privileged but uniquely responsible creature among creatures

This passage comes to mind when I remember my days doing research at an isolated little island in the Atlantic Ocean, standing upon terrain where Darwin once stood, as we drove through the Rocky Mountains this summer, as I took students through the many sunsets and sunrises at the Amazon forest, as I flew through the Sierra Nevada yesterday, every time I dive, and multiple other times when spectacular nature is presented to me. But I also think of it when I see my daughter play with bugs in the backyard, collect rocks on a neighborhood walk, and when I go to conferences and get inspired by people “who do not have the liberty to quit”.

Mining Nuggets of Collaboration

Shawn and I will be going to the National Association for Interpretation Workshop this week in Reno, Nevada. We will be talking to interpreters about bridging the gaps between Free-Choice Learning research and Interpretive practice, “mining the nuggets” for cross-communication and visibility among professionals in both worlds, discussing potential benefits from interdisciplinary use of concepts, principles and research findings towards the shared goal among both communities of practice.

Museums are informal education settings where Free-Choice Learning (FCL) takes place and where educators and practitioners are also interpreters. FCL in such settings draws from strong learning theories and their contextual application, targeting audiences such as museum educators, evaluation staff, exhibit designers, program developers, volunteer personnel and volunteer managers. These are also the targeted practitioners mediating learning in museums through use of interpretive tools, principles and resources.

Given the complimentary nature of practice in both FCL and Interpretation fields, understanding cross-disciplinary potential and dissemination are ways to create collaborative resources and further the research and understanding of how learning takes place in museums, how the theoretical discourses relate to/build upon interpretive principles and use of interpretive tools. This confluence can have meaningful implications on interpretive program design and implementation in museum settings and others alike, as to promote valuable learning experiences for visitors.

This is what we will be brainstorming at the workshop. So bloggers please respond with any insights you may have on possible collaboration avenues and links you consider important to be made here.