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Conducting research in a real lab with professional mentoring, then taking knowledge gained back to the classroom. Is that the dream of many STEM educators? The year-old RESET program aims to make that dream a reality. RESET, or Research Experiences for STEM Educators and Teachers, offers 60 hours of online summer learning to a select group of teachers and then places some of them in an Army lab to work for a month. To find out more about the program, we contacted its creator, Sally Pardue, director of the Millard Oakley STEM Center, a state-of-the-art STEM-education facility at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville:

Q:  What was your motivation for creating the RESET program?

Sally Pardue

Dr. Sally Pardue created the RESET program for teachers

A: My motivation to develop and implement the RESET program for the U.S. Army Education Outreach Program (AEOP) is driven by my appreciation for the Army’s commitment to providing access to unique and highly engaging STEM learning opportunities for teachers and, through these teachers, for their students.

I had worked with a National Science Foundation project, Research Experiences for Teachers, that brought teachers to our university research labs, and I knew what a powerful learning experience this could be for both STEM educators and for the STEM professionals who provide mentorship. I was excited to be invited to pitch a modified version of this program for the AEOP consortium. Our first year, RESET 2016, was an incredible success, with 20 teachers from seven states participating.

Q: Describe the RESET program. Who can apply to participate?

A: RESET provides an experiential learning opportunity for STEM educators interested in conducting research with an Army scientist or engineer mentor. Selected teachers participate in a cohort during the summer, completing 60 hours of online learning in two segments, for Level I status. The online learning is facilitated by the RESET staff at Tennessee Technological University; upon completion, participants receive a stipend ($1,000-$1,700, typical range commensurate with education level and experience).

A subset of the cohort will experience four weeks of research time at an Army research lab, as Level II status. The location for the 2017 research sites is still being determined based on mentor availability.

While at the Army research lab site, the Level II cohort members continue to interact with the RESET staff at Tennessee Tech as well as with their mentors on site. The Level II participants receive four weeks of stipend ($4,200-$6,300, typical range commensurate with education level and experience), along with travel support (airfare and/or mileage, car rental, etc.), housing costs and per diem.

Eligible applicants are STEM educators of students in high school or upper middle grades, with a focus on teachers coming from high needs areas working with underserved populations.

Underserved populations include students from low-income families; students belonging to race and ethnic minorities that are historically underrepresented in STEM (i.e., Alaska natives, Native Americans, blacks or African Americans, Hispanics, native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders); students with disabilities; students with English as a second language; first-generation college-bound students; students in rural, frontier or other federal targeted outreach schools; and females in certain STEM fields (e.g., physical science, computer science, mathematics or engineering).

Q: Why partner with the Army and Department of Defense scientists?

A: The RESET program recognizes the strengths of direct mentorship for teachers working alongside Army and Department of Defense (DoD) scientists and engineers. By spending four weeks at an Army research lab, the RESET cohort members (Level II status) directly experience how research is conducted on a daily basis.

Joining in all aspects of research work, from initial ideas and brainstorming through project planning and development of data collection and analysis, provides real contexts for the RESET cohort members to take back to the classroom. The Army and DoD scientists and engineers as mentors offer RESET participants a chance to develop their understanding of what careers in STEM research look like and how they are achieved.

The direct interaction with mentors provides a more personal and accessible “story” for students to comprehend, because their teachers will have narratives to share from their RESET time in the Army research lab. At the same time, the mentors gain insights into how teachers are engaging their students with important STEM learning objectives. Enriching what the mentors know about how students learn, this can benefit other STEM outreach work these mentors might be doing, for example, in other AEOP program initiatives such as GEMS (Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science) or eCybermission (a STEM-based competition).

Q:  How is the RESET program linked to classroom learning?

A: The RESET cohort members create lesson(s) and/or units of lessons inspired by the research work that the Level II cohort members have conducted with the mentors at Army research labs. These lessons are developed over 30 hours of online time during Module 2: Taking Research to the Classroom, by teams of cohort members using the Legacy Cycle format to generate project-based learning challenges that place students at the center of their own learning.

How research is conducted in Army research labs and how Army and DoD scientists and engineers do research can be modeled in the stages of the Legacy Cycle. Students using these Legacy Cycle challenges will be learning important STEM concepts, along with how and why research is done, thereby enhancing their 21st-century skills while exploring what various careers in STEM look like.

Q: I recently read some blog postings from RESET participants. One described her experience after RESET of creating a lesson for business students to work with engineering students on a robotics question. The other RESET “grad” helped create a lesson on concussions and football helmets. How could the RESET experience have helped these two teachers better create their lessons.

A: The Legacy Cycle lessons developed during the RESET program are only possible because the cohort participants have first learned how this format works. In fact, they themselves first experience a Legacy Cycle as adult learners responding to the challenge question: To teach students about how research is conducted in science and engineering, what do I need to know about how to research?

During 30 hours of online learning in Module 1: Introduction to Research, the RESET cohort members develop responses to this learning challenge by going through the stages of the Legacy Cycle (Challenge, Generate Ideas, Multiple Perspectives, Research and Revise, Test Your Mettle and Go Public). The example lesson plans mentioned above are outcomes of the RESET 2016 program. The Legacy Cycle on concussions and helmets, and the one on critical decision making about whether or not to use robotics, are generated from the research work that the Level II cohort members conducted at two Army research labs.

Q: The collaborative element seems to be a big part of the RESET program. Why is this factor so important?

A: The RESET program can support a limited number of teachers for the four weeks at a research lab. These cohort members are referred to as Level II status. To strengthen the reach and impact of the RESET program, a larger number of teachers are supported with online learning time.

The cohort approach fosters immediate results for the RESET participants, who might be selected from all over the United States or worldwide in the case of STEM educators participating from DoD schools. Meeting together in the virtual learning space and responding to the same learning challenge create a shared experience. Throughout the RESET program, the cohort members are sharing a wealth of teaching experiences with one another. This process mimics the collaborative nature of research teams, where scientists and engineers work together in pursuit of new knowledge or the creation and development of designs.

Q: What other important takeaways do participants gain?

A: Each of the RESET cohort members, Level I and Level II, expands his or her professional network of peers in STEM education through a shared experiential learning opportunity. The RESET program is designed to welcome participants from across the United States, and this creates a wonderful venue for teachers to share best practices from diverse settings.

The Level II teachers make lasting connections with Army and DoD scientist and engineer mentors working with exciting research projects within the Army research labs.

The RESET program encourages individuals to become a community of STEM educators committed to providing rigorous learning experiences for their students through relevant contexts, inspired by the research being conducted in Army labs. The RESET lesson plans are not only available to each member of the cohort, but also, over time, these lessons, developed by teachers for teachers, will be shared with a broader audience of STEM educators for open source use.

Q:  Is there anything else you would like to share about this program?

A: The deadline to apply for this summer, RESET 2017, is April 14. In subsequent years, the RESET program will take applications from November-February for the following summer’s cohort. (For example, apply in November 2017 for RESET 2018.)

For ongoing information, visit: http://www.usaeop.com/programs/stem-enrichment-activities/reset/

Edited by Patricia Bitler, freelance writer and editor.

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