THE BIG IDEA: The Sci-Ed Showcase is an opportunity and invitation for the general public to experience the democratic learning culture of Sci-Ed. There is an opening, structured critical dialogues about Fellows’ Windows into the Classroom (WIC) presentations, and a closing. While the “main event” is Fellows’ public presentation of democratic pedagogy, the group experience of tuning these presentations is equally as important. Showcase attendees become “students” who experience a democratic learning environment in the Fellows’ public presentation “classrooms.” As such, the Showcase embodies the core idea that in a democratic classroom, the teacher cannot simply be the “sage on the stage.” Rather, the democratic teacher surfaces voice, shares transformational authority, and builds critical agency.
The audience experience at the Sci-Ed Showcase is participatory and presentations are interactive. Audience members’ funds of knowledge and critical questions are invaluable parts of a complete WIC. The story each Fellow tells takes on details, concepts, and challenges the audience poses. In turn, the story about STEM education in New York City that each audience member tells takes on the vocabulary, conceptual framework, analytic process, and professional capital of the Fellows. In this way, Sci-Ed Fellows (the teachers) and Sci-Ed students (the audience) reciprocally develop critical agency.
Often, audience members become “early adopters” of Fellows’ ideas, helping them to become more diffuse within the larger discourse about urban STEM education. As such, Fellows’ stories about their classes, and the audience’s stories about the Showcase are forms of advocacy for democratic STEM education. Through storytelling, speakers and listeners are able to shift prevailing ideas about high-quality STEM education for historically marginalized youth.
What follows is a general outline of the parts of a successful Sci-ed Showcase. There are three parts: logistics, a “run of show,” debrief and future iteration.
Sci-Ed begins planning for this event at least three months before the Showcase date. A host site should have a large auditorium space to be used for the opening and closing, as well as multiple smaller rooms for Fellows’ WIC presentations. Local college campuses and Fellows’ schools are excellent host sites. (The final Showcase for the 2015-16 cohort was at New York University.) For outreach, Sci-Ed creates an invitation through Eventbrite, as well as other promotional materials, and distributes them through Fellows’ email networks and to STEM organizations throughout NYC. More than anything else, a personal invitation is the best way to recruit an audience. Finally, the day of the Showcase requires signage, paper feedback forms, technology, and food and drink. These should be created or ordered within two weeks of the Showcase date.
Run of Show
Below are the primary activities that occur during the Showcase. A short transition follows each activity.
1. Opening Circle. The purpose of this time is for Fellows to connect with each other and to verbalize any anxieties, excitements, or general thoughts about the event. There is not a predetermined series of questions used to structure this time. The opening circle is a space for Fellows to convert their feelings into words and discharge emotions that might be building up. This is also a time to review the agenda for the day and to answer any related questions.
2. Setup and Guest Arrival. Signage goes up in the event space, Fellows check that technology is working in presentation rooms, and guests arrive, mingle and preview the program for the day.
3. Introduction and Frame. The Master Fellows introduce the audience to the Sci-Ed Innovators Fellowship and the structure for the Showcase. This is a short, didactic portion. The audience learns about the Sci-Ed Fellowship structure, the mission of the program, the qualities of a Sci-Ed Fellow, the Democratic STEM Teaching Framework, and the research of the late Professor Jhumki Basu whose work inspired the launch of Sci-Ed Innovators. Additionally, the Master Fellow team explains the presentation structure for the Showcase and the audience has time to examine the program to make informed choices about which WIC presentations to attend.
4. Windows in the Classroom Presentations. Fellows are assigned to rooms prior to the Showcase in order to ensure a rich mix of presentations. Each presentation consists of a 5-7 minute live talk delivered by a Sci-Ed Fellow, a two minute period for the audience to write or finalize feedback on “push my thinking” forms distributed prior to each WIC presentation, 5-6 minutes of open dialogue, and a closing “final word” from the presenting Fellow. WIC presentations, then, are similar to Ted Talks, but contain an additional interactive element. Each WIC presentation is a democratic learning experience. Fellows speak, but also have a conversation with the audience about presented ideas. This conversation leads to more structured inquiry into effective teaching practice after the Showcase.
Multiple rooms host Fellows’ presentations simultaneously. Audience members choose presentations to attend and are encouraged to migrate from room to room to engage with the WICs that are of most interest. Fellows also develop WIC presentations as screencasted versions hosted on the Sci-Ed website so that all presentations are accessible to audience members that were unable to participate in presentations occurring at the same time. In this way the audience is able to exercise its voice by choosing a learning path of personal interest.
5. Closing Circle. Fellows and participants gather in a large group again and engage in open dialogue about the Showcase experience. Like the opening circle, the closing does not have a specific end in mind. The purpose is to understand responses to the democratic learning experiences of the Showcase. These responses often include a shift in thinking about effective pedagogy in STEM classrooms, effective professional development structures, and most importantly, effective learning environments for historically marginalized learners. At the second Showcase of each Sci-Ed Fellowship in May, a brief graduation ceremony that publicly recognizes the work of Sci-Ed Fellows follows the closing circle.
Debrief and Future Iteration
After the first Showcase, Fellows reflect on the first learning cycle and begin the process of synthesizing the learnings from that experience. Sci-Ed uses a Back to the Future to protocol for this transition. This protocol provides a structured format for Fellows to evaluate the experience of the Sci-Ed Fellowship through the first learning cycle in order to surface ideas about future modifications to Workshops, WICs, Showcases, and iterations of the program. Fellows envision an ideal future for the program, initiate discussions about actions and timelines required to get to this future vision, and clarify the vision of what the Sci-Ed Fellowship is really trying to accomplish.
This experience transitions the group back into the habit of collaboratively addressing problems that will again be the core work of Workshops during the second learning cycle. While the Showcase highlights a polished WIC, the debrief underscores the reality that all Fellows’ WICs are fundamentally in-process solutions to problems of practices that will continue to evolve during the second learning cycle.
A second learning cycle follows the first. During the second learning cycle, Fellows build on the experiences of the first cycle. Many refine the story they told for the first Showcase; many apply the learning experiences from the first learning cycle to a new story about their classrooms. The second cycle culminates in a second public Showcase where Fellows again share and reflect. The second learning cycle is a time that many Sci-Ed Cohorts enter a performing stage of team development in which the repeated structure of the first learning cycle supports tremendous growth for Fellows through high-level collaboration.
WICs are products of constant iteration and the Sci-Ed Showcase publicly spotlights loose threads. These stories have not reached their ends. Educators and audience together grapple with rich problems well beyond the Showcase date. This is how democratic STEM teaching expertise in NYC teachers develops over time so that historically underserved youth have access to a quality STEM education.
It is also from this grappling that the larger urban STEM education community gains experience with a professional development model that adroitly identifies problems of practice unique to a range of classrooms, implements teacher moves based on a theory of change (the Democratic STEM Teaching Framework), measures the effectiveness of solution ideas, responds to outcomes of teacher moves through disciplined inquiry, and builds a networked community that collaboratively iterates to refine promising pedagogical practices. These characteristics are at the heart of improvement science. And they are on full display at the Sci-Ed Showcase.
Keywords: Showcase, Democratic STEM Teaching Framework, Push My Thinking, Improvement Science, Performing, Iteration