Researching Climate in the USA

Special Note

IMG_9377I’m writing a Journey called Researching Climate. When it’s done, it will be available for middle school students on This is a story about my journey to write the Journey: Researching Climate. This is for my friends, family, and peers so they can know what I’ve been up to for months on my solo cross country road trip. Also, this is for my professor at Montana State University who is reading this (hopefully). It is, after all, my final (!) project for graduate school, so thanks for playing along if things get a little weird.

J is for Job

“You can do what you have to do, and sometimes you can do it even better than you think you can.”
– Jimmy Carter

There I was, standing in a long white hall with nothing to look at in either direction, waiting for the results. As he closed the door, he said it would only take a minute and to not go far away, but it felt like forever. Forever seems like exactly the time it takes for you to realize that it’s not going to take a minute, there’s nothing else to look at, and you might as well wander to the end of the hall to see what else there isn’t to look at. Once there, I found a poster from Montana State University. It was filled with many small bright pictures, and said something about making the world a great place. Apparently, having something to look at was not what I needed, and I walked back to stare at exactly the same piece of white wall I’d been staring at before. The unlit hallway wasn’t dark or light, and somehow it made the white painted cement even more textured, like the surface of the Moon. Or it had just been a really long time since I paid that much attention to a white brick. I wasn’t anxious or nervous, just calm, and extremely quiet. Right when I decided that forever was truly result-less and perhaps I should consider becoming a monk, the very door that had been temporarily blocking me from my future opened, and there stood my friendly graduate advisor. With his hand outstretched, he smiled and said, “Allow me to be the first to greet you with a Master’s.”

IMG_0796Now that you know how this story basically ends, I will begin at the beginning. Recently, I ended seven years in Houston to travel to Montana and finish graduate school. If you read about my adventures in Belize, you know that I had much to do this semester to complete my monster thesis in curriculum development for Journeys. As much as one can be “done,” I have now completed those professional requirements and am now onto a new journey. Because of a strange sequence of finishing my bachelor’s in Montana in 2004, moving to Houston in 2009, beginning my master’s through MSU remotely from Texas in 2014, and moving from Houston in 2016 to finally complete said degree in Montana, everything oddly feels full circle. Like Montana and Texas are two huge bookends for a decade or so of my life, filled with volumes of journals now in storage. My job in this journey is to finish. Finish Houston, finish my thesis, finish graduate school, and finish Montana. Check.

Two years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea to create STEMJourneys, or interactive reading passages available online, where science and education meet. It’s been an incredible journey pulling together the initial conceptual framework during my travels. For every trip, I begin a Journey and interview scientists in the field to bring their story to life for middle school and high school classrooms. The purpose of the J in a Journey is Job, or the introduction of students to pertaining STEM careers. I aim to research and travel to meet scientists and engineers to keep this goal of the Journey current and relevant.

Waypoint: Job

Every leg of a journey needs to be marked with reflection, and Waypoints are akin to navigation to help keep everything on track. Waypoints in Journeys are brief, multimedia checkpoints. In the Journeys themselves, they are formative assessments for teachers to gauge learning in action. In this case, it’s a map showing the many places my pretty blue truck has taken me in over two months of full time road tripping. As for, here’s a separate video showing how an inquiry-based Journey and its Waypoints work. Welcome to Journey

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O is for Opportunity

“The thing that’s worth doing is trying to improve our understanding of the world and gain a better appreciation of the universe and not to worry too much about there being no meaning. And, you know, try and enjoy yourself. Because, actually, life’s pretty good. It really is.”
– Elon Musk

IMG_9709The Opportunity leg of the Journey is to introduce students to current scientists and engineers and give a brief biography of their background. As I planned the trip, I decided to write a Journey on climate along the way. I admit I was reluctant at first, given the international focus I’d aspired for in my original vision for I even coined myself the Reluctant Roadtripper. Why on Earth would I want to write about climate while driving through landlocked states? Nevertheless, I needed a Journey to keep my journey on track, and it turned out that climate was an oddly therapeutic topic to reflect on for the hours and hours of driving cross-country, solo, along our nation’s backbone. It is not a strong topic for me as we didn’t focus on this in any of my previous teaching experiences. I visited scientists, engineers and education contacts in San Antonio, Boulder, Missoula and beyond. Places such as NCAR, NEON and GLOBE in Boulder and the Montana Climate Office in Missoula. The latter was coincidentally in the same building I took Environmental Geology from as an undergrad at the University of Montana a long time ago.

Waypoint: Opportunity

Here is a demonstration of what’s called a discrepant event, or a strategy for an introduction to a topic that is designed to promote discourse and communication with peers. It’s actually a discrepant event about a discrepant event… again, remember, this is for my final grade, thanks!

U is for Unique

“It’s always a combination of physics and poetry that I find inspiring. It’s hard to wrap your head around things like the Hubble scope.”
– Tom Hanks

In Journeys, the purpose of this leg is to reflect on the actual science of the topic. In the case of the Journey: Researching Climate, middle school students look at various aspects of continental landforms and how they affect climate and vice versa. In the case of my journey about producing this Journey, it’s about the science of science education. If you’re confused, imagine how I feel. The metacognitive process of pursuing a master of science in science education while conducting science on the process of science, education, and science education is exciting but frankly exhausting, especially as a reflective curriculum producer. It’s like Science Education “Inception.”

Waypoint: Unique

Notice how I never said “climate change” in this Journey‘s production so far? But you probably instantly thought “climate change,” right? I’m not surprised. This Journey is on climate, yes. Climate change? Well, not necessarily. In fact, misconceptions on weather, climate and climate change surround us all. Where do we start to sort it all out? Starting with what we think we know and how that may or may not be factual is a start, but a probe (misconceptions probe for my teacher readers) like this is rarely easy to endure.

In the next podcast, you’ll hear my thoughts on the topic, as well as my ever-so-slowly improving skills in media production (I actually like this one). Big special thanks to Paul Andersen from Bozeman Science, another expert I met and interviewed along my journey.

There is also a middle school video version of this for the Journey: Researching Climate. I get that the misconception probes we were asked to create have a different format and include images, correct and incorrect scenarios, and implications for instructions as students INDIVIDUALLY go through the probe prior to hands-on instruction (got that, Dr. Graves?). I’ve expanded its purpose to reflect media, as well as some techniques I’ve learned from Dr. Muller and In his YouTube channel experiments, he discusses how people learn most effectively through watching others answer/stumble in their answers as they formulate their own. This social element to science media production takes “man-on-the-street” interviews to a whole new level. I’m experimenting with blending these formats.

R is for Real Science

“Science does not know its debt to imagination.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

It turns out that I really have been on to something with this Journey approach, and I created this concept so that students could feel like they’re going on a research journey of their own. You’ve noticed the J, O, U, etc. This step by step method of giving you a little information at a time with embedded assessments is called a case study. Somehow, I went through my entire graduate program AND developed a similar approach AND defended it to my peers without realizing it had an actual name. Case study. In this class, we used a case study on the crazy muddled history of native vs. non-native fish, shrimp, and biomass in Flathead Lake over the last 100 years (that’s one crazy story if you don’t know about it). Students work with real scientific material in Real Science to practice data interpretation and graphing. Not surprisingly, I’ll continue marrying these techniques in Journeys moving forward.

Waypoint: Real Science

What do you think? How have you incorporated STEM in your teaching, without or with realizing it? Go to Share your STEMJourney and sign up to leave you “pin” on the map of all the great STEM education we’re contributing to! Better yet, contribute to the Forum in For Teachers!

N is for New Science

“It’s all to do with the training. You can do a lot if you’re properly trained.”
– Queen Elizabeth

IMG_0159I’ll never forget as I walked down the famous hill of MSU’s campus on a beautiful morning in Bozeman, excitedly talking on the phone with my confidant, telling her about the thrill of the freshly completed defense. I even gave out a ‘wahoo!’ Well, that excitement lasted about two minutes. Maybe less. I suppose I should be thankful that she gave me those (maybe less than) two minutes, because as soon as I was done, she grilled me on next steps. “You need to finish Climate. You need to get on the phone with scientists, now. You need to keep building this.” She was right. I stayed cooped up in my dorm for another week, with barely a dinner or hike to celebrate (and a cold to boot, doesn’t everyone get sick after some big event?).

IMG_0246Journeys are intended to take 1-2 days of instruction time to complete. Sorry Dr. Graves! (My classmates and I were supposed to write a 4-6 week inquiry investigation). My goal is to provide resources for teachers to use after they have completed hands-on investigations, thus resources in the ELABORATE section of a typical 5E learning cycle. Teachers are pros at the Engage, Explore, Explain, and even Evaluate sections of the learning cycle developed with BSCS in Colorado Springs (of whom I also visited). But it’s that 4th E, Elaborate, that Journeys focus on. Give students opportunities to synthesize and elaborate on their knowledge from multiple scientific paths… Perhaps my peers could use a Journey after they implement inquiry investigations and help out with the piloting program with their expertise as well…

Quick commercial break for 5E. I’m including the PDF of the 5E outline that my peers produced collaboratively here. It was just an assignment for Week 3, but I liked how it turned out and am including it in my portfolio. Rowell_Week3_DiscussionReflection_DiscussionLeader_COMPILED

IMG_9377What I did not anticipate is just how long it would take to write Journeys. Well, that’s not entirely accurate, because I’ve been setting up the entire program for my capstone project and learning the hard lessons first. I’ve also been severely challenged by driving and working concurrently. Anyhow, the reason why you (especially you, Dr. Graves) are reading my reflection of this process and not the actual Journey is because Researching Climate is nowhere close to ready yet. It will need to go through many filters in print and media production, including literacy strategies and differentiation/leveling, user interface improvements, content review, teacher vetting, and interactive PDF publishing on site. Since the New Science leg in Journeys concludes with students making predictions based on trends in data, I’ll add that I predict Climate will be done and available for teachers by the time school begins.

Waypoint: New Science

I’d prefer you to see the high school life science pilot Journey: Researching Dolphins on It includes that magic PDF, updated Waypoints, and tour of the sample. However, since my assignment was to create an investigation for my peers and maybe you’re interested in seeing the process ‘behind the scenes’, I’ve attached a DRAFT of the teacher document for Journey Draft: Researching Climate, absolutely not allowed for any distribution.

E is for Engineering

“What makes us human, I think, is an ability to ask questions, a consequence of our sophisticated spoken language.”
– Jane Goodall

In the Engineering leg, students read through situations in science where engineering complement each other through creating explanations of scientific phenomena and creating solutions to problems, respectively. There is a lot of emphasis in current engineering curriculum for students to design and build prototypes using a variety of materials. The purpose of the Engineering leg in Journeys is to take it a step further and review actual examples of labs, technology, and engineering careers in order to elaborate on their previous understanding.

IMG_9969I couldn’t get enough of NCAR and went back after capstone week. I toured the Earth Observatory Laboratory (EOL) with Alison Rockwell, a classmate turned colleague. For a whole afternoon, she toured me through every lab there. My favorite was a tie between the atmosphere-sensing dropsonde testing lab and the Design Fabrication Systems lab. No matter where we went, she showed me how lots of different types of engineers are involved with a project; electrical, optical, mechanical, etc. She kept reminding me that studying atmospheric science at the National Center Atmospheric Center is only possible due to the extensive tools that are created onsite through these interdisciplinary teams, and to keep that in mind the next time I see those weather planes go up for Hurricane Hunters, etc. Guess what Climate’s Waypoint: Engineering will focus on?

Waypoint: Engineering

Not done yet, but check out this pretty Wordle I produced.wordle (1)

Y is for You!
“There are some four million different kinds of animals and plants in the world. Four million different solutions to the problems of staying alive.”
– Sir David Attenborough

IMG_0367In a strange twist of events this summer, I took the last class of the MS Science Education program and the first class (501 or “Welcome to Science Education”) at the same time. As I completed the final drafts of my MONSTER capstone thesis paper, I was reviewing my syllabus for 501 and starting my introductory science journal. As I watched everyone’s capstone presentations and prepared for my own, I was thinking about the discussion rubric due from my 501 peers. As I walked across the stage in our graduation ceremony, I was thinking this final project that you are reading right now. I found, however, that this duality was a rewarding experience. Combined with a first-ever national STEM Teacher Certification course I’m also currently enrolled in, I was able to compile my years of experience into some sort of package. My MSSE degree and a STEM back. Tied nicely with an existential bow, just like my time in Montana, Texas, and back… like everything came full circle once again.

IMG_9817I love it when friends suggest that I should write a journey on writing a Journey. It makes me feel happy inside. As for friends, I am beyond thankful for the many people who have taken care of me on my journey. This particular project has been lonely and social, exciting and tedious, poetic and brain-numbing, yet somehow always creative. It has been more challenging than any of my international travels in the last year (save China, that was the hardest). At times on the road, numb from hours of seemingly aimless driving, I’d have an explosion of inspiration and slam on the brakes to record my thoughts or photograph the unbelievable scenery. Not only have I known for sometime that this transitional summer just had to be this way, and that someday I’d look back on this time with gratitude (especially for the copious times of reflection), but I have not let a moment pass without remembering how supported I am in this friendly universe.

Waypoint: You!

IMG_0993In You!, students are given the tasks for their final assignments and encouraged to become citizen scientists with actual examples. Get involved with something current, relevant, and scienc-y. Just like Dr. Muller’s conclusion in his keynote at NSTA STEM Forum in Denver, learning through media is not done passively and not even with further questioning, but by the social participation of watching the media with each other’s influence. For my teacher peers, this is huge. So, I need your feedback on Journeys, the teacher Forum on, and other contributions for our social media projects. Please let me know if you want to be involved.

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 3.10.13 PMHence, the proverbial learning baton is now passed to you (any and all readers). Your comments about the learning-about-learning process, or any other comments really, are welcome in the space below. As for any journey, safe travels.

Many thanks, Jess

(c) 2016 Jess Rowell – Full Circle J. Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved, where science and education meet!