Asking the Challenging Questions in STEM Education
By: Sarah B. Woodruff
“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why. . . I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
Since stumbling across this quote from Robert F. Kennedy very early in my career as an educator, I have searched for and connected with like-minded people who weren’t afraid to ask the challenging questions. When I was hired as the Ohio’s Evaluation & Assessment and Discovery Centers’ Director in 2008, I quickly discovered my home among talented and inquisitive folks who share my passion for asking, and pursuing, answers to thought-provoking questions.
As it turns out, being in the “questioning business,” can be a good thing. When I joined the Centers 7 years ago, Ohio’s E & A Center and the Discovery Center already were recognized nationwide for providing superior evaluation, assessment, and professional development services and products for educators. During my tenure as Director, my team and I have built upon a rich tradition of inquiry that has served as the foundation of the Centers’ work. And by continuing to pursue answers to important (and challenging) questions about teaching and learning, we have experienced unchecked growth. It seemed only natural for me to ask new questions about how to honor the Centers’ eminent reputation and showcase the talents of my staff, to make an even greater impact on teaching and learning going forward.
My vision for the past 5 years has been to build upon the synergistic relationship of Ohio’s E & A and Discovery Centers. Investing in this relationship extends our existing infrastructure to collaborate more directly with other similar Centers and with other providers of high-quality STEM teaching, learning, evaluation and research services. I believe that formally merging the Discovery and E & A Centers into one organizational unit will enhance and extend the Centers’ capacity to serve the College of EHS, Miami University, and clients and collaborators across Ohio and the US. Capitalizing upon the Centers’ rich history, established reputation, and substantial staff expertise, my hope is that the merger also will facilitate collective efforts to further develop and sustain our work far into the future.
Whether this is your introduction to the “new” Discovery Center or you are a long-time friend of the E & A and Discover Centers, here are a few things you need to know about our merger and reorganization:
- First and foremost, our goals and services remain the same. In uniting the E & A and Discovery Centers, the Discovery Center for Evaluation, Research, and Professional Learning emerges as Ohio’s only comprehensive center for research, evaluation, and professional learning in education focused on science, mathematics, technology, computer science, and engineering. As a unified Center, we provide comprehensive, high-quality research, evaluation, assessment, and professional development services to improve teaching and learning and promote equity in opportunity, access, and outcomes for all.
- Our phenomenal staff has been reorganized and expanded to better serve our clients. The Center’s research and professional learning staff members now work in Research and Evaluation, and Professional Learning Project Teams. The work of the teams is managed by the Center Director, along with two Center Coordinators, and supported by several undergraduate and graduate students, and affiliate researchers.
- We have extended our capacity, in four important areas, to better serve our clients and collaborators:
- The Center’s Research and Evaluation and Professional Learning Teams, which possess specific expertise, have been purposefully designed to tap the individual and collective strengths of each team. This collaborative structure allows the Center to better target and serve the needs of our clients.
- By merging evaluation, assessment, and professional learning functions into a single center, we can now capitalize on opportunities to conduct research in authentic student and teacher learning settings, by studying how professional development efforts translate to teachers’ classrooms.
- Uniting both Centers under the original Discovery umbrella (Ohio’s NSF-funded Systemic Reform Initiatives) creates a more visible presence locally and regionally, as well as across the state and
- The Center’s increased visibility will help to create new collaborations with other educators and education stakeholders and provide greater opportunities to receive valuable input that can guide our decision making. A more collective and rich knowledge-base will allow us to extend our impact and reach throughout STEM education.
While I have played, and will continue to play, a key leadership role in sustaining the Center’s work and growth, the Center consolidation enables me to devote more time to engaging with current and potential clients and fellow educators and disseminating Center work. It also allows me to continue to think creatively and imaginatively by asking, what I hope are relevant and interesting questions that take us on a journey to important educational outcome for all learners. I invite anyone who shares a passion for teaching and learning to join me. Let’s not be afraid to ask the challenging questions—we might be surprised where the journey takes us.