Technical Advisors


This page mostly contains teachers' commentary from responses to ISTF Final Process Evaluation questions concerning the preparation for, work on, and completion of their project participation.

Preparing for the ISTF Project

Teachers explained how they found out about the ISTF, their reasons for entering student teams, and their initial concerns:

Last year our school entered one team. Our goal last year was to complete the project and learn about the process. This year we had three teams and two of them finished and entered their projects.

Another science teacher told me about it.

Approached by students.

I think it allows students experience how involved research is. They donít fully understand this with classroom labs. It also gives them a chance to develop their skills of working with others toward completing a common goal which is necessary no matter what is in their future. They can experience these things by studying a topic that they are interested in.

Our school requires a competitive science project to be completed outside of class for honors level students. They have competed in the International Science and engineering Fair in recent years and we felt that students were not getting enough experience completing background research for their projects. After exploring several options, we decided upon the ISTF as a vehicle to learning about background research.

I am really interested as a science teacher for the new directions in science fair projects for middle school students. I really appreciate the fact that they can work in teams and that all team members can be recognized for their efforts.

Never having participating in the ISTF before, my concerns were about 1) students reception to the competition, 2) ability to find technical advisors, 3) students ability to chose appropriate projects and 4)how to build good websites.

Being able to locate technical advisors; being able to have the teams engaged until the completion of the project.

Time, we have a year end testing in which we must cover a certain curriculum. The students' graduation status depends on passing a certain number of these tests.

Can the students sustain interest long enough to complete such an extensive project? Will we get enough support from the technical advisor, because I am not a science teacher?

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Although the majority of teachers said the teacher training guide and web site were informative, some said these resources were not helpful:

Yes - the guide is clear but nothing beats just trying it.

All relevant information was provided on the website and the fact that you could get visual copies of winning projects for students to model after.

It was great to refer back to any time the students asked a question about the process it was spelled out for you.

I really didn't know that there was training. I went through this from ground zero.

Participating teachers made suggestions as to what kinds of additional help would be useful.

A list of potential technical advisors would be helpful. Also a list of judging criteria would be helpful to me and to my students.

A flowchart of what to do and where to go on the website.

As a classroom teacher, I wasnít clear whether we needed to move the solution into a real application. I would have wanted more guidance in how to do this.

A mentor, someone who has done one of the projects before who could be reached by phone to talk me through some of the sections.

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Teachers discussed issues regarding topic selection and refinement:

After we selected our topic, we located the NCT that matched our problem.

The students were asked to select 3 possible topics in most of the NCTs, then they were grouped by interest with the option to change teams if they preferred so.

Some teams were in a little over their heads and had to adjust. It was information overload. It did however teach them the importance of focus in a research project. I very specifically stated several times from the beginning that the three things that would bring them down would be focus, communication, slackers. In the end, most discovered I was right.

I had several teams this year whose initial project ideas were not original (ie the students came up with an idea, did some initial research and found that their project idea had already been developed). I met with these groups individually and discussed their interests, problems facing our community etc. With several of the groups we redid their project MANY times.

Discuss, pose questions, discuss more. This is their project. I tried to let them make their own discoveries.

I had individual meetings with groups. Also, I required them to do quite a bit of research which helped in narrowing down their topic.

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Working on the ISTF Project

Teachers explained the benefits of the ISTF project and the hurdles involved:

Although each of the above was a problem to be solved, we did not find it too difficult. The most difficult task was encouraging students to independently synthesize all the data and information that they were gathering from the Internet and from technical advisors.

We require this level of biology to complete some type of science fair project.

The project ask students to use technology and do research. My class combines English with technology so the these students are with us all year. I am an English teacher and my team teacher is a Technology teacher. Students spend 45 minutes in my class and 45 in his every day. Together we teach Language Literacy, Technology Literacy and Visual Literacy. This project is a great application of all three.

It is important that students be exposed to technology as it relates to the science curriculum. Technology makes science education real world for students.

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Teachers discussed the participation of technical advisors:

We had 3 teams. One team took the initiative and searched for an advisor extensively. They had options to choose from. The other team received a positive reply from an advisor I suggested them. The third team did not find a technical advisor. Letters of inquiry were provided to all teams in the beginning.

I approached the technical advisor. He was someone who'd volunteered to help in our school science fairs in the past.

The students were excited that a real scientist/engineer would give them that much attention. Also, the technical advisor modeled some very valuable problem-solving strategies.

The networking by fifth graders with multiple technical advisors (adults in the real world who were engineers, scientists, and computer analyst) was one of the most valuable educational experiences for the children and the two educators who sponsored this project.

Our technical advisor came and worked with us in class once a week. This was extraordinarily helpful to us. He was also accessible by email and phone.

Our advisor came into the classroom to discuss with us our progress and to give advice on how to proceed with our research.

In retrospect, I believe that teacher monitoring of technical advisors should be a requirement of ISTF. One of my groups had a technical advisor who worked with them regularly and then in the last week asked to be dissociated with them and advised them to find another advisor.

There are many aspects of engineering that I do not know and having an engineer here to answer the technical questions was wonderful. He gave them several things to think about and guidelines to follow to have a successful project.

The technical advisor has an interest in the subject. Her/his role is very important in developing a project with educational benefits for the students.

I think that technical advisors need to be involved earlier in the process. Project selection should hinge more on the advisors who are available, sort of like the atmosphere in which college level primary investigators help graduate students to locate thesis projects.

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Completing the ISTF Project

Teachers explained the impact of the ISTF on their students:

Teaming, communication and web site development skills were the primary lessons learned regarding student participation. Students also became more aware of the impact a particular technology had on their lives. Finally, students became more confident, proficient at problem solving and doing research via the Internet.

Learned to use community resource people to expand knowledge. Learned to evaluate their work in terms of complex, established criteria (ISTF guidelines) which weren't negotiable!

My students have a better perspective of how teamwork applies in a real world setting. How science and engineering teamwork really happens.

It truly represented doing and learning through inquiry. The parameters of the investigation narrowed while at the same time great depth of understanding emerged about technology, engineering, science concepts, and research.

This project gives the students a better feel as to future problem solving that will some day be in their hands.

I feel it is a great challenge for fifth grade students and setting a goal for them to step up to should be a priority for all teachers. this is a perfect opportunity for students to not only learn about science and technology, but for them to set a goal and feel good about reaching it.

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Teachers who responded provided guidance for a first-time teacher who is considering having his/her students participate in the ISTF:

Read through all of the tutorials- even the student and technical advisor instructions. And do not be afraid to ask questions of the program director as the projects develop!

An excellent problem solving and a good technique for using the ''scientific method'' for attacking a problem.

Enter one or two teams at first; keep meeting with the teams throughout the project and emphasize the importance in meeting deadlines. Finally, try to find topics that will be of interest to the majority of the students, and, to you as well, in case a technical advisor is not found.

Relax. Revise expectations as necessary. Keep it a positive learning experience, yet allow the students to find out that teamwork and learning are not always easy or simple.

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