For two weeks this past May, eleven STEM education graduate students from the Michigan State University (MSU) College of Education had an opportunity that few graduate students experience: gaining a global perspective on their research interests through collaboration and sharing of ideas with students from other universities across the world. These students participated in the study abroad course, “Selected Topics in Teachers’ Professional Learning,” along with graduate students from universities in Israel and Australia. Students were hosted and learned at the Weizmann Institute of Science, one of the world’s top research institutes, in Rehovot, Israel. The length of the program allowed students to develop relationships with fellow participants from Israel and Australia, identify and carry out a research project on a teacher professional development program of mutual interest, and present back to faculty and their peers.
Tom Bielik, a post-doctoral researcher at MSU’s CREATE for STEM Institute, spearheaded the course along with Professor Yael Schwarz from the Department of Science Teaching at the Weizmann Institute. Support was provided by CREATE for STEM Institute, the Office of International Studies in Education at the College of Education, the Office of Study Abroad, and Jewish Studies and Asian Studies programs.
The study abroad course began in Spring term with a series of online videoconferences. During this time, students divided into mixed teams of MSU and international students and collected data for their research. In May, students attended two weeks of daily classes in Israel. For each day of the course, mornings were dedicated to presentations by faculty from Israel and MSU. In the afternoons, students met in teams to analyze data and prepare their final project presentations. Students also had an opportunity to travel to the Technion Institute of Israel, hosted by Professor Tali Tal, to gain perspectives from the faculty of the Faculty of Education in Science and Technology. While at the Technion, students engaged in several unique experiences, including a tour of the Baha’i Temple gardens in Haifa and an archeological dig in Galilee, the latter sparking a thoughtful discussion about the nature of inquiry and science education. Throughout the study abroad, students also enjoyed specially arranged guided tours of Jerusalem, Masada, and the Dead Sea.
The final day of the study abroad program ended at the impressive particle accelerator observation deck of the Weizmann Institute. There, students presented their research projects and reflected on their experiences. Students agreed that the program was engaging, educational, and very successful. Potential opportunities for MSU students to continue their collaborations at the Weizmann Institute as post-doctoral fellows or visiting scientists were discussed.
“Selected Topics in Teachers’ Professional Learning” was organized by CREATE for STEM Institute to provide an international experience for graduate student research. Ultimately, the study abroad course is planned to be repeated, where each year or two it will take place in a different country and focus on other contemporary issues related to STEM education. The Weizmann Institute was a logical location to host the pilot of the course. The Institute’s Department of Science Teaching is home to leading STEM education researchers and has a long and successful history of promoting teachers’ professional development and training, examining students’ learning and understanding, and developing classroom curricula and outreach educational programs. Michigan State University and the Weizmann Institute also have a long history of fruitful collaboration. In particular, Professor Joseph Krajcik, director of CREATE for STEM Institute at MSU, spent a sabbatical year, mentored post-doc researchers, and collaborated with researchers on several projects at the Weizmann Institute. Tom Bielik received his PhD from the Weizmann in 2015 and has a strong connection to the Department of Science Teaching and the Institute, where he served as the chairman of the Weizmann Institute Student Council and has been involved in many outreach and educational programs. In September 2015, Tom joined the CREATE for STEM Institute at MSU as a post-doctoral researcher under the supervision of Professor Krajcik. He is involved in several projects including developing an online modeling tool for middle and high school students, teaching core energy concepts in middle school classes, and investigating optimal learning moments in physics and chemistry classes in high schools in the USA and Finland.
Photo courtesy of the Weizmann Institute.