Now that I’m healthy again (hooray!) I’m back at work on The Elements Unearthed project preparing to write up a major grant application for the National Science Foundation for their Informal Science Education program. The due date for the application, which must be submitted electronically through their FastLane system, is Nov. 19 but my goal is to have it all done by Saturday the 14th. I had applied for this same solicitation last year and was declined. The reviewers all said that the idea behind this project is worthy and that I should re-apply, but that there were a few weaknesses to my proposal that need to be addressed. One was that my evaluation/assessment plan at the end needed to be better defined and thought through, and another was that I am basically the only administrator of the project. What would to happen to the project if I were to become ill or unable to finish it? My recent bout of kidney stone/influenza had me down for about 3 1/2 weeks, and it’s served to underscore the need to set up strategic partnerships and to share decision-making with others on this project. To that end, I am working to not only set up several additional site visits/projects for this year but to partner these projects with local museums. I am also working to create an Advisory Board consisting of science educators (for content appropriateness), industry leaders (including mining and environmental groups), and marketing/distribution organizations. I won’t say yet who I am trying to get on board, but things are moving forward and by the time I submit the grant application I’ll have worked out several partnerships.
I also hope to have at least the beginning of the Elements Unearthed Podcast set up on iTunes so that the grant reviewers can see examples and because it’s high time we got it up and running. I keep promising it will be soon, but doing the final editing on the MATC student videos is very detailed and time consuming work. I always told my students that the relationship between effort and quality on any project isn’t linear (if you work twice as long you get twice the quality). It’s actually an exponential (or even hyperbolic) curve. In the diagram shown here, most high school students are satisfied with producing a work that is of good quality. After all, that’s what their teachers usually expect for a grade. They are rarely asked to produce a work of excellent quality (which is expected in the professional world). One might think that it only takes a little bit more work to turn a good project into an excellent project, but as the quality level increases, the amount of time and effort becomes steeper. It takes at least as much effort to go from good to excellent as it does to go from start to good, or in other words, if it takes two months to produce a good project, it will take four months to produce an excellent project. Which is why I chronically underestimate the amount of time it takes to complete a project. Sometimes students (and adults) get the idea that a project has to be perfect before it is released to the public or declared “done” (I suffer from this perfectionistic attitude all too much myself). Looking at the chart, you can see that the curve becomes infinitely steep as one approaches perfection – in other words, perfection takes an infinite amount of effort and can never be reached. Practically, it means that one can tweak and modify a project forever and still find things that aren’t quite right. The answer is somewhere between good and perfect. To be competitive and to stand out above all the other podcasts out there, our episodes must be excellent. Good isn’t good enough. But eventually I’ll have to let go, say the episodes are finished (though not perfect) and simply send them out to the public. They’re not there yet, but they soon will be (tweak, tweak). I want to have at least three episodes ready before setting up the podcast site at iTunes, simply because I don’t want people to write this off as one of those single-episode podcasts that are all too frequent on iTunes. My goal is that this will be one of the premiere podcast sites for chemistry education, with eventually over 100 episodes about five years from now (and over 20 by May, 2010).
In the meantime, I have prepared a final video of an episode I created last year to explain this project and its rationale. I have already uploaded the video in two parts to YouTube (just search for “Elements Unearthed” and I’m sure you’ll find them, but here are the links: Part A: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YA_lwqDm-TI and Part B: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jOyJosYVOE). I am attaching the two parts here for you to look at as well. They explain more what the project is, why we are doing it (our four major reasons and objectives), and give theoretical and philosophical justifications. I have created a series of animations and have many quotes from experts and recent studies about why projects like this one are essential for keeping the U. S. at the forefront of STEM education, and why utilizing citizen scientists and historians can open up the quantity and quality of science done in this country, and why using student teams is critical for this project from the perspective of educational theory. Please watch them and make comments back. I have set up a new e-mail address specifically for this project. It is: firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope to hear from you soon.