Greetings from the Feedback Galaxy! I’m Kelsie, US2020 RTP’s Knowledge Management VISTA, and will be guiding you through a journey across time and space to take one small step for evaluation, one giant leap for… okay, I’ll stop with the cheesy space talk now.
My position as Knowledge Management VISTA is a pretty behind-the-scenes one and I mostly focus on program infrastructure and evaluations. Today I’m crawling out of my spreadsheet-lined cave to share a few thoughts on our recent STEM Expo and how to get the feedback in new and fun ways.
First, I strategized with Christine, our master event planner, to establish the guiding principles for our evaluation feedback.
We settled on two main points:
- Keep evaluations fun, light-hearted and engaging to will enhance the students’ high-energy and not detract from it
- Emphasize the value of the students’ individual experiences: what they have to say and how they say it matters and deserves to be heard
Thinking up this framework was the easy part, mapping out the method was a bit trickier. What screams fun like an in-depth survey? Believe it or not, most people don’t equate filling out surveys with fun (especially kids). And for kids surveys definitely don’t maintain the excitement of making polymer bouncy balls or experiencing virtual reality.
So what’s an evaluator to do? I scrapped the formal survey idea and let the guiding principles, well, guide me:
Keep it light & fun
First, we got rid of the term “evaluation”. Students spend their entire school day being evaluated on some basis or another and the last thing we want them to think of is the experience of a test. Instead, we opted for the term “feedback” and worked to create an experience of exploration in our designated space. With the help of a projector, dimmed lights, and come clearance classroom crafts, the Feedback Galaxy was born.
The Feedback Galaxy hosted the raffle station, a Lego building feedback activity, and a space for sharing thoughts and experiences. Students were encouraged to play with the space in their own way and answer prompts using different color Legos.
Value students’ experience and perspective
Whenever I fill out a survey for an organization, I know the information I provide is needed and important to making important decisions. However, I never feel as though I can fully express my opinions when answering questions on a scale of 1 to 5. We wanted to students to feel that what they thought mattered most and used this mentality to frame several activities. We incorporated expression-based activities, such as voting for your favorite demonstration, and an inspirational photo project titled “I Can Be” to further examine student experience and aspiration. Back in the Feedback Galaxy, we had “STEM Stars” available for students to express what STEM means to them and how it fits into their lives.
Admittedly, these stations were a bit of a gamble and I’ll be the first to say that I was afraid to sift through piles of data that included, shall we say, anatomical images and strong language. Yet, we found that when you respect and honor students’ perspectives, you will not be disappointed.
What we learned
The US2020 RTP team set out to introduce students to RTP and STEM career paths in a fun, hands on environment. Student feedback, in addition to more formal chaperone feedback (yes, sadly standard surveys), revealed that this goal hit the nail on the head. Students reported overwhelming positive responses to their experience at the Expo, sharing their favorite parts and asking to come back. The most hands-on demonstrations were ranked highest among students, and many made direct connections to demonstrations through the “I Can Be” and “STEM Stars” activities.
We also learned that to reach students, you have to meet them at their level. Looking at the day’s activities in a vacuum is helpful to planning future events, but the real impact comes from the connection students’ make to their own lives and experiences. For example, it wasn’t wrong for 14% of students to respond to the “I Can Be” station with professional sports aspirations. Instead, it provides us with insight to how we can better our work as educators, mentors, and role models to inspire the next generation in ways that are meaningful to them.