What is in a Scientist Spotlights assignment?

Every Scientist Spotlight post includes a downloadable student assignment. The assignment includes a short introduction about the scientist, link(s) to a biographical resource, link(s) to a scientific resource, and a list of metacognitive questions (to learn more about promoting metacognition, see Tanner, 2012). Students are asked to review these resources and write a reflection on what they learned, addressing the prompts listed in the assignment. To find the written reflective assignments, click on the “Download Student Assignment” button on the scientist’s webpage to download a Word document you can use in-class or as homework.

What is a Scientist Spotlights assignment? What is it not?

A Scientist Spotlights assignment is an out-of-class curriculum supplement that introduces students to counter-stereotypical examples of scientists while teaching course content. Scientist Spotlights differ from activities that simply present pictures or stories of scientists to students in that they convey course content and create opportunities for students to deeply reflect on who does science and how it relates to them.

How do I introduce the Scientist Spotlights assignment to my students?

As with any assignment, there is no one way to introduce it. What class are you teaching, and how does this scientist’s work connect to what students are learning? Try spending a small amount of class time at the start of the course establishing a classroom culture conducive to performing Scientist Spotlights. Reflect for yourself and share with students why the class has these assignments. Remind students that there are no “right” or “wrong” ways to respond, and let students write about whatever parts of the assignments that resonate most strongly with them for each assignment. They need not strictly respond to each assignment prompt in equal amounts or in the order shown.

After students complete the Scientist Spotlights assignment, how do I follow up?

When following up with students, reflect on your experience. What did you discover while reading the students’ responses? What resonated with you as the instructor? In a previous study (Schinske et al., 2016), the instructor spent about 5 minutes in class sharing anonymous student quotes to demonstrate how different students engaged. This instructor looked for student quotes demonstrating the importance of the types of people who do science. This showed students, in their own words, that it is important to understand who does science when considering what currently is and is not known about the topics studied in class.

I’m pressed for time. Can’t I just present the scientist in class?

A previous study showed that just showing a photo and video in class does NOT have the impact on students’ perceptions of scientists that are observed with the metacognitive questions included in the assignment (Schinske et al., 2016). We encourage going beyond simply mentioning/showing diverse scientists in class and moving to require regular work including metacognition about who does science. The Scientist Spotlight assignment includes metacognitive questions (to learn more about promoting metacognition, see Tanner, 2012).

What if I’m worried that my students feel like this will be extra and like busy work?

Reflect on why you are using Scientist Spotlights. Integrate Scientist Spotlights into existing activities and learning goals, NOT as something extra that is disconnected and perceived as busy work. Previous studies encountered very little evidence of student resistance to completing Scientist Spotlights (Schinske et al., 2016). Students completed Scientist Spotlights at very high rates, earned high scores, and seemed to find the assignments engaging and helpful.

What if I cannot find a Spotlight related to my course content?

Send us a note, and we will look into building Spotlights to suit your needs. We also have a Submit a Spotlight page for people who are interested in doing so.

How often do I need to do Spotlights with my students to have an impact?

Some instructors have done as few as 3 Spotlights over a semester and see shifts in students’ ideas about scientists (Schinske et al., 2016). We are studying how this works for different grade levels!

How can I make sure Scientist Spotlights have lasting impacts on students’ ideas about diversity in science?

As a starting point, include the reflection question about “What did this tell you about the types of people that do science?” Beyond that, you can test your impact by asking students before the class starts and at the end of the class an open-ended prompt (e.g. “Based on what you know now, describe the types of people that do science. If possible, refer to specific scientists and what they tell you about the types of people that do science.”) and see what responses you get. If you are interested in participating in our research, please Contact Us to see if your class qualifies!