The National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE; http://ncesse.org) is today sending the formal Step 2 Review Board comments back to the student teams for the 43 finalist proposals reviewed. NCESSE has worked to get the comments back a week in advance of the scheduled December 15 deadline so that proposing teams, lead by their Teacher Facilitators, can have time to review the comments in advance of the Holidays. Each finalist proposal, whether selected for flight or not, includes general information that provides insight into core goals of SSEP, the review process, and the important teachable moment that should be created around the reviewers’ comments. So that these insights can be shared with students, teachers, administrators, families, and all other interested in SSEP across the participating communities, we provide the general comments that we are sending back to the student finalist teams below. What is most important to us is that while we are responding to the finalist teams with the general comments below, all 447 student teams that submitted proposals should take these general comments to heart, and teachers are encouraged to build a teachable moment in their classes around what is contained in this Blog Post. It is yet another SSEP window on how science is really done.
General Feedback to All Student Teams Submitting Finalist Proposals to the National SSEP Step 2 Review Board
The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) National Team sends heartfelt congratulations to all student teams that submitted finalist proposals in response to the STS-134 flight experiment opportunity.
Over 20,000 students were given the opportunity to participate in SSEP, 447 student proposals were submitted, and 293 were put forward to the community Step 1 Review Boards. Of this number, just 43 – less than 10% of the submitted total – were selected to move to Step 2 Review, and only 16 were selected for flight.
Submitting your proposal was the culmination of a number of achievements that should give you joy. You were challenged to think like, in fact be scientists, through an opportunity that made available a real, flight-ready, research mini-laboratory destined to fly on the Space Shuttle – a truly historic opportunity at the end of the Shuttle era. How many of today’s professional scientists were given such an opportunity when they were students in grades 5-12? The answer is virtually none, yet the vast majority would have been elated to have been immersed in your experience these past many weeks. And here is where you come in. You rose to the challenge. You critically thought about the flight opportunity. You posed a question worth asking in a microgravity environment, and designed an experiment – constrained by the operation of the mini-lab and Shuttle flight operations – that was worthy of exploring an answer. You then had to communicate your ideas, and the case for your experiment, in a real proposal submitted to a formal 2-step review process. Your proposal made it to the finalist level, and was ultimately selected for flight, going before a Step 2 National Board of scientists and educators that reviewed it using the same procedures as those for professional researchers submitting a proposal to e.g., NASA or the National Science Foundation. YOU HAVE BEEN IMMERSED IN SCIENCE! And you have done something remarkable that you will remember always. We know your goal was flying your experiment aboard the Space Shuttle. But in truth that was not our goal. We wanted students to be immersed in the journey, so they could see first hand what a journey through the world of science and human exploration was all about. So from one generation of researchers to you, that next generation, we say … reflect on your journey, and be proud.
General Notes on the Step 2 Review Board’s Comments on Your Proposal
We need to stress that the selection was very competitive, given the quality of the proposals, as is the case for the vast majority of proposal opportunities open to professional researchers.
The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program should be thought of as a continuum of teachable moments through the real-life world of science. That is what the program was designed to be. Carefully going over the comments from the Review Board is one such teachable moment. Comments back to proposers are a critical part of a Review Board’s function, and the comments are meant to provide the Review Board’s view of how well the proposal delivered against the formal review criteria. These are the same criteria provided in the proposal application package, and which governed your writing of the proposal. The teachable moment for your team, led by your Teacher Facilitator, is to re-read your proposal carefully, then read the comments, and see what aspects of the proposal were viewed favorably, and what fell short and why. Try to put yourself in the mind-set of the reviewers, and try to see your proposal unbiased by your involvement in its development and writing. We know that this is sometimes a hard frame of mind to attain, but you’ve probably not read the proposal in a number of weeks, and that will help. Then have a broad and deep discussion about each of the comments in the context of the proposal and assess how you might address each if given an opportunity to re-write the proposal. This is, in fact, the process professional researchers go though once they receive their reviewer’s comments. And it should also be pointed out that, like professional researchers, you may not agree with all the reviewer’s comments, and that is also part of the manifold of how real science is done.
More generally speaking, a professional researcher whose proposal is not selected typically has new opportunities to propose the same experiment, or most likely a more refined version of the experiment based on the reviewers’ comments. That’s what incorporating feedback from one’s peers is all about. For a researcher whose proposal is selected, the reviewers’ comments often provide very valuable insight into refinements that can be made in the proposed research.
Finally, we hope your community participates in the next Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) flight opportunity, soon to be announced. Stay tuned at http://ssep.ncesse.org
Some Relevant Links of Interest
Announcement of Student Proposals Selected for Flight and Honorable Mention Finalists:
Meet the SSEP Step 2 Review Board for STS-134:
SSEP In the News:
Profiles for the SSEP Participating Community:
The SSEP on-orbit research opportunity is enabled through NanoRacks LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.