Information for Volunteer Principal Investigators (VPIs)


Volunteer PIs are the driving force behind WeSee. These science and engineering professionals commit their time to work with high school students on projects of mutual interest. Along the way, they help young adults see the potential and promise of a career is science, engineering, or technology.

WeSee is currently in development for Fall 2008. If you are interested in hosting an exploration thread, please contact us at WeSeeAdmin at gmail.com.

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WeSee for VPIs

WeSee explorations are designed to connect professional scientists and engineers with high school students. As a Volunteer PI, you will mentor one or more students as they explore the science or the design aspects of a subject of personal interest. You create and maintain Exploration Threads, lines of inquiry with many possible experimental questions (science) or design problems with many possible variations (engineering), and guide students through their personal explorations of the topic. See the Explorations page for some examples.

Goals of WeSee and the role of VPIs

WeSee has two goals: (1) to provide high school students with scientist and engineering role models (preferably within their community) and (2) to develop a strong, deep understanding of the methods of scientific inquiry. As a VPI, you can take a primary role in exciting students about careers in science and engineering, fields which are vital to the US economy, but have suffered recently from flagging interest. As you work with your mentee students on projects they are personally excited about, try to relate the work they are enjoying to possible career paths.
We ask that you review the Inquiy Models for Science and Engineering. These are the guides your Explorers will follow to complete their Explorations. While they are not perfect for describing the processes of science and engineering (no prescribed method ever could be), they will allow your Explorers to ask and answer their own questions using the tools of science and engineering: experimentation, measurement and analysis. Try to make your mentee students aware of how their work relates to the processes of science and engineering and make sure that they, not you, are taking primary responsibility for the design and execution of their projects; guide with a gentle hand.

Requirements for participation

Professional scientists, engineers, doctors, college science and engineering majors, high school educators, and anyone with a background in science is welcome to join the community as a VPI. Request to join the page (see link in upper left) and join another VPI in working with students or open up a new Exploration Thread.

Mentoring a student

At some point, you will be approached by a student. Perhaps it will be directly through an Exploration Thread that you've set up, or perhaps you will be interested in responding to a "Request for a New Thread" post from a student in the Explorations Discussion Area. They will likely be excited about starting a new project and the possibility of having a professional comment on their project.

Getting Started (Opening a New Exploration)

Once you and your Explorer have agreed on some of the basics (topic, estimated length of project, your level of participation), your first step will be to help them open a New Exploration in an Exploration Thread. If their project doesn't fit into any current Exploration Thread, you may choose to open a new Exploration Thread to accommodate the project (see below). The Exploration is created in the same way as the Exploration Thread, but should use either the "ScienceExploration" or "EngineeringExploration" template. Once you've created and titled the page, you should add a link to the Exploration Thread for the Explorer. You may also want to set up notifications for the Exploration using the "Notify Me" tab.
Encourage your Explorer to start using the creation tools to describe their project as completely as possible. One of the first things you might have him or her do is to create a schedule near the top of the page, that way your Explorer has some targets to meet and you will have some idea of the pace of progress you can expect.

Setting Expectations

One of the more difficult aspects of a mentor-mentee relationship is setting clear and reasonable expectations for both parties. You should make your Explorer aware of how often you check the site for updates and the limits to the guidance you will provide. You should also set expectations for keeping to a schedule, responding to your comments, and creating a professional looking report of their work. Do your best to live up to your commitment to your Explorer and hold them accountable for their work.

Limits of Guidance

Avoid being "too helpful". In all likelihood, from the moment the Explorer forms their question, you will be able to see far ahead of them: knowing underlying principles, recognizing probable roadblocks to obvious implementation, predicting results of experiments, etc. Unless it is clear that their question cannot be addressed using the scientific method or their planned experiment is dangerous, it is probably better to allow the Explorer to discover these for himself or herself. Your Explorer probably won't get much out of watching you do their research for them.
In general, you should not (1) assist with project origination or design, (2) planning or execute any part of the experiment or (3) write any part of the Explorer's page. Guide your Explorer gently by asking probing questions, providing directions to appropriate resources (possibly earlier Explorations on a similar topic), and recommending appropriate equipment to work with. Review the development of their page, particularly parts where they appear to be headed off track or stuck. When in doubt, you can contact the Explorer's teacher for advice.

Keeping Explorers on Track

Have your Explorer develop a schedule early on and help them stick to it. Don't allow them to become so engrossed by one aspect of their Exploration that they are unable to finish. Encourage him or her to begin collecting data as early as possible, even if it will mean returning to the lab later to collect data of sufficient accuracy. If one particular part of an Exploration is causing a severe hangup, it may be necessary to walk through, for instance, the appropriate data analysis methods.

Motivating Explorers

People respond to challenges in different ways; scientists and engineers tend to view them as opportunities. When things are going badly in an Exploration, your Explorer may want to quit or may think they are not up to the challenge (not smart enough). Remind them that good science or engineering is rarely easy and provide them with your perspective on the role setback and failure in science. Encourage them to step back, think about how far they have come from their initial understanding of the problem. Have them "write-up" an analysis of their setbacks and what attempts they have made to work through them; perhaps their work will be of value to future Explorers.

Student Contact

In the interest of safety for all participants in WeSee, please limit communication with student participants to the WeSee Discussion Areas or to the Wikispaces messaging system. Do not attempt to make off-line contact with student participants; if a real world interaction is possible, please encourage your Explorer to have their teacher contact you to set up and be present at any meetings.

Opening a New Exploration Thread

Starting a new Exploration Thread is easy. While logged in (and after you've joined the page), choose the "New Page" link at the top left. Name your Exploration Thread page, use the template "ExplorationThread", and add a few Tags, if you like. When you create the new page, just follow the 6 steps to personalize the page.
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The template for creating a new Exploration Thread.

After saving the page, add a link to the page from the main "Explorations" page. You will need to select the page from a list of existing pages (see below).
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Check to make sure that the new link works. You may also want to set up notifications for the Exploration Thread using the "Notify Me" tab; you can be notified by e-mail every time a change is made to your Exploration Thread.
A word of caution: Opening a new exploration thread is a commitment to the WeSee community to maintain the page, monitor the thread for activity, and provide guidance to any Explorers as they work Exploration. If you would like a lesser commitment, feel free to join an existing Exploration Thread; just ask the current VPI for permission first.

If you have questions

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, don't hesitate to contact the site administrators via e-mail: WeSeeAdmin at gmail.com.