May 2022 Researcher Spotlight

Susan Meabh Kelly

Susan Meabh Kelly, PhD Candidate, at the University of Connecticut, Earth Science and Physics Teacher at the Connecticut State Department of Education, and winner of the 2019Outstanding Earth Science Teacher award, is the focus of theMAY 2022 GER Spotlight. Susan works with science teachers, students, scientists, outreach specialists, and education researchers to develop authentic science research experiences for secondary students. In this profile, Susan describes her work designing geoscience research activities, recommends a "must-read" paper that has inspired and guided this work, and defines the approach she prefers.


What is the focus of your current geoscience education research?

I collaborate with students and diverse community professionals to design learning activities that are relevant and meaningful from multiple perspectives, yet reflect state-mandated secondary science learning standards. I am interested in how students' identities and lived experiences can be woven into secondary geoscience activities. In the course of this work I explore theoretical frameworks and research that can help illuminate pathways that may broaden participation through establishing a sense of belonging in geoscience.

I strive to intersect this work with efforts to develop students' ability to explore local or regional geoscience data, through which they can analyze and develop models using computation. Here, I look to leverage publicly available research software (e.g. R, ImageJ) and geoscience databases in order to ensure the activities are broadly accessible. In this work I investigate efficient pathways to bridge school science with science as practiced so that students from under-resourced schools can be better positioned to engage in authentic science research – whether as a citizen and/or scientist.

What is your favorite or "must read" education research paper? Why is this paper meaningful for your work?

My favorite "must read" is also my first encounter with education research – a paper published in 2002 by Clark Chinn and Betina Malhotra, who were colleagues in the Department of  Educational Psychology at Rutgers. The paper is entitled Epistemologically Authentic Inquiry in Schools: A Theoretical Framework for Evaluating Inquiry Tasks. The taxonomy of processes associated with authentic science research and school science that are organized and embedded within this paper has served me in the way the authors' had intended – as a guide to evaluate the authenticity of the science investigations students' experience. 

What research methods/approaches do you prefer and why?

I prefer participatory research approaches. Although this is relatively new to education research, I have found that there is much to draw from outside of the education research community. I still have much to learn in this regards, but given recent research has brought to mind that education research is not popularly used in K-12 practice, and racial diversity within the geoscience community has not changed despite decades of efforts (Bernard & Cooperdock, 2018), I assert that including the targeted population as partners, rather than as merely research subjects, may improve and broaden the impact of education research efforts. Participatory approaches are also aligned with my value for greater inclusion and diversity within geoscience.

Check out Susan's recent publication:

Kelly, S. M. (2021). Digging for data: Mining geoscience databases to deepen and expand STEM learning opportunitiesThe Science Teacher, 88(5), 24-35.