Michelle Wilkerson-Jerde (PhD12) received a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award for research on a way to reshape middle school science with visualization tools. A graduate of the Learning Sciences doctoral program, Wilkerson-Jerde is an assistant professor of education at Tufts University.
The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award supports junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within their organizations, according to the Foundation.
Wilkerson-Jerde’s research project will explore how young people think and learn about data visualization from the perspective of a conceptual toolkit. Her goals for “DataSketch: Exploring Computational Data Visualization in the Middle Grades” are to understand the knowledge and skills students bring together to make sense of novel data visualizations, and to design tools and activities that support students' development of critical, flexible data visualization competence.
“Usually when we think of data visualization in school, we think of histograms or line graphs. But in contemporary science and media, people rely on novel, interactive visualizations that tell unique stories using data,” she explains.
Wilkerson-Jerde’s work at SESP in many ways led to this project. As a member of the Center for Connected Learning, directed by professor Uri Wilensky, she studied how young people reason about data generated by simulations of complex systems. She also observed how students brought together very different ideas to make sense of unexpected patterns.
“I am also inspired by the many integrative projects at Northwestern that explore innovative approaches to education while staying in close collaboration with schools, teachers and students. My time as a Learning Sciences student shaped how I see the complexity and competency in young people's thinking, and helped me think about how to develop tools and activities that actually work in real educational settings,” she says.
Wilkerson-Jerde is the third alumnus of the Center for Connected Learning in five years to receive a CAREER Award. In 2012 Pratim Sengupta (PhD09), assistant professor of learning sciences and science education at Vanderbilt University. received a Career Award for his research on computer modeling for K-12 science. In 2011 Paulo Blikstein (PhD09) of Stanford University received a CAREER Award.
Also in 2011, two other Learning Sciences graduates, Victor Lee (PhD08) of Utah State University and Ravit Golan Duncan (PhD06) of Rutgers University, won National Science Foundation CAREER Awards.